As technology becomes a key part of consumers’ everyday life, it has come to profoundly affect the way consumers interact with retailers.
Shopping malls once flourished as a part of American society, with crowds of people populating the stores. Today, however, shopping malls are beginning to become a secondary means of shopping, if not abandoned altogether.
With websites like Amazon, Ebay, and virtually any other retailer in the nation offering an online retail option, and with consumers fully embracing this medium, it is clear that online shopping is dominating retail.
This ultimately leads to the question: Is online shopping the better option?
Ability to Test Fit and Quality
There are some ways in which in-store shopping offers consumers things that some online retailers simply cannot.
For example, trying on a pair of shoes may be the only way for a consumer to know if they are really comfortable or worth the price. Further, trying out some sporting equipment allows people to see if it will perform the way they need it to.
It is important to note, however, that while many retailers are unable to compete with this advantage, some are quickly making strides to combat this by providing their customers with a testing phase.
Warby Parker, the online eyewear retailer, allows their customers to choose 5 different frames for their glasses and have them shipped to their house in order to try the glasses on at home. The ability to try the glasses on while at home then becomes an advantage that in-store retailers cannot offer.
With this kind of service making its way into the online retail sector, it is clear that in-store retailers may begin to lose this key advantage they once held.
Immediate Access to Products
Additionally, a shopper in a rush may find that online shopping is going to take too long, and they need a product available the same day.
Though there are rush shipping options available to consumers, none of those options beat the speed of a consumer going directly to a merchandiser to pick up a product they have an immediate need for.
Ability to Handle the Products
Beyond that, some consumers may wish to experience product features, and handle the product before spending their money on it.
For example, Apple stores offer the customer the chance to work with a product, and ask questions to the staff as they do so. Though pictures and videos online may be adequate to some consumers, others may be uncomfortable spending large sums of money on products they have never experienced.
In addition to allowing customers to access products they wish to purchase, with an in-store shopping experience, retailers have the option to offer their customer the exposure to products they did not know they wanted, or new products the customers may not have known about. In a store, customers cannot “filter out” products, and sales associates can approach the customer with products that may complement the one one they came in for. Overall, online shopping limits the retailer’s options to solicit more sales from the consumer in a way in-store shopping does not.
Though in-store shopping has some unique advantages, online retailers are quickly finding ways to accommodate those features.
When a customer is shopping online, there is often the opportunity to read reviews from people who have previously purchased the very item they are looking at.
These online reviews commonly feature aspects such as 0-5 star ratings that allow a consumer to glance at whether or not a product is even worth their consideration in the first place. If a customer sees that a product they are about to click on is very poorly-rated, they can quickly move on after evaluating it from the simple initial glance.
Further, for online shoppers, it is even possible to filter out any products with poor ratings, and exclude them from considerations altogether.
Product Filters and Categories
Online shopping offers the consumer the ability to target exactly what they are looking for and focus their shopping.
A customer can decide they wish to purchase a black baseball glove, designed for left-handed pitchers, and spend less than $50. From there, the site can be made display only the products within that criteria, and the customer does not have to scroll through thousands of products they are not interested in.
This kind of frustration-free shopping is unique to online shopping because stores are designed to prioritize the look of the store, and even create a situation that makes quick shopping impossible.
For a consumer who does not have the time to become “trapped” in a store, online shopping is the answer to their problem.
Wider Range of Sizes and Products
Retail locations in malls come at a premium price, and retailers have to prioritize the space in the store.
Raymond T. Cirz explains that for a “regional mall located in the Eastern region of the United States,” rent averages “$34.62 per square foot.” With costs this high, retailers cannot offer every size in every style, or even a diverse range of products.
Online retailers are able to offer extended sizing, and more styles, colors, and products to their consumer. The lack of physical limitations online allows for a limitless amount of options for a retailer to offer their customer in terms of product specifications.
No Traffic or Crowds
During the busiest shopping days, particularly during the holiday season, shopping malls can become a chaotic scene. For in-store shoppers, there can be weather interruptions to cause travel delays, a lack of parking available, stores can become a mess, and lines frequently go out the door.
With online shopping however, none of these problems exist.
A shopper can browse without any stress, and checkout at the moment they decide they are ready. Their haul is then able to be delivered straight to their door, or even to the gift recipient if they desire.
Unlike in-store shopping, customers are not bound by operating hours.
If a customer is unable to access a mall during usual business hours, they cannot purchase the things they need. The web, however, is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
A shopper can also save their online cart to be able leave a site and return at a later, more convenient time. These kind of conveniences are non-existent to in-store shoppers, and is a key reason busy shoppers choose to do their business online.
Generous Return and Exchange Policies
To accommodate the shoppers who may be apprehensive about spending their money on products they have not yet been able to try on or experience, many online retailers offer shoppers a very generous return and exchange policy.
Kyle James of LifeHacker.com discussed a time when a Zappos customer was unsatisfied with their online purchase. Though he expected he was not going to be able to return shoes he had already worn, he was pleasantly surprised by their return policy.
Zappos accepted his complaint as a just reason to return the shoes, they sent him a better-fitting pair for free, and credited his account to reflect the sale price during the time he brought this to Zappos’ attention.
Online retailers are understanding and aware of the complexities that come with online shopping, and many are more than willing to demonstrate their devotion to allowing the customer to shop without having to compromise on any in-store shopping conveniences.
Overall, it is clear that malls are no longer the best medium for retailers to reach their customers. Online shopping is convenient for the consumer, as well as the retailer who may be able to forgo the expense of having a retail location altogether. However, with the critical advantages from both sides of the argument, it is clear the the better option is for a retailer to take an omni-channel approach to their business operations. Why compromise on any of the features a consumer desires when it is possible to diversify your channels in a way that is accommodating to all?