Is retail dying? It’s a fair question to ask amidst lowered sales projections by large players like Wal-Mart. There’s no denying that the general public is more comfortable than ever with the concept of making both small and large purchases online. In fact, within five years online purchases will account for 8% of the total retail nationwide. Close to 50% off all transactions involve the Internet in some capacity if you factor the research that consumers often do before making an online or physical purchase. This brings up the question, could this comfort level with online spending transcend into the real estate industry?
Well, with increased transparency displayed to homebuyers – and builders giving floor plans, finishes and detailed information on the minutest details of a home’s development online – it seems inevitable that engaged buyers would be able to take the next steps. This type of thinking is already being applied overseas. In India, for example, Tata Housing works with banks to facilitate the entire home buying experience online – and has had lots of success thus far. Meanwhile in China, E-House China Holdings Ltd is leading the peer-to-peer lenders phenomenon, which finances (and manages) down payments for new buyers 100% online in minutes. Could this type of concept apply to a North American housing market?
A recent Harvard report has shown that brick and mortar retailers still control between 94% and 97% of total retail sales. A vast majority of consumers who appear to be liberally shopping online are doing so from trusted retailers. Metrics are also a bit skewed when you consider that most consumers who purchase online visit physical locations to check out the products beforehand. So this raises the question, is it reasonable to believe that buyers would purchase a property without physically experiencing it? Perhaps, in the case of condos or new builds without models; however, there are also security issues in play – and one would have to take a great amount of due diligence around the genuineness of the transaction. Is retail dead? Not yet – and neither are traditional home buying practices (for the time being).