The impact of online shopping vs in store shopping

October 21, 2019

Over the past couple of years, there’s been much talk of online retail and the impact it’s having on the bricks and mortar realm.

Major e-commerce players like Amazon have re-shaped the shopping experience, offering consumers the convenience of purchasing from their office, their home or in transit courtesy of online storefronts.

But according to National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay, online retail hasn’t posed the threat many assumed it would.

Rather than replacing the traditional shopping experience, many real-world retailers have come to embrace it, providing new and innovative ways to offer greater convenience, a better experience and an improved customer journey.

Here’s an insight into online versus in store in 2019, and why it’s far from the cause of the ‘retail apocalypse’ that many assumed it would be.

A holistic view

online shopping vs in store shopping

Unveiling their predictions for the upcoming holiday season, the National Retail Federation recently noted US consumers were expected to fork out 3.8 per cent to 4.2 per cent more than in in 2018.

Should their estimates prove correct, it will see a $727.9 billion to $730.7 billion windfall for the retail sector over the coming months.

A major component of this figure will be online sales, with online accounting for about 20 per cent of holiday season retail sales, compared to about 10 per cent of sales throughout the rest of the year.

It will also be an increase on last year, the NRF predicts, with US consumers expected to spend 11 to 14 per cent more via e-commerce.

But Mr Shay has also pondered whether ‘online’ sales is even a relevant figure to highlight any more.

“We continue to have ongoing discussions about whether it even makes sense to break the online figure out anymore, because retailers really look at this as a holistic way to engage with their consumer,” Mr Shay noted in an interview with journalists.

“Really, I think the world is becoming increasingly agnostic as to whether purchasing is in store, online, or buy online pickup in store. It continues to blend and converge and that will accelerate this holiday season.”

The online/in store blend

online shopping vs in store shopping

While shopping from the comfort of a smart phone, computer or tablet may offer convenience, an emerging school of thought notes it will never replace the in store experience, due to a distinct series of advantages and strengths that only bricks and mortar can offer.

Only in the real-world retail environment can consumers try, test and feel a product, enjoy the social experience that is shopping, find instant gratification, or engage in a fully immersive customer journey.

And a host of traditional retailers are playing these assets to their strengths in fresh and innovative ways.


online shopping vs in store shopping click and collect

If there’s one trend that truly harnesses both the power of online and the benefits of bricks and mortar it is Buy Online Pick Up In Store (BOPIS).

It’s a feature that allows consumers to shop online from the comfort of their home, and then harness the convenience of picking up the product they buy at their nearest brand outlet.

For the retailer, BOPIS offers a number of benefits:

  • It saves shipping time and cost
  • It makes use of the retail real estate at its disposal
  • It lures customers into a physical outlet, where there’s a good chance they will buy additional items

And it’s a trend that is incredibly popular with consumers due its ease, convenience and near instant gratification.

  • Over 68 per cent of US shoppers have made more than one click and collect purchase – Total Retail
  • 50 per cent of US shoppers decide where to buy a product online based on whether they can pick it up in-store – Total Retail
  • 85 per cent of shoppers make additional in-store purchases while visiting stores to pick up what they already had bought online, with 15 per cent saying they engage in that practice “somewhat frequently” – Retail Dive

Try, test, feel

No online experience can replace the tactile adventure that is traditional retail. Despite the convenience of online, many consumers still want to touch, try, test, feel and engage with a product prior to purchase.

What they will do online, however, is research that product, its price, reviews and availability before they opt to buy.

Accenture recently examined the retail habits of Millennial’s – the prime generation when it comes to shopping behavior and found 82 per cent prefer bricks and mortar over online.

Across all generations Accenture notes:

  • 55 per cent of consumers seek out “the cheapest return option.”
  • 41 per cent of all three groups said they practice “showrooming”—examining merchandise at a nearby retail store and then shopping for it online to find the lowest price.
  • 36 per cent go online to buy from a retailer’s website if they want a product when the company’s stores are closed.
  • 89 per cent note having access to real-time product availability information influences their shopping choices.

The social experience

online shopping vs in store shopping social

At its heart, shopping has always been social. It is the chance to gather with friends and family and explore new products.

And according to a recent survey by A.T. Kearney even the digitally savvy Gen Z appreciates this retail therapy.

Their research found 81 per cent of Gen Z respondents said they prefer to purchase in stores, and 73 per cent said they like to discover new products in stores, with 58 per cent saying browsing shelves and clothing racks allows them to disconnect from social media and the digital world.

The new era of retail

Rather than retail now being divided into the two distinct camps of online versus bricks and mortar, a new age of shopping is emerging, driven by a consumer who wants the best of both worlds.

For the real-world retailer, the challenge lies in ensuring transparency of product availability and offering a seamless customer experience across both channels.

You can learn more about improving the in store customer using mobile tablets here.

online shopping vs in store shopping tablet stand

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