Death of Pure Play Retail or Brick-and-Mortar? Top Trends Driving Retail in 2025

Ryerson MBA is participating in The Economist’s Real Vision Investment Case Study against teams from some of the world’s other leading MBA programs. Their challenge? Analyze Walmart and Amazon to determine which retail giant’s stock is the better investment choice over the next 10 years.

Ryerson MBA Student Krysten ConnelyHere, team member Krysten Connely discusses how forecasting retail business trends for 2025 influenced their decision. Visit The Economist website to view the full analysis and vote for Ryerson MBA.

Now more than ever, “business as usual” for mass retailers isn’t enough – it’s sink or swim. Unstoppable shifts are underway in the retail landscape, paving the way for a quiet race between the ‘new and the old world’ to adapt to forces shaping the global economy over the next decade.

With decreasing foot traffic in retail stores and soaring e-commerce sales, we’re quick to believe that online and pure play retailers like Amazon are one step ahead of the game. Yet North American consumers continue to show a preference for in-store shopping where they can see an item before buying, return a purchase they ordered online, or pick up a product when it’s convenient for them. Where does this leave us? Are we witnessing the death of pure play retail or a brick-and-mortar crisis?

When assessing which stock to invest in between Walmart or Amazon (keeping in mind that we couldn’t sell it for a decade), understanding the key trends disrupting and redefining retail in 2025, and contextualizing each company within these trends, was critical to our analysis.

Is Walmart’s omnichannel strategy enough to boost its long-term online profits? Does Amazon’s overhaul in transportation and logistics, coupled with its investment into cloud computing, naturally position it as the smarter decision?

We identified the top forecasted retail and business trends shaping the next decade, and then evaluated Walmart and Amazon’s decisions, strategies, and investments in the context of these expected trends to determine who was better positioning themselves for long-term success.

Three major themes are shaping the 2025 retail landscape:

  1. Retailers are racing to the middle where the online/offline converge
    • Traditional brick-and-mortar stores continue to offer unmatched advantages for convenience and experience. We’re heading toward fewer, but more impactful stores.
  2. The consumer experience is decidedly digital, hyper-personalized, and extremely convenient (anywhere, anytime), creating a seamless shopping journey underpinned by mobile
  3. Shipping and delivery innovation and execution is setting retailers apart
    • While consumers still expect free, fast, and reliable shipping, convenient delivery is increasingly a focus in the sharing economy. Cracking the last-mile delivery is setting retailers apart.

We’re also seeing the emergence of new retail business models, new payment methods, highly personalized marketing, and the rise of click-and-collect and one-click to no-click, among a series of other unstoppable trends. As Ian MacKinzie puts it, “each trend is powerful on its own, and collectively they will redefine what it takes to be a successful retailer.”

Amazon often tends to “casts a shadow across any conversation regarding retail” (L2, 2015) and sets the bar unbelievably high when it comes to consumer expectations, and rightfully so, as it continues to outperform Walmart when evaluated against dominant retail trends. However, with large revenue streams outside of retail and its high-wire balancing act of unsustainable shipping and transportation costs, Amazon is playing a different game, creating this perception that the online-only model is viable.

With much room for growth, Walmart has acted on the investments and changes required to align itself with the direction of global commerce a decade from now. While both companies are poised for growth in 2025, Walmart is jumping on this opportunity for change and is making the necessary investments in ecommerce, technology infrastructure, mobile shopping, delivery innovation, and other digital initiatives to evolve its consumer experience and complement its large physical footprint.

Want to go even deeper into the Amazon vs. Walmart debate? Visit The Economist’s Real Vision Investment Case Study to view our full analysis. And don’t forget to vote for us for the People’s Choice Award – registered users can vote daily!