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Brick and mortar (also bricks and mortar or B&M) in its simplest usage describes the physical presence of a building(s) or other structure. The term brick-and-mortar business is often used to refer to a company that possesses buildings, production facilities, or store for operations. The name is a metonym derived from the traditional building materials associated with physical buildings: bricks and mortar. The term was originally used by Charles Dickens in the book Little Dorrit.
More specifically, in the jargon of e-commerce businesses, brick-and-mortar businesses are companies that have a physical presence and offer face-to-face customer experiences. This term is usually used to contrast with a transitory business or an internet-only presence, such as an online shop, which have no physical presence for shoppers to visit and buy from directly, though such online businesses normally have non-public physical facilities from which they either run business operations, and/or warehousing for mass physical product storage and distribution. Concerns such as foot traffic, storefront visibility, and appealing interior design apply mainly to brick-and-mortar businesses rather than online ones.
The divergence between brick-and-mortar businesses and online businesses has expanded in recent years as more and more entrepreneurs and established organizations create profitable products known as web and mobile apps. Most web and mobile apps are digitally distributed and offer value without delivering a physical product or direct service, thereby eliminating the need for manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution. Furthermore, the advent of reliable, affordable remote business collaboration tools diminishes the need for physical business operations infrastructure for many web and mobile product businesses.
The term brick-and-mortar businesses is also a retronym in that most stores had a physical presence before the advent of the Internet. However, the term is also applicable when contrasting businesses with physical presence and those that operated strictly in an order-by-mail capacity pre-Internet. Some stores such as Best Buy, Walmart, and Target are primarily known as brick-and-mortar businesses but also have online shopping sites.
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