Can Retail Therapy Move Online?

While on some level I hate to admit it, the truth is I like to shop. I jokingly refer to it as my retail therapy and as my contribution to supporting the local economy. 

A friend of mine recently made me feel better about shopping by suggesting that for me it was primarily a creative outlet. She also pointed out that it wasn’t a problem because I never spent more than I could afford and always managed to find a deal.

As a result, it was surprising to realize that these days I am shopping as much online as I am in actual brick-and-mortar stores.

Turns out I’m not alone.

The retail experience and the way people shop is drastically changing. More and more of us are joining the tech savvy teens who were the first to take advantage of using the web to compare prices and products and find unique products and services that used to be out of our reach.

Shopping online also allows us to shop more efficiently by saving time, and avoiding crowds, travel expenses and the hassle of parking.

It is especially convenient when one is looking for a specific item. For example, when I knew our nephew was coveting a special edition Mario Brothers chess set that seemed to be sold out everywhere, I was able to find it online and have it delivered free.

Recently I was also looking for a trendy, tunic-style black blouse to add as a wardrobe basic. I found it in one specific store but not in my size. I went online and found out that although it wasn’t in stock in any stores nearby, I could order it online. To make it even more attractive, shipping was being offered free.

Savvy shoppers are also turning to the web to find bargains.

Although I approached it rather tentatively, this month I actually bought a pair of prescription glasses at one-third of the price quoted by a local chain. To my delight, they were perfect.

Nielson recently reported that nearly 50% of U.S. smartphone owners are using shopping apps each month to compare prices and purchase from online stores such as eBay and Amazon. 

Research from the Canadian Retailer suggests there are other trends regarding online shopping that can help bricks and mortar retailers compete.

For example, educated, English speaking, and upscale groups are most likely to research products online before making a purchase. On the other hand, older francophones still greatly enjoy the in-store shopping experience.

Both online and offline factors influence consumers’ purchase decisions. In the offline world, word-of-mouth marketing still proves to be the most powerful and valuable method. Two-thirds of Canadians reported that recommendations from family and friends had the greatest influence on their purchasing decision.

Recent immigrants led the way in the endorsement of the products they had purchased online. Asians are at the top of the list perhaps reflecting their propensity to be early adopters of new technology.

Rural, downscale Canadians are the biggest fans of buying through classifieds such as Craigslist and Kijiji, while 17% of Canadians check them out once or twice a week. Urban, educated segments are the biggest fans of group-buying coupons such as Groupon or Teambuy.

Younger ethnic groups are already active users of mobile shopping applications and websites and 17% of Canadians have shopped using their mobile phones within the past three months. Close to 44% of the survey respondents use comparison sites to make purchase decisions.

However, not all Canadians are eager to adopt online and mobile shopping and still prefer an in-store experience—not necessarily the big box store but rather shopping in local boutiques where shopping is a more personal experience that allows them to touch and feel the products. They firmly believe an in-store experience is one that can’t be replicated by online transactions.

For those wanting to explore online shopping, begin with retailers you know and trust. In the end, the best retail experiences probably involve a little bit of both online and offline shopping.

Posted on 10-14-12

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