Shopping as We Know It Will Disappear
Consumers no longer need to touch and feel products in a physical store. Pro or con?
Pro: Unbeatable Convenience and Sophistication
Product research starts online. The Social Shopping Study we conducted earlier this year revealed that 83 percent of consumers are more confident about making a purchase decision when conducting research online vs. speaking to a salesperson in a store. And 79 percent report saving more time doing research online compared with in-store research.
Online tools are evolving to mirror and eventually supersede the in-store shopping experience. Today’s shoppers can access size/fit information and product uses online. Gap’s "Quick Look" feature allows users to view a product’s color and texture details. MyShape.com combines technology and customer data to enable shoppers to browse clothing matched specifically to their body types and preferences. Zappos, Sephora, and Piperlime offer free shipping on returns, allowing those customers who need to try before they buy to "road test" a product at home, while shoppers who need instant access can rely on the convenience of Amazon’s same-day delivery.
Social tools signal a game-changing force in online shopping, helping shoppers more easily reach a purchase decision validated by others online. Online, shoppers can connect with millions of people who share the same lifestyles, interests, and product needs. They can share photos of how they look in a dress with their Facebook friends and get instant feedback via the Like button. Seventy-one percent of shoppers rely on customer reviews and 57 percent rely on Q&A to conduct their online product research.
This changes the face of shopping as we know it. The convenience and depth of the online shopping experience—and powerful relevance of social networks—results in more educated shoppers whose research online has an impact on their purchases offline. Smart consumers have come to expect a more comprehensive shopping experience, and they will soon demand it.
Con: We Still Live in the Real World
Anything, everything, and more delivered to your door (with free shipping, of course) is compelling. Online shopping has changed our lives for good and for the better, but it’s a complement to, rather than a substitute for, the age-old and ubiquitous activity of "going to the shop."
There are still many products and services—food, apparel, home decoration, and so forth—with significant "nondigital" attributes that some shoppers believe need sensory inspection (touch, feel, taste, smell), making them relatively difficult to sell online. Creative online sellers can overcome these impediments in part, but not entirely, and certainly not for all segments of shoppers. "Try before you buy" still holds.
Shopping is a process. For many goods and services it requires information search, and evaluation of multiple options, before final selection of the chosen product. (Returns and post-sale service are part of the process, too.) The Internet is better suited to some parts of this process than others.
Shoppers are social creatures. Some kinds of shopping involve active or passive interaction. What is she buying? Does this look good on me? Don’t they look tasty? When we shop, we’re not "just shopping"; we’re observing, learning, updating, chatting. For many shoppers, this is part of the reason to shop. This kind of shopping need not even end in purchase—just being in the real (physical) store is all part of the fun.
Online shopping ups the ante for offline shopping. Retailers need to think hard about what makes the offline experience enticing and vital (think the Apple Store)—for products and for shoppers. Sometimes I like to order in, but still like to eat out as well.