It 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. Target.com 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.