How Social Distancing Is Bringing Stores And Services Online

Change generally happens over a long period of time. The biggest transformations usually take decades. Max Planck famously said that change happens not because people change their minds but because generations die out.

For brick-and-mortar businesses, that certainly seemed to be the case. Despite the fact that most products can be bought online, many stores held out, selling a limited range of products off their shelves to a decreasing customer base. And it’s not only stores that were not adapting. Many service providers had no online presence – no website and social media. Sometimes no presence on Google Maps.

However, since social distancing regulations went into place, brick-and-mortar stores and traditional service providers have had to adapt. Obviously, without online shopping, stores cannot now function. But the impact of COVID-19 will go beyond current practical implications.

Here is why.

Convenience beats nostalgia

Many people have resisted using online shopping due to a sense that the past was better. There is a nostalgia associated with mom-and-pop stores. Even some young people have stubbornly refused to switch to online shopping. They find a certain charm in seeing their products before buying them and assume that online shopping will only complicate this.

However, now that people are being forced to shop online, convenience will quickly negate those considerations. Once people realize how much easier the experience can be, they will drop their resistance. When you list the benefits of online shopping, there really is no competition. You don’t have to make time for it in your day. You can reorder the same groceries if you have a routine. You can pay without taking your wallet out. And your goods can be delivered when it suits you.

Of course, there will be holdouts who choose nostalgia over convenience. But too many people will switch permanently for brick-and-mortar stores to continue as they were.

Comparison culture

Anyone who shops online or who finds services online knows that quality control is a huge part of the process. When you want to find good products and services, you go to a site like If you need a new doctor, you look at their websites, Yelp reviews, and compare them with each other.

Any stores or service providers who do not currently have an online presence will struggle to survive. Because once you have bought into comparison culture, there is no getting out of it. Once you've seen the negative reviews certain service providers and products have, you are not going to simply assume that others are naturally good options.

A website gives stores and service providers some sort of control over the narrative, and with careful strategies they can respond to and “curate” bad reviews. If they have no online presence, people will avoid them, even if they have no bad reviews. In a certain sense, bad reviews legitimize the business more than the gaping void of online anonymity.

Right now, people are being forced to look for products and services online. The process of comparison quickly becomes the new normal, and is as much a no-brainer as comparing two products side-by-side in person.

More impulse control

One more unexpected benefit of online shopping is that you are less likely to spend money on things you don’t need. While at an actual store, you will walk past aisles with enticing products, online you can search for exactly what you need. You're not going to buy chocolates because you happen to be hungry and they look good.

This increased impulse control saves money and is much healthier for people. It is yet another reason people take to online shopping, and is likely to turn a few heads during this crisis.


Usually, it takes a generation passing for a complete transition. But we are living in unprecedented times and even the most stubborn people are being forced to adapt. This crisis is bringing many stores and service providers online, and once it is over that is unlikely to change.