Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Brick And Mortar Store

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 12, 2013

When you hear someone talk about buying from a brick-and-mortar store, they aren’t talking about visiting a building supplies warehouse. A brick-and-mortar store is a business with a physical presence in the community — with physical buildings and facilities — as opposed to an online store or a business that offers only remote services.

In other words, brick-and-mortar stores are traditional stores that are successful due to foot traffic, storefront visibility, interior design, face-to-face customer service and more as opposed to eCommerce businesses that have cropped up over the past 20 years. This doesn’t mean that a brick-and-mortar store won’t have an online presence because many do have an online presence. But the term separates them from the many successful internet-only businesses that populate the Internet.

The term brick-and-mortar store is referred to as a retronym, which means the new name differentiates its original form or version from more recent forms or versions. And believe it or not, the term retronym was coined by Frank Mankiewicz in 1980, and was added to the American Heritage Dictionary in 2000.

Getting back to the history behind the expression brick-and-mortar stores, back in 1979, English inventor and entrepreneur, Michael Aldrich connected a television set to a transaction processing computer using a telephone line. This allowed for shopping at a distance to become a reality, and he coined the term teleshopping. From there, the idea was to market the technology to corporations on the basis that they could connect their agents, distributors and customers to their corporate information systems for direct shopping and sales without the involvement of third parties. This private system became known as Business-To-Business or B2B online shopping, with the first B2B going live in 1981. And in May of 1984, Mrs. Jane Snowball became the first online home shopper when she bought groceries via the Gateshead SIS/Tesco system.

In the late 1990s, dot-com corporations were creating their own personal lingo to describe their businesses, services and products as well as activities on the Internet that were associated with doing business online. World economies were on the upswing, moving away from relying on a manufacturing-based economy and towards an economy centered on the exchange of ideas and information via technology. Despite this, all corporations and small businesses agreed that they had to be competitive in order to stay afloat, and this relied on attracting and retaining customers.

Sometime before Y2K wheedled its way into the lexicon, dot-coms successfully separated their businesses from traditional businesses (those that operated outside on the online world) by referring to non-Internet businesses as brick-and-mortar stores … based on the concept that most stores were made of brick and mortar, especially factories, warehouses and downtown shops.

On March 17, 1999 the Direct Marketing News published an article written by Ted Kemp entitled, “High-End Grocery Store Will Divert Brick-And-Mortar Traffic To Net.” The article revealed that high-end health food retailer Whole Foods Market Inc., was launching an online grocery store and how it intended to not only reinvent itself on the Internet, but to maintain a strong presence in the physical world of retail. The focus was on making their online store a massive hit with customers and moving it into the black within two years of launching without abandoning the 88 brick and mortar stores already found across the U.S. and without sacrificing the 32 brick and mortar stores that were in development at the time. The first paragraph began with:

Whole Foods Market Inc., is scheduled to launch an online grocery next week, and the company is determined to make it profitable quickly — even if that means diverting customers from its brick-and-mortar stores.

The previous Fall, on October 4, 1998, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published a news story written by Christine Dunn of the Bloomberg News, entitled, “Weaving The Web: Internet Retailing Is Still A Niche Business.” The story reported in part:

They prefer their brick-and-mortar stores, skeptical that Internet sales will offset the cost of designing and maintaining Web sites and handling orders.

Interestingly enough, however, on September 6, 1996 John M. Wills, business editor for the Rome News-Tribune wrote about NationsBank’s acquisition of Atlanta-based Bank South — a bank that was known for its sophisticated operation that made use of high tech systems. Gary Redding, senior banking executive for NationsBank in Rome, Georgia was quoted as saying:

Brick and mortar is extremely expensive, and if we can deliver services in a more economical manner, we would look into it here,” he said. “We would certainly look at putting branches at Krogers in Rome if this works.”

Idiomation confirms that sometime between 1995 and 1997, the expression brick-and-mortar store was understood by most people to mean a business that did not have an Internet presence, that relied on doing business in the traditional way without involving either high tech or the Internet.

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One Response to “Brick And Mortar Store”

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