By Stephen Walker, Regional Director, NZ, Toluna
The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on businesses around the world, but for many online retailers, lockdowns have had the opposite effect. In New Zealand alone, NZ Post figures show online shopping had increased by 105 percent by August 2020, providing a significant boost to retailers with an online presence.
Whether or not this increased level of online spending will continue post-pandemic is the million dollar question. Although there is some speculation that the trend may continue long term, recent research by Toluna suggests it doesn’t look likely.
Bricks and mortar still trumps online
Despite the spike in online shopping behaviour during the pandemic, the research, which surveyed 511 New Zealanders between 12-14 March 2021, showed that across the board, the majority of Kiwi shoppers still prefer to shop in store. This was particularly true when it came to shopping for groceries (78%), furniture (75%), home improvement tools (80%), personal care products (69%), and clothing (64%), with just over half preferring to shop in store for beauty products (55%) and electronics (59%).
With online sales figures through the roof, there are seemingly no real barriers preventing people from completing their shopping online. In fact, the majority of respondents admitted that online shopping is convenient (68%), saves time (57%) and makes it easier to compare prices (55%). So why do customers still prefer to shop in store?
Tactile, real-life experiences
Despite the obvious benefits of online shopping, less than half (40%) of the respondents surveyed actually enjoy doing their shopping online. For those who’ve been shopping more online due to COVID-19, it’s the tactile, real-life experiences they’ve missed the most about shopping in stores, such as hand picking items (76%), trying things on (66%), testing items before buying them (53%) and face to face customer service (50%).
Interestingly, tactile shopping experiences are more important to women, with 78% stating they miss hand picking items and 71% who miss trying things on, compared with only 73% and 61% for men respectively. On the other hand, 55% of men stated they missed in-person customer service, compared with only 45% of women.
The retail industry has been touting the importance of ‘experience’ for years, and these findings support the idea that experience is paramount; to a point where it seemingly outweighs the convenience online shopping provides. If that’s the case, it’s likely that shoppers will continue to prefer to shop in store until online shopping is able to offer a more enjoyable experience.
Ramping up the online experience
For online retailers developing or upgrading their e-commerce sites, customer experience must be at the fore. Including experiential offerings such as the ability to try on products virtually or online customer service, may just be the key to making online shopping a more enjoyable experience.
In fact, having these kinds of experiences available is likely to make online retail more profitable. Of the 10% of survey respondents who had tried on products virtually, the majority (70%) were satisfied with their experience, with 62% stating they’re more likely to purchase products such as hair colours (67%), glasses (63%), clothing (63%), make up (81%) and shoes (60%) and watches (75%) after having tried them on virtually.
What was really interesting is that one in five of all respondents (19%) believe trying on products virtually is as good as trying on a product in real life; with 22% stating they’d be willing to spend more on a product if they were able to virtually try it on before purchasing. This means that if more (virtually) tactile experiences were available online, this may sway the results.
Online experiences do need to be done well, however. There were some features, such as chat bots, that shoppers didn’t feel as positively towards. Many online shoppers felt that bots were unable to solve issues (54%), continually redirected customers to self-serve FAQs (44%) and that the chat bots blocked them from accessing a live person (43%). Given half the shoppers surveyed said that one of the things they missed during covid was real life customer service, any AI-driven customer support needs to deliver a seamless customer experience in order to be able to compete with face to face service.
Bricks and mortar comes up trumps, for now…
In years to come, when shoppers can try on entire outfits virtually from their home, or use virtual reality to remodel their lounge room, we may find that shoppers prefer online shopping than going in store. But for now, bricks and mortar retailers can feel safe in the knowledge that the in-person customer service they provide and the ability for customers to handpick products is enough to continue getting customers through the door. And let’s face it, after a year of intermittent COVID-19 lockdowns, shoppers are probably more excited to get out the house than ever before.