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Christmas Shopping: online or offline?

By Graeme McLean - Posted on 22 December 2017

Dr Graeme McLean and Tichakunda Mwenje in the Department of Marketing look at online and offline shopping during the Christmas period and how they can work together for the benefit of customers.

Over recent years the retail landscape has gone through some fundamental changes, brick and mortar brands have launched online platforms, whilst e-commerce giants like Amazon and Alibaba have acknowledged the value of the physical store. As these worlds collide, its evident that there’s merit in both experiences for the overall customer journey and no more so during the Christmas shopping period.

Traditional retailers (brick and mortar) have encountered numerous strategic challenges and opportunities over recent years. First was the introduction of e-commerce websites that challenged the existence of many retailers with numerous well-known brands exiting the market. However, over the years, retailers who have continued to compete have adapted their strategy to include an online presence through an e-commerce website. The Internet continues to be an essential factor in the evolution of the retail landscape. Numerous retailers have gone on to take significant advantage of what the channel has to offer including the expanded reach, reduced costs, lower barriers geographically, as well as 24/7 availability.

The UK was reported as Europe’s second highest online purchasing country with 87% of UK consumers having made at least one online purchase this year. In 2016, online sales reported an increase of 21.3% and a 30% increase is expected in 2017. Regardless of retailers having brick and mortar stores to complement e-commerce, the world of online shopping is considered a necessity, especially among 80% of Millennials who reported that they obtain better access to product information online vs. in store.

The way consumers shop is changing rapidly which can be attributed to the rise of mobile shopping. The UK retail e-commerce market is expected to exceed £81.55 billion in 2017, of which £35.31 billion will come from mobile commerce. A recent study I undertook with colleagues found that UK consumers value convenience above all other things when shopping, thus it is understandable why consumers embrace the ease mobile-commerce offers through its availability anytime, anywhere.

As we enter the festive period, the number of consumers who complete their Christmas shopping online is on the rise. Why wouldn’t it be? Shoppers are able to stay in the comfort of their own homes during these busy shopping periods while avoiding the queues and crowds, amidst obtaining some of the best deals in this competitive digital landscape.

Recent research undertaken with Professor Alan Wilson highlighted timeliness as an important factor influencing a customer’s experience during goal directed shopping, while consumers seek the best gifts (at the best price) for their loved ones, online shopping has become a channel that allows individuals to shop quickly, conveniently and with reduced levels of effort, thus it is not surprising with so many gifts to buy, consumers turn to online shopping channels.  

While online and offline channels are distinct, they shouldn’t be viewed in isolation. With the advent of the ubiquitous smartphone device, consumers are now blending their online experience with their offline experiences as they use mobile applications in store for enhanced product information, price comparison and purchase. Despite the rapid growth of online shopping, there is still a great deal of appeal for the consumer in the tangible in-store experience, however the challenge for retailers lies within linking them cohesively as part of the overall customer journey.

So where will your gift come from this Christmas? Our guess is from the digital Santa! 


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