Monday, January 16, 2012

Online Shopping Not Just a Convenience Thing

The recent holiday shopping season continued to show an increase in online shopping. Millions of us spent billions of dollars by eschewing the mall and the big box stores, choosing instead the convenience of shopping on line. Studies show that, even among the 55+ year old market segment, more than 70% purchased at least one item via the Internet. It is interesting to note that this is just about the same percentage of Internet customers found in the 18 – 32 year old demographic. Shopping online is something that is being embraced by young and old alike.

A deeper investigation shows that it is not just holiday shopping that is migrating to online stores. It is a trend showing that many use the Internet for most every purchase, even groceries. It is easy to come to the conclusion that the driving force for this trend is our desire to sit in our kitchen, dressed in our PJs, drinking our own coffee and still shop. So, is convenience the big draw of online shopping? A closer look might indicate it is not.

Online shopping allows for easy comparison shopping. Many online sites allow you to choose two or three similar products and compare each feature. Some actually set up a grid that makes it very easy to compare. If you are looking for a new digital camera, the grid might contain the resolution of the camera measured in megapixels, battery life, ease of use, as well as price. Many also have a place for customers to share their experiences with the products. These ratings are helpful since they are based on actual use. While on some of these sites there have been reviews that were placed by people posing as customers that were actually hired by a company selling one of the products, for the most part the reviews seem to be honest.

Another aspect of online shopping that is very attractive to the consumer is the customer service. and other mega online retailers often have much better support and are more customer friendly than the big box retailers. For example, the return policy of is extraordinary. Most of the time it is a “no questions asked” process. A trip to Best Buy after Christmas with a return in hand will reinforce how good really is.

Are brick and mortar stores soon to be relics of a bygone age? Not necessarily. A trip to the Apple Store demonstrates that a pleasant environment and superior customer service still appeals to shoppers. Nothing takes the place of intelligent, informed salespeople. This is especially true when buying an expensive and complicated device.

More and more the big box retailers have a cadre of sales staff that seems to be reading from a script rather than listening to what the customer wants. So if traditional retailers want to fend off their cyberspace rivals they better invest in customer service. The new lap top computer on the store shelf today is just like the one that FedEx can have on my front porch tomorrow, often with less hassle and, because the online seller doesn’t have a big store to pay for, it will be less expensive.

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