Online Retail Isn't Always Better Retail

Target-Back-to-School-BIt has become axiomatic that brick-and-mortar retail is not a place to buy things but to look at products, then maybe benchmark prices before going online to make the purchase. But a new mystery shopper study by StellaService suggests that, at least for the $83.8 billion back-to-school season, in which two out of five consumers will do their shopping online this year (nearly double the number from five years ago), going to a physical store can save money and time. 

The study compared the online versus in-store shopping experience at Target, Walmart, Costco, Staples, Office Max, and Office Depot. For price, in-store shopping won by a lot with in-store customers paying an average of $21 less than online shoppers for the same items, with dot-com shoppers paying an average $10.81 in online shipping costs.



Online shopping is, of course, faster initially, taking consumers an average 10 minutes to complete their lists and check out, while getting the same items in-store took about 30 minutes, plus travel to and from. But while taking delivery of in-store items is obviously immediate,  the average online purchase took four days to arrive. One order of 13 items from Walmart arrived at the shopper’s home in six boxes over the course of eight days.

The study also found that online retailers at most brick-and-mortar stores were able to compete on selection as well. customers actually often had better luck finding specific items at their local store than online.

Office Depot outperformed its rivals, excelling across a spectrum of criteria such as pricing, customer service, shipping, and more.

"StellaService is a champion of online shopping, but we were surprised to find that in the back-to-school market, customers were ultimately better off getting in their cars and heading to the mall for the best possible experience," said StellaService CEO Jordy Leiser in a statement. "While online retailers do win hands down when it comes to saving their customers time, there's still a lot of room for improvement if they want to compete with their brick-and-mortar counterparts."

The study -- which looked at price, product availability, total time spent shopping and checking out, shipping speed and quality, e-mail, phone, and live-chat support, and overall experience -- also used brick-and-mortar mystery shopping firm ICC/Decision Services.

5 comments about "Online Retail Isn't Always Better Retail ".
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  1. Jesse Rees from BestMark, August 22, 2012 at 5:11 p.m.

    There will always people buying because of price and on the other side of things there will be people be sticking to their loyalty. All you can do to counteract this phenomenon is to make your presence on both avenues. With an online presence along with a store and being able to compete with price then you aren't leaving yourself vulnerable to changes in the way things are bought. Mystery shopping would be a great way to get feedback from customers on how to improve in the meantime.

  2. Aditya Guru from Genisys, August 23, 2012 at 5:29 a.m.

    Interesting article on retail,I work for McGladrey and there’s a white paper on the website about this very topic readers would find useful. It describes several issues impacting retail sales and the impact of online retail.

  3. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, August 23, 2012 at 5:02 p.m.

    What's funny is the complete lack of discussion of the experience for the consumer. My sense is show rooming is a risk, but controllable. Because the vast majority of consumers enjoy the shopping. Their 30 minutes spent in a store are spent on other things of value to them. Online, they simply can't browse.

    Just consider the browse value that's entirely lost when all you can do is buy on Amazon. That may not be important to exactly 100% of people. But there certainly is tremendous value for the majority.

  4. Gary Chatman from estorerunner,Inc, August 24, 2012 at 12:11 p.m.

    Local brick and mortar retailers can now compete on time savings for their customers.

  5. Peter Bur Andersen from Detail on Retail, September 11, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.

    Does the use of an online and an offline channel always have to turn into a conflict? Definitely not. It should be remembered that on-line buyers have different needs and different purchasing habits from those who buy offline. For example online buyers purchase at any time, especially at night. This means that online buyers are shopping while physical shops are closed, so they are not reducing physical stores’ potential profits. Online and offline channels, from this perspective, are complemen- tary in generating sales. On we have published some interesting pieces on retail.

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