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The term bricks and mortar refers to a business that operates out of a physical building. Bricks and mortar businesses contrast those that operate entirely online, or are transitory and therefore have no official storefront from which to conduct business. These physical companies were once the primary choice for businesses, but were somewhat diminished after the Internet boom of the 1990s.
When the Internet first began its rapid expansion in the 1990s, entrepreneurs saw the new forum as an opportunity to own a small business for a fraction of the traditional cost. Consumers flocked to this new form of business. The number of businesses with an entirely online presence grew astronomically over the decade. By the end of the 1990s, the competition on the Internet was fierce, with low start-up costs and high turnover rates.
Businesses that operate out of bricks and mortar sites generally must invest more money in operations than those that are entirely online. Having the money to rent an office space, purchase supplies and fixtures, and purchase other necessary materials means that the owner has put a significant personal investment into opening and running the business. These expenses generally imply that the business is less likely to fold than one with little investment, and therefore may be able to garner some additional level of consumer trust.
Trust between a business and its consumers can make or break any company. In terms of this, a bricks and mortar business has the advantage of visibility. In other words, a building full of goods and employees is generally unable to pick up, move out, and completely disappear overnight. If a consumer has a problem with a product or service, they can take the problem directly to the building and speak with a manager. An online company cannot offer this same assurance. Also, a website can disappear in a day and a company can refuse phone calls or e-mails.
A bricks and mortar store does place significant risk on the owner, and requires a great deal of planning and investment. For entrepreneurs with great ideas, excellent customer service, and little capital, an entirely online presence can work to their advantage. The key to surviving in the online world is to gain customers' trust. It can take time and effort for an online company to build customer satisfaction in order to prove itself trustworthy, while a bricks and mortar store may begin with more of this consumer confidence.