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Are We About to See a Turning Point for E-commerce?

Gordon Wyner

The press has reported some key data trends suggesting that e-commerce has turned a corner in the recent holiday shopping season. It may have crossed a threshold from being a small, fast-growing sector of the market to something else. The implication is that it has matured into a leading factor in marketing channels now and is poised to become even more powerful in the future. 

The discussion has a sort of inevitability about it. Powerful technological changes have been unleashed and will lead toward greater shopping and purchases in Internet channels, such as more sales revenue via e-commerce and relatively less in bricks-and-mortar retail channels. The world of shopping as we’ve known it could disappear—another casualty of digital disruption.

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This is all quite plausible. There’s not a stream of data or anecdotal stories that support a halt to e-commerce growth and a return to bricks-and-mortar. However, the way these technological changes occur is not necessarily a simple linear path. Understanding how the digital evolution is impacting e-commerce requires going underneath the high-level trends and considering other development paths that digitization may bring.

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Gordon Wyner is research director at the Marketing Science Institute.