'Tis the season to be jolly - so why does the prospect of doing our Christmas shopping fill many of us with dread?
I can give you just two scenarios where I find it acceptable to be jostled by a large crowd of people. One is the commute to work (tolerated out of necessity). The other is gigs, where close contact with fellow fans is part of the experience.
One situation where I don’t wish to be jostled, shoved or required to stand in a queue for more than three minutes is when I’m Christmas shopping.
As a general rule, I prefer to shop in shops, where I can pick things up and pause for a moment to imagine how ownership of this pair of shoes/lipstick/low calorie breakfast cereal will transform my life and make me a better person.
But let’s be realistic. Life is hectic, the web is fast, and there are more products available online today than you could ever hope to find in the high street. They’re frequently cheaper, too.
Figures just released by IMRG (Interactive Marketing in Retail Group) and Cagemini suggest that the online gifts sector this year grew by 76% in October compared to September, a surge which they say indicates of the start of the Christmas buying period and which is trumping sales on the high street. In other words, online shopping has caught on, big time.
Some people benefit from ‘e-tail’ more than others. I’m slightly hesitant to say that it’s a great alternative to shopping on the high street if you have a disability (I myself have MS), because I strongly feel that everyone should be able to shop in the high street if they want to.
Browsing online is all very well if you’re buying wrapping paper or cards, but sometimes you want to touch the thing you’re buying before you make your purchase. Having a disability shouldn’t stop you from being able to do that. Either way, I guess it’s great to at least have the choice.
If you attempted to buy something online 10 years ago and found the experience frustrating, slow and ultimately disappointing, it really is worth giving it another go today.
It's as if retailers have spent the past 15 years listening to what customers want and developing online stores that take all the hassle out of online shopping. Which, indeed, they have. I recently worked in an agency that designed websites for well know high street stores. You would be amazed to see the amount of effort retailers make to discover the most compelling way to design a website to maximise the possibility that you will make a purchase online. I must say, I welcome this new focus on the customer experience.
A decade ago, I was one of those disgruntled consumers whose dream of online shopping was all but destroyed by poor customer service and slow delivery. Today, I can count the number of bad experiences that I’ve had this year on the fingers of one hand.
The technology of the web has also made online shopping far more satisfying for me. Nowhere is this more obvious than in fashion retailing. You can tell so little from a low resolution image of a dress. But visit many of the top fashion retail sites today and you’ll find catwalk videos and the option to zoom in close to examine clothes in more detail. This gives me greater confidence that I will buy something that will both suit and fit me.
Add to the mix the advent of the social web. I now rarely buy a new or expensive product (such as a holiday or TV) without first checking the online reviews to see what people who have already bought the item think of it. Far from being deterred by bad reviews I use them to get a balanced view which quickly leads to a purchasing decision that I feel more confident about.
There is no doubt that the web has caused a shopping revolution, and it’s getting better all the time. I hope we never lose our high streets and shopping malls, but when the prospect of hauling purchases around shops heaving with grumpy shoppers is too much to contemplate it’s comforting to know an alternative is just a few clicks away.