The internet, smartphones and ecommerce have dramatically changed the way consumers shop, but it's important to keep things in perspective. Despite the general concern that online shopping is destroying traditional markets, there is evidence to suggest this concern may be overblown. A recent report from the National Retail Foundation shows that online shopping and tools are benefiting brick-and-mortar retailers, rather than be destroyed by it.

NRF has started a new quarterly report called Consumer View. The report is designed to "gauge consumer behavior and shopping trends related to stores, online channels, customer loyalty, technology and other issues". This inaugural report was based on surveys from more than 3,000 U.S. consumers on their shopping habits.

While it's certainly true that a lot of people buy things online, relatively few consumers are considered primary online shoppers. Despite the growth of ecommerce, only 21 percent of consumers surveyed are primarily online shoppers, defined as those who purchase more than half of their items online.

This means that nearly four out of five (79 percent) of consumers are shopping at bricks-and-mortar stores just as much as or more than they did a year ago. Even separating out younger audiences doesn't change things much. Among millennials and generation Z survey respondents, 34 percent were primarily online shoppers, but the majority still make the majority of their purchases in stores.

"This report shows that the bricks-and-mortar store is still the cornerstone of American retail and likely will be for many years to come, as consumers seek authentic interaction and experiences with retailers," said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. "Despite the changes in our industry, there is an appeal to seeing and touching merchandise in person and being able to engage with fellow human beings that has yet to go away. Even younger shoppers see the value of the store."

Much of this is about keeping things in perspective. While a lot of product research, coupon searches and some actual purchases happen online, many of the things consumers buy the most are easier to buy from a brick-and-mortar retailer. In the NRF study, 86 percent of the respondents said they buy their groceries mostly or entirely in-store, as do 65 percent for home improvement items/tools, 64 percent for personal care/beauty products and 57 percent for home décor/furnishings.

Online retailers can take solace in the fact that in the above set of statistics, only grocery stores had a firm hold on their audiences. Afterall, it's hard to order fresh fruits, vegetables and meats from an online store. It's not impossible, but there are certainly cost and logistical challenges. But in the other areas listed, there is plenty of room for online retailers to find customers who are willing to buy tools, beauty products or home furnishings online.

On the other end of the spectrum, clothes shopping is split between 49 percent of consumers shopping in stores, 13 percent shopping online and 38 percent shopping equally in stores and online. This is the same sort of split seen with consumer electronics shoppers (43 percent in stores, 18 percent online and 39 percent shopping equally in stores and online). Books, music and video games were the only category where consumers purchase the majority or all their items online (37 percent), with 27 percent shopping mostly or entirely in stores and 36 percent split.

Even in situations where more consumers shop in-store for an item, online marketing and website integration can boost revenue for business owners. According to NRF, of consumers who have tried buy online shopping with in-store pickup, more than two-thirds (68 percent) said it improved their shopping experience. Similarly, two out three respondents who had tried in-app store navigation (66 percent) or mobile payments (65 percent) while shopping said it had a positive impact.

The NRF's inaugural Consumer View report is filled with a lot of useful information for business owners, and is worth looking at in its entirety. And for more recent information to help business owners and marketers, read this article on the benefits of listing products on multiple online platforms.

Published on: Oct 2, 2017
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