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A retailing dilemma: sell only in-person or go multiple channel and digital?

Isabelle Collin-Lachaud (Université de Lille, 4999 LUMEN, Lille, France)
Guillaume Do Vale (IDRAC Business School, Lyon, France)
Jonathan Reynolds (Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK)
Richard Cuthbertson (Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK)

Journal of Business Strategy

ISSN: 0275-6668

Article publication date: 13 October 2023




Digitalization and multi-channel strategy have appeared as recurrent themes in retailing for years, yet some major international as well as domestic mass retailers have chosen to retain a single, physical channel focus for customer transactions. These retailers, despite the digital mindset preoccupying the retailing sector, have chosen to rely fully, or predominantly, on their stores to generate revenues. A number of questions arise from this approach. This paper aims to understand the rationale for marketing and strategic practices which appear to go against the dominant, strongly digitally oriented, discourses and practices in the field of retailing. Why do some retailers choose not to add a digital transactional channel? Are there defensible reasons for this choice? Can such a strategy successfully create value?


This research is based on a qualitative, multiple case study of the strategies adopted by Primark (fashion) and Aldi (food), two major retailers that retain a largely single-channel transaction focus, in France and the UK.


This research suggests that some retailers may still be able to succeed by maintaining a single-transactional physical channel to avoid a cost trap which extensive moves towards digitalization of transactions might mean for them. In such circumstances, refusing to adopt a digital value proposition may be a means of preserving the success of their original business model.


Despite the weight of academic and practitioner discourses on the urge to undertake digital transformation, this work provides a comprehensive illustration of the rationale for sticking to a single physical channel to preserve the profitability of a traditional store-based business model.



This research is supported by the chair TREND(S) – Transformation of Retailing Ecosystems and New market DynamicS.


Collin-Lachaud, I., Do Vale, G., Reynolds, J. and Cuthbertson, R. (2023), "A retailing dilemma: sell only in-person or go multiple channel and digital?", Journal of Business Strategy, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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