The very thought of Christmas shopping is chaotic enough to make some people break into a cold sweat. Spending an evening browsing websites in front of the TV however? Not so much. Is shopping online now only an act of last minute desperation? Or has it in fact become the shrewd alternative for the sensible and savvy? After the frantic fever of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it is clear shoppers are keen to grab a bargain, yet an increasing majority also approach shopping in a more level-headed and considered way. Searching online is a much more pragmatic way of doing this. So who will win the battle – the internet or the store?
The Consumer Electronics Association discovered that 62% of millenials aimed to compare prices of products instore on their mobile while shopping this year. It has become rare to go to the high street blindly without an idea of how prices compare. Shopping can therefore become much more of a focussed and deliberate activity rather than an organic one. This habit is one which the WSJ has claimed threatens “more than just gum sales at checkout” especially with the recession having raised additional economic awareness. Research from Tecmark reveals the number of people ‘showrooming’, that is, checking for cheaper deals elsewhere whilst instore, have doubled since 2012. Supermarkets offering price comparison at the till after purchase seems inadequate with mobile barcode scanning widely available.
Millennials shopping online are put off by lengthy loading times, a drawn out checkout process or lack of images. Packaging and delivery errors are similar bugbears for those making orders online. With Amazon reaching a record high of 5 million UK orders on Black Friday, there was no room for errors that might alienate and lose loyal customers. Instore, the instant gratification and avoidance of awkward delivery arrangements lends a competitive edge.
A study by Bazaar Voice has shown that Millenials trust the opinions from other customer reviews over friends and family when it comes to purchasing decisions. They are also three times more likely than Boomers to use social media channels as a source of information. This may well have affected Walmart’s decision to roll out an app providing a live stream of customer reviews instore. This leaning towards a more personal and communal experience may also lie behind the success of apps such as Depop, where profiles are linked to Facebook and items are liked as with Instagram photos.
WINNER: ONLINE (and innovators like Walmart)
Millenials were predicted to make up the biggest percentage of people shopping instore on Thanksgiving. This could either be seen as a rise in consumerist tendencies, or a changing attitude to shopping instore. Browsing online can only go so far towards being a fun and sociable experience, that stores are keen to emphasise and build upon. US store Moosejaw for example has set up ping pong tables and laser shooting instore with their adventure wear clothing. Similarly, the latest Waitrose store has opened with a wine bar and cookery school.
While instore shopping is far from over, it is being increasingly left behind by advances in technology. For anything but spontaneous or last minute purchases, shopping online offers the opportunity to make a more informed decision. With the rise of click and collect deliveries to stores or post offices and social selling apps, there is a new middle ground emerging that is more efficient for both buyers and sellers. Shopping instore must find new niches that play on their strengths as a sociable destination, without isolating the shopper from key product information and reviews. Gathering and using data more effectively will allow store staff to create a more personalised instore service. We are already seeing this with stores providing free wifi, interactive displays and location based offers. The ultimate winners will be those brands who can create the most seamless customer-centric multichannel shopping experience.