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  • Sylvia Singleton, CPA

Navigating the Business Maze: Online vs. Brick-and-Mortar Ventures

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

A vegetable and fruit stand and cell phone with a picture of fruits and vegetables
Online store versus brick-and-mortar store

As an entrepreneur, a professor, and an advocate for pursuing dreams, I have had the privilege of assisting many entrepreneurs in navigating the challenging terrain of entrepreneurship. Today, I'd like to share my insights into two of the most common paths you might consider: starting an online business and opening a brick-and-mortar store.

Let’s delve into the world of online businesses first.

Online Businesses: The Future or Folly?


Low Startup Cost: You can eliminate substantial costs that come with a physical store. For example, Amazon started from a garage and is a global powerhouse today.

Accessibility and Reach: An online business offers the ability to reach global customers without geographical restrictions. Shopify, an e-commerce platform, hosts thousands of stores, reaching customers worldwide.

Open 24/7: An online business never needs to close. ASOS, a British online fashion retailer, takes orders around the clock.

Data Gathering: Online businesses can easily track customer preferences and behaviors, enabling personalized marketing and improved products/services.


High Competition: The internet is saturated with businesses. Distinguishing your brand can be challenging.

Dependence on Technology: Any technical glitches, like a website crash, can result in a loss of sales and customer trust.

Lack of Personal Interaction: Building customer trust might take longer due to a lack of face-to-face interactions.

Fraud and Security Issues: Online businesses are prone to cyber-attacks and data breaches.

Now let's look at brick-and-mortar stores.

Brick-and-Mortar: Traditional Yet Trendy?


Personal Customer Experience: Physical stores offer a tactile, immediate experience. Brands like Apple use their stores as showrooms, creating an immersive customer experience.

Immediate Sales: There’s no shipping delay. Customers leave with products in hand.

Community Presence: Brick-and-mortar stores can become community staples, like your neighborhood Starbucks.


High Operational Costs: Rent, utilities, and salaries can put substantial pressure on your bottom line.

Limited Customer Reach: Your store is tied to its physical location, limiting its reach.

Business Hours: Unlike online, physical stores have opening and closing hours.

Risk of Inventory: Unsold inventory can lead to losses.

Mapping Your Path: A Decision Tree

Whether you should opt for an online or brick-and-mortar store isn’t a straightforward decision; it depends on multiple factors. Consider the following questions:

What is your business idea?

  • If it's a product, can it be sold online? If yes, go to 2A. If no, go to 2B.

  • If it's a service, can it be delivered online? If yes, go to 2A. If no, go to 2B.

What resources do you have?

  • 2A: Do you have technical skills, or can you hire someone who does? If yes, consider an online business.

  • 2B: Do you have a physical location or funds to lease one? If yes, consider a brick-and-mortar store.

Who are your customers?

  • If they are global and tech-savvy, go to 2A. If they are local and prefer in-person shopping, go to 2B.

How much capital do you have?

  • If limited, an online business may be better due to low startup costs. If you have a substantial amount, you could consider a physical store.

Do you have a plan for scaling up?

  • If yes, and it involves global reach, consider online. If it involves multiple locations or franchising, consider a brick-and-mortar business.

These questions don’t cover every aspect but provide a solid foundation for starting your decision-making process.

Something to consider.

A Blend of Both?

The line between online and physical stores is blurring in a world increasingly integrated with technology. Consider brands like Warby Parker, which started online but has opened physical stores to offer personalized services. On the other hand, Walmart, a traditional retail giant, has invested heavily in its online presence to compete with Amazon.

The choice between online and brick-and-mortar isn't necessarily an either-or situation. You may start online and expand to a physical store or vice versa, depending on the evolution of your business and market dynamics. The crucial factor is understanding your business, resources, and customers, then making the decision that best aligns with these elements.

Whichever route you choose, remember: the entrepreneurial journey is never a straight line. There will be detours, roadblocks, and maybe a few flat tires. But with resilience, adaptability, and the proper knowledge, you'll continue to move forward.

After all, whether you opt for a business in the cloud or a shop on the corner, the ultimate goal is to create value for your customers and a legacy that withstands the test of time.

Best of luck on your entrepreneurial journey!

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