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Tide turns as consumers ditch online for physical shopping

Many of us are guilty of "showrooming" - the act of using a brick and mortar store like Best Buy or Walmart as a showroom for products we end up buying online. While there is nothing morally wrong about such a practice, I do sometimes feel guilty doing it. In other words, I enjoy saving money by purchasing online, but I would be sad to see brick and mortar stores disappear; I like touching a product before buying.

While the Internet is not about to go away anytime soon, something surprising is happening - consumers are returning to brick and mortar stores through "webrooming" - the act of researching a product online and then buying in a physical store.

"The complex interplay between online and in-person shopping in the US has tilted slightly in favour of bricks-and-mortar retailers, according to GfK’s 2014 FutureBuy global study of shopping habits and preferences. Incidents of smartphone 'showrooming' - seeing a product in a store, then buying it online from another retailer using a smartphone – dropped from 37 percent in the US last year to 28 per cent in 2014. But 'webrooming', in which consumers buy in a store after researching a purchase online using a smartphone, was reported by an even higher proportion of respondents, 41 per cent", says GfK.

The company further explains, "US shoppers who decided to make their purchases in a bricks-and-mortar environment were motivated by key differentiators such as 'see and feel before buying' (58 per cent prefer bricks and mortar, versus 9 per cent online), 'get products sooner' (53 percent versus 16 percent), and 'hassle-free returns' (35 per cent versus 10 per cent ). When online was the preferred purchase venue, attributes such as 'save money' (61 per cent versus 28 per cent), 'easier' (53 per cent versus 24 per cent, and 'better selection' (46 per cent versus 16 per cent) were deciding factors".

As you can see, the determining factor of how consumers shop is tied to specific needs. While online shopping can save a consumer money, some consumers are placing increased value on instant gratification and easy returns. This could signify an improved economy, as less consumers are stressing about cost savings.

Interestingly, the method of how consumers shop online is changing too. GfK explains, "though PCs and laptops still account for the lion's share of online research and purchases, mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) are playing a growing role. Internet shopping via a traditional home computer (PC or laptop) dropped from 78 per cent to 63 per cent in the US in just one year, while use of mobile devices doubled - from 8 per cent to 15 per cent for smartphones, and 5 per cent to 10 per cent for tablets".

Do you do most of your shopping online or in brick and mortar stores? Tell me in the comments.

Photo Credit: Kamil Macniak/Shutterstock