Online vs. Offline: Which Shopping Experience Reigns Supreme in 2018?

Retail vs Digital Shopping: The Winner Is Clear, But Not Absolute.

The world of online shopping is an ever-increasing marketplace where consumers can purchase anything they want, from the latest designer clothes to specialist medical equipment. With so much variety and options available on the world wide web, it’s no surprise that the traditional shopping center of past generations is in decline while the number of online sales is more than doubling every year. In the matchup between retail vs digital shopping, online is the clear winner, but not a total knockout.

It is this shifting attitude of consumers turning to e-commerce rather than bricks and mortar which is the cause of historic brands losing their place as market leaders while new, innovative businesses move forward. However, is it true that online shopping is king in 2018, or can the shopping mall see a revival?

The Changing Attitudes to Shopping

Examining and understanding the way consumers access shopping channels, discover new brands, and their shopping behavior is the first step when considering whether online or offline shopping will prevail or fail. In the past 50 years, attitudes towards shopping have shifted dramatically, with numerous elements contributing to the outcomes.

One such factor is the changing attitude towards finances and the rise of disposable income. While past generations were taught at a young age to save their money for a rainy day, society today has a more impulsive nature, where people no longer think twice about using a credit card for everyday purchases. Instead of saving money to dedicate a day for shopping, stores have expanded hours, they are more accessible (especially malls with ample car parking), meaning people can pop in any day, whether it’s after work, on the weekend, or on their lunch break.

Another key deciding factor is the relentless evolution of marketing and advertising. Consumers are bombarded daily with the latest marketing campaigns, which can now be specifically targeted towards the demographic of the brand. Past generations could go through their day without seeing a specific advertisement. In 2018, it’s hard to miss an advert, be it on your social media feed, on television, on the radio, through targeted emails; the possibilities are endless. Digital marketing is also becoming more intrusive and interactive as technology develops. An advert is no longer a picture and text. Now it can be an interactive video, where consumers are prompted to perform an action, such as adding their photo or selecting a personalized option. Through interaction, marketers ensure brands stay in people’s minds for a much longer period.

Why Do Consumers Choose Online?

Online shopping began as early as 1995 when Amazon and eBay launched. However, the way consumers shop online has dramatically changed and evolved throughout the last 23 years. Amazon, in particular, first focused on selling books, whereas, in 2018, it is now branching out into grocery shopping which can be delivered the same day. What is the draw of online shopping for the majority of users? Two key factors for online shopping are as followed:

·        Variety

The choice of goods online is ever growing.. By using an online marketplace, you can discover a vast number of brands and products in one easy to use area. However, there is also the proliferation of specific brand websites where you can find the exact product you want. Furthermore, the selection you can find online is far greater than any you will find in local stores, even if the product is stocked. Brick and mortar stores will usually have a limited selection of inventory, while online shops can offer a full range of options.

·        Convenience

Regardless of the day or the time, online shopping is always open. Consumers no longer have to wait in line outside their favorite store to open at 9 am. Instead, they can virtually visit the website at 2 am. Convenience is also applicable to how quick online shopping is. Once you have a list, you can select your items and check out in a fraction of the time it would take in-store, searching down each aisle. You can also have your shopping delivered straight to your home, which takes the time and effort away from traveling into a city center yourself. It also means that you can have products delivered to you from all over the world. If you see a book which is only printed in another country, you can pay a shipping fee for it to arrive at your front door.

What Draws Consumers to Shopping Offline?

While online shopping is understandably an easier option, traditional shopping centers still retain a certain level of trade and allure to shoppers. The decline of household names such as Toys R Us made the national and global news as a victim of changing shopping behavior and attitudes, but it is only one name out of many of major retailer to fail, and there is no single cause, such as online shopping, to blame. There are still a significant number of consumers choosing to shop offline and visit a store or a mall, rather than simply clicking online. What brings them to the store, rather than a site?

·        A Personal Experience

When you visit a brick and mortar store, you will meet knowledgeable, helpful staff who can talk you through products and provide specific recommendations. For the cosmetic industry, physical stores provide a greater experience for consumers as they can find tailored products with any advice they may want.

·        Product Experience

This factor is similar to the personal experience, where consumers can physically interact with their chosen item. They can try on the pair of shoes they’ve been looking at to test how well they fit and if they will be comfortable. They can test drive cars before choosing; they can try electronic items to see how they feel and how easy they are to use. It’s this experience which draws on consumer senses; they can see, touch, feel, and even smell before they buy.

The Verdict  

In today’s digital-focused world, online shopping is only going to increase as more and more businesses dedicate their marketing efforts and move their retail onto the web. However, the allure and draw of visiting a store and trying and experiencing the products for yourself are irreplaceable, and it isn’t something which will ever be completely eliminated from consumers buying habits.

Charles Groome

Charles Groome

Charles Groome is a contributor to SmallBizStar. Charles is a Digital Marketing Specialist and presently serves as Director of Marketing at Biz2Credit. Having worked with established companies and startups for most of his career, Charles brings powerful insights to the challenges of succeeding in the digital marketplace. Find him on Twitter and LinkedIn. Email Charles at