Tuesday, 9 December 2008

E-tail versus Retail

Shopping habits have changed drastically in the last decade. Shops that once remained closed on Sundays now open seven days a week. Supermarkets open 24 hours a day, and the Internet provides round the clock access to all manner of products and services.

With Christmas approaching, and shopping on everyone’s minds, many are turning to the Internet for those all important pre and post Christmas purchases?


This time of year it is incredibly appealing to stay in the warmth and comfort of your home rather than brave the chilly high street. We can stock our kitchen cupboards with festive fare, order those stocking fillers and even book a holiday to recover after the festivities, all whilst sitting by the fire with a mince pie and some mulled wine. We can buy almost anything online, even the kitchen sink.

The Office of National Statistics confirmed online sales grew thirty percent during 2008, and 1.3 million of us in the UK shop online each day, according to price comparison website Shopzilla.co.uk. The Interactive Media In Retail Group (IMRG) predict online sales will increase in the run up to Christmas, with the average shopper spending £215.

Twenty-four hour access, convenience and price are the main attraction. Shopzilla found the overall shopping experience rated higher online when compared to the high street.


With the credit crunch upon us and the average annual household spend rocketing, value for money is important. Online, price comparison and greater choice enables shoppers to snap up bargains whilst avoiding the hustle and bustle of busy stores.

James Roper, CEO of IMRG predicts: “British shoppers will beat the crunch with Internet prices this Christmas, spending more than a billion pounds each week in the run-up.

“Retailers and suppliers will be under extreme pressure to price competitively this year, so there will be a lot of volatility out there – and fantastic bargains – that the Internet uniquely enables canny shoppers to find and grab before anyone else gets the chance.”


E-tail does not have universal appeal, and E-tailers get it wrong too. The inconvenience of incorrect or misplaced orders, missed deliveries and returns procedures deters customers.

One shopper said: “Delivery is too much hassle. The post always comes when you’re at work and you have to trail all the way to the post office to collect things. It’s easier to venture into town yourself.”

And, as more online shops appear, thanks to websites such as eBay, security has become an issue. Identity theft and fraud regularly make headline news. How can customers be confident a seller is legitimate, and what risks exist when disclosing financial details?

Even trusted e-stores cannot avoid glitches, and technology can be unreliable. Problems leave customers frustrated, unable to access the website or complete purchases - resulting in a loss of business to other retailers.

E-tail strips away human interaction and detracts from the social ‘experience’ of shopping. In store shoppers interact with staff, but online customer service is automated.

The high street customer takes more time and is exposed to an array of store specific items and promotions, whereas online customers are more focused.

In store, customers can check products for suitability and quality, examining a tangible product rather than a virtual representation prior to purchase. They can take the product home without delay and delivery charges.

The future

Will the growing popularity of online stores such as Amazon and Play.com be detrimental to the high street? City centre stores could lose out.

For the major players retail and e-tail go hand in hand, complementing one another to secure their strong market share.

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