It’s almost here; Christmas is right at our doorstep. There’s a festive air in all the cities, and everyone is running full speed to the shops. Black Friday was just a preview of what’s to come in the next few days. But there’s one big change to highlight, which is our approach to online shopping. A study by the Center for Retail Research for online marketplace RetailMeNot shows that Italians are willing to spend more money online this year than ever before.
Trust in online payments is on the rise, up 30% since 2015. Because, think of the advantages: there are the savings for one thing, as well as the speed of making a purchase, and the ability to grab a good deal at any moment – all while avoiding the usual Christmas chaos. But even with this rush toward online shopping, we’re also seeing a renewed nostalgia for physical storefronts.
According to Coldiretti, an association for local farmers, the most popular gifts this year will be high tech gadgets, specialty food items, and clothing. ‘Made in Italy’ products also occupy a special position, especially for areas affected by the recent earthquakes. In Marche for example, the project Daje Marche is giving local producers the opportunity to sell their goods online.
In my opinion, the two experiences – shopping online and in brick and mortar shops – don’t cancel each other out, they complement each other. There are aspects of a physical shop that e-commerce can’t replicate. In fact, many people prefer to visit a store first, choose an item when they can touch it and see it in person, and then buy it online. In addition, there’s also the Contactless trend. According to a 2016 Digital Payments Study by Visa, contactless payments increased from 36% in 2015 to 52% in 2016. They’re on the rise, and not just among young people. The 55-64 set also showed a 64% rise since 2015.
In any case, people are still turning to brick and mortar shops in collaboration, not in competition, with e-commerce. How so? Well, think of apps like Christmas Gift List, for example. This app lets you organise your gift lists by person and budget.
The Digital Payment Study also confirmed that 7 out of 10 Europeans are “showroomers” – that is, they prefer to see something in person at a store, but then complete their purchase online. On the other hand, 66% appreciate “webrooms” – shopping around for the best price online before buying the item in a physical store.
Despite the increase in online sales of Christmas presents, brick and mortar shops continue to be an important part of the average shopper’s purchasing behavior. 60% of consumers still appreciate the chance to interact with salespeople and the ability to shop for a gift in person.
Many people reading this might shake their heads, and insist that e-commerce is destined to replace brick and mortar shops completely, possibly transforming them (in the not-too-distant future) exclusively into showrooms. Yet the issue is more complex, especially when you consider that Amazon is rumored to be opening 400 physical stores after its first experiment in Seattle’s University Village in 2015.
Of course, that experiment was limited to books, but the goal is much more ambitious. They are trying to create a continuous interaction between online and offline, down the trail that Dash and Echo are already blazing. We’re just at the start of a road where the distinction between online and offline purchasing blurs, and we keep only the best aspects of physical stores, like customer loyalty, product displays and human contact.
Still not convinced? The arrival of Amazon Go should eliminate any remaining doubt. The technology will follow you as you shop, and let you make the most of the shopping experience. You can touch the products and ask for advice from employees, but you don’t have to wait in line at the checkout.
One thing is for sure: this year’s Christmas shopping is going to be an important source of data for volume of sales, case histories and maturity of digital technology – almost like a laboratory to help us discover the future of shopping.