16 April 2021

Tech Perspective #28: Will E-commerce Overtake Traditional Retail?


Department stores have been declining in popularity and relevance for years. Once crowded and teeming with life, shopping malls share their fate, getting more and more deserted.

Just last year, both the high-end Barneys and the oldest American department store, Lord & Taylor, went bankrupt and announced plans to close all their locations. As more and more shops were struggling to make ends meet, there came the final nail in the coffin.

The pandemic kept people at home for months, giving them more reasons than ever before to buy online and search for shopping alternatives. With the shopping centres eliminated from the competition, small retail shops and online shopping had a unique opportunity to take over even the most devoted mall-goers.

With the pandemic still going on, the future of the American department stores looks worse than ever before.

The Death of Shopping Centres

How bad is the situation? Let me tell you that more than half of all mall-based department stores are expected to close by the end of 2021.

There’s no denying that one of the reasons for this decline is the coronavirus pandemic. With people forced to stay at home, and department stores closed due to the lockdown, the rise of online shopping was not only expected but also inevitable.

However, it’s crucial to understand that it extends far beyond the COVID-19 pandemic or even the natural and continued rise of online shopping.

As Jan Kniffen, a current retail consultant and former exec at The May Department Stores, said, “The mall has been losing ground for a long time, now it’s losing ground faster,” In the course of time, shopping centres have simply lost its appeal and are no longer attractive in the eyes of customers. Once hubs of entertainment and main attractions for families, shopping centres have been superseded with different forms of entertainment.

We must also not forget about the competitive disadvantage. As Jason Del Rey writes, “As department stores fight their uphill battles, they are being replaced by competition that can provide better prices, selection, or convenience to shoppers of all wealth levels.”

Having that in mind, e-commerce has a chance to become the first sales channel.

How to Make E-commerce Fully Accessible

OK, let’s imagine shopping centres have already crashed out, with e-commerce becoming the main way of doing shopping. What consequences does it entail? Will e-commerce be able to satisfy the needs of all customers?

Let’s focus on the second question. E-commerce is still struggling with some issues, the main pain point being ensuring accessibility for everybody, e.g., disabled people and elders. Especially in this area, it must strive for further improvements.

As noted by Forbes, “The lack of web accessibility in today’s websites and online services continues to prevent people with disabilities from fully enjoying the conveniences and benefits that the internet can offer.” The problem is real. As reported by accessiBe, most sites failed to meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA level compliance, with 98% of the websites failing some element of the accessibility test.

However, how to break this cycle? It may not surprise you that once again I will say: with the help of AI. With the development of accessibility platforms, online shops become easy to navigate for people with disabilities. How does it work? AI is used to comprehensively scan websites and automatically changes the site’s code and content to make them WCAG compliant.

As observed by Forbes, “With the emergence of web accessibility platforms like accessiBe, businesses are now able to easily provide offer an uncompromised web experience to people with disabilities.” Having that covered, e-commerce is ready to seize the throne.

The Rise of the E-commerce

The e-commerce popularity shows how social moods are changing and how much we expect and need innovations.

Hopefully, the rise of e-commerce will increase the accessibility of the Internet and allow more people to enjoy the possibilities waiting online.

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Marcin Bartoszuk
Chief Operating Officer

With Microsoft technologies related since 2005. He graduated from the Computer Science Faculty of the Bialystok University of Technology where he was the leader of the .NET Group and the Microsoft Student Partner. Four times finalist of the national stage of the Imagine Cup competition, and later the mentor and the jury member of the contest. Co-founder of the Bialystok .NET Group. He lectured .NET development at the Bialystok University of Technology. Microsoft MVP in the Client Application Development category in 2008-2010, when he actively participated in the IT community. Constant new technology enthusiast and IT consultant.