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Shoppers are getting used to—and growing fond of—the online shopping experience. They enjoy the feeling of going to a favorite retailer’s webpage and opening tabs of different items to compare as they scroll down the page. They like the 1-2-3 browse, click and purchase experience. They may one day even grow to prefer this to a brick-and-mortar experience.
For now, though, consumers seem to like the idea of shopping online more than they actually enjoy doing it. While half of shoppers worldwide told the IBM Institute for Business Value that they preferred shopping online, only 29% had made their last purchase online. The survey of 110,000 consumers between 2011 and 2014 revealed a disparity between this articulated preference and actual behavior.
eMarketer estimates that US retail ecommerce sales will reach $349.1 billion in 2015, representing 7.1% of total retail sales. By 2018, we expect that number to climb to $493.9 billion, or 8.9% of total retail sales.
That said, online shopping behavior and preference varies by age. IBM found that respondents younger than 40 expressed an above-average and growing preference for online shopping. The primary factors? Cost and convenience.
Online shoppers have the flexibility to price compare without having to walk store-to-store. They can put things in their baskets and wait until a promotion comes around or they’re sent a coupon to prevent abandonment. Those less concerned with cost will swallow a shipping cost in the name of convenience; Insofar as the most convenient option would be to buy something and leave with the item in hand (something currently possible only at brick-and-mortar stores), the next best thing is just having the item delivered to your doorstep a couple of days after clicking a button. While only 23% of shoppers thought highly of online purchase delivery in 2011, 36% preferred it in 2014.
But lest retailers think that they have the formula figured out, there are still some issues that need to be addressed. The most inconvenient thing of all for a shopper is to walk into a brick-and-mortar store with the intention of buying something and that item be out of stock. This was true 20 years ago, but is especially true today, as customers have come to expect bottomless inventory given their experiences buying online. At the very least, nearly half of consumers surveyed said that equipping sales associates with mobile devices to check inventory in real-time could make or break their perception of a retailer’s in-store experience.
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