The Closing Gap Between Online and Offline Sales: Are People Shunning the High-Street?

Almost anything can now be done online, and the gap is closing between the physical and the cyber world. Such is the convenience and efficiency of the internet, that many choose to shop online rather than visit the high-street. The conventional retail method is dwindling; shoppers opting to browse from the comfort of their own home instead. And who can blame them? Choosing to cruise through the endless options online whilst sat in a warm room on a cosy sofa; certainly seems to beat battling Britain’s dreary weather and struggling through streets packed with hoards of weekend shoppers.

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Online shopping has been the preference of many for years; but it is only recently that the threat of a serious decline in high-street commerce has become very real. With the emergence of new retail platforms on the increasingly popular smartphones and cutting edge tablets; consumers now have the ability to shop on the move, anywhere, anytime.

UK shoppers spent £4.9 billion online last month, a staggering 20% more than the same period last year. Experts have now predicted that online retail sales will account for one fifth of total retail sales by 2012, posing the question; will the high-street soon become an empty shrine to its former retail glory?

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Endless possibilities:

There’s no denying that shopping online has its many advantages. Firstly; you can access the web at any time of the day or night, so whereas your high-street shopping experience will only last the daylight hours the shops are open; this time constraint doesn’t exist on the web. The appeal of this for many is that they can fit it in around their daily routine; leaving time for more important tasks.

Secondly, the efficiency of the internet provides the ability to compare prices and products with just a few clicks. Certainly in today’s economic situation, this aspect of shopping has become vital for most. With comparison websites continuously popping up across the web, this method has never been so simple, and can save the consumer a considerable amount of money. Quite often, the high-street won’t have the variety or choice of the internet, and shops may be a fair distance apart; leaving the shopper with little option but to purchase the first product they find.

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Thirdly, it is widely accepted that online shopping is more environmentally-friendly than shopping on the high-street. A recent survey found that 72.9% of shoppers believed this was the case. With the carbon dioxide emissions from a van delivery being significantly less than making a special trip to the shops for the same product; green shoppers take to the web for all their retail needs.

Finally, the luxury of having your shopping delivered to your front door is what seals the decision for many. For those who lead a busy and hectic life; freeing up the time spent food shopping for example, is invaluable.

Drawbacks – where e-commerce still falls short of the mark:

Those who haven’t yet converted to hanging up their shopping bags; want more from their shopping experience than being sucked into a mechanical process which funnels them towards purchase. Relying on images to buy a product is not enough; some consumers want to feel or test it before parting with their money, so they can judge the quality.

This, combined with the fact that you can’t try-on clothes online; contributes to the high number of returns from online sales. Setting the experience back further, is the cost of returning these unwanted products. The process involves either returning your online purchase to its high-street counterpart, or making a visit to the post office; both of which contradict the key benefits of choosing e-commerce.

Despite this, many still purchase online fully aware that there’s a strong chance they’ll return it. Perhaps the ease of buying online and quite often, the lower prices, persuade the customer to take the gamble. Taking this into consideration, perhaps e-commerce websites should focus their efforts on making their user-journey as interactive and communicative as possible; blurring the rigid line between interface and user.