shopping online

Shopping Online: Everything You Need To Know

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Shopping online is big business (and only getting bigger).

From 2012-2013, 11.7 million Australians bought something online. That’s roughly 76% of Australian internet users. In 2012, Americans spent up to $231 billion online. In the UK, it’s estimated that over a fifth of all retail purchases are currently taking place online.

But, should you be shopping online? Is it the smart thing to do?

Well, it’s complicated. There’s no denying that online shopping is becoming more popular. The sector is currently expected to grow annually by 14% in Australia until (at least) 2016. In the UK, it’s expected to expand by 17% in 2014 alone. But, consumers aren’t actually fully converted.

In Australia, shopping online still only accounts for 7% of our annual retail spending. In general, we’re happy to make purchases online – but we still prefer to shop in stores. This is true of America, too. In 2013, online shopping only actually accounted for 8% of their retail spending.

So, what’s holding people back? Why shouldn’t you shop online? Well, in a survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics across 2008-2009, security concerns were listed as one of the main factors. Should security concerns stop you from shopping online?

It’s debatable. Really, it will be up to you. There are a number of precautions you can take to ensure that you’re shopping smartly and securely when you’re online. For one example, you can pay through an intermediary company like PayPal to keep your credit card details private.

As another tip, you should always make sure any transaction you’re making online is via a website with the prefix ‘https://'. (The ’s’ stands for secure). For more practical advice, you should just try sticking to shopping from big retailers or seeking out customer reviews for smaller businesses.

If you need help in that regard, Smart Company have compiled a list of Australia’s Top 20 online retailers. If you’re looking internationally, America’s National Review Federation compile an annual list of America’s Top 100 Retailers. For reviews, it’s best to simply try Google.

(Or, just look at the company’s Twitter mentions and Facebook pages. They’re the first place people will head with a complaint.)

If you’re feeling particularly careful, you can even clear your browser’s cache after each transaction. This will make sure your financial information isn’t kept on the computer for people to exploit. If you’re not sure how to do it, Shopify neatly break down how to tackle it for each browser.

If you don’t feel those precautions give you enough security, you should probably avoid online shopping. But, surprisingly, security wasn’t actually the main reason survey respondents claimed to avoid shopping online. Overwhelmingly, Australians simply didn’t see the need to shop online.

Which begs the question – why do people shop online? There are some obvious drawcards. Diversity and convenience, for example. An online music store like iTunes boasts 37 million songs and a customer can access them all in practically an instant.

Price is also a factor. An online retailer like Amazon doesn’t have to maintain the same staff, displays and retail spaces as a physical chain of stores – and as such they don’t have to mark up their stock to the same degree as someone like Target. Hence, online shopping is often cheaper.

But, surprisingly, diversity, convenience and price are actually only factors in why people like to shop online. According to a 2013 survey of American consumers, we mainly like to shop online because online retailers offer superior service to their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

(Initially a little shocking, that statistic makes a little more sense when you consider that any online retail sector is almost always going to be both highly crowded and heavily competitive.)

So, does that mean you should be shopping online? Well, we’re still not close to a definitive answer, sadly. After all, there has to be a reason why Australians and Americans are still doing most of their retail spending offline. What is it?

One theory suggests that online retailers simply haven’t caught up to how we like to shop. Another 2013 survey of American consumers revealed that, when it comes to shopping, we value immediate ownership of a product and the touch and feel of a store above most other qualities.

And, frankly, online stores are still struggling to capture that appeal. Tactics are emerging. The increased growth of online shopping in the UK has been partly put down to developing hybrid models – like consumers buying their products online and picking them up from physical stores.

(This model is also being explored in Australia, for the record – JB Hi-Fi is a good example.)

But, it’ll be a while before any online retailer actually cracks it. 

So. Finally. Should you or should you not be shopping online? Hopefully, you’ve figured out there isn’t a definitive answer – and don’t feel cheated that we don’t have one for you! But, also hopefully, we’ve given you enough information to make an informed decision.

It depends on what you value when it comes to retail. Security? Immediacy? Price? It’s up to you. Whatever feels right for you – that’s your right answer.