Online shopping vs. in-store – the new retail battleground: Views

How badly do I need this? Right now or can it wait?
Do I need to make sure it fits properly first?
Is it cheaper at the store or online?

These are some of the decisions I make on many of my products and services that I buy every day. Many times you can find me standing in the aisles, scanning through my phone to compare prices in-store with online.

This is the new reality for many consumers in 2017: finding the sweet spot on buying products online or at the store. Make no mistake: the lines between online and traditional shopping are blurring more and more.

The rise and success of Amazon Prime over the years is bringing more competition to the online sector. Online shopping for pickup at stores like Wal-Mart, along with apps like Shipt are some of the new options bringing groceries and products to your car trunk and doorstep, faster than ever.

Christopher Westley, director of FGCU’s Regional Economic Research Institute, studies the impact of online shopping on the local job market and sees a big transformation in retail. “The physical retail shopping experience seems to be changing. The experience itself is more pleasant. The ’80s mall environment is changing to a more open air retail environment that we see popping up.”

Westley also points to Amazon testing new grocery stores in Seattle that allows customers to walk in, grab what they need, and leave  — with no checkouts or waiting. Artificial Intelligence sensors track the products you select and collects them in a virtual cart. When you leave, the cart is charged to your Amazon account.

“Southwest Florida will adjust to these [retail trends] more easier than other parts of the country,” Westley said. “the weather here is more conducive to it. A place like Mercado might have a harder time in a snowy climate.”

More: Amazon just opened a grocery store without a checkout line

The positives? Westley sees more efficiency and saving on our most precious commodity, time. “People are probably spending less time shopping in the aggregate, but shopping just as much as they have in the past [due to] the efficiencies made possible by online commerce.”

As online shopping becomes more convenient, we’re fast approaching a threshold that’s putting more pressure on brick and mortar shopping centers to stay competitive.

More: Can Amazon fix the grocery game?

Related: Are shopping malls an endangered species?

Shopping malls are feeling the pinch as well. USA Today reported on the future of shopping malls and showed how online is eating into their profit margins. “The internet is the enemy of shopping malls,” says Mark Cohen, a former Sears Canada CEO who’s now the director of retail studies at Columbia Business School in New York City. “Customers are willing to buy everything and anything online.”

Credit Suisse director and apparel analyst Christian Buss sees the changes already happening through his forecast models. “The logic of convenience that defined the creation of the mall in the ’70s and ’80s and ’90s has been replaced by the convenience of sitting at home and ordering from your laptop or your iPad.”

Cushman & Wakefield CEO Gary Tasman studies the online shopping effect on real estate and transitioning online sales into a brick-and-mortar model. “What a consumer does in that brick-and-mortar retail now requires a different layout, a different size, a different skill set with the salespeople and customer service people,” Tasman says. “Those who don’t change are going out of business.”

Who are the local winners? “Take Norman Love Chocolate,” Tasman says. “When I go to Norman Love’s website, I feel like I’m in his store. When I go to his store, I visually connect, in a sensory way, with his website.

“The winners are the ones who can blend an internet strategy, a social media strategy and a bricks-and-mortar strategy to feel seamless, and add the element of convenience.”

Young Professionals on shopping

Recently, The News-Press Young Professionals Advisory Board met to discuss online shopping vs. traditional shopping with store leaders at the south Fort Myers Costco. The Advisory Board is a group of young professionals around Southwest Florida who meet monthly to discuss news and trends that affect them, their friends and families. Citizen members of the News-Press Editorial Board also weighed in with their thoughts.

We asked both groups to answer these questions:
How do you feel about online shopping vs. shopping in store? How are these shifting marketplaces changing the way you and your family shop?

Here were some of their observations:

Gabrielle Licitra – Costco: “The majority of my non-food purchases are made online. The ease and convenience of click and buy are hard to beat especially around the holidays. With that said, there’s still something appealing, almost relaxing if you will, about perusing the shelves of your favorite store, not looking for anything in particular but just enjoying the experience.”

How are these shifting marketplaces changing the way you and your family shop? “I would say the biggest change to our shopping routine is the ability to comparison shop immediately. Gone are the days of wasting time and gas driving from store to store hunting for the best bargain. I love being able to see something in a store and use my phone to look for a better price, check reviews, or compare different models right then and there. Being an informed shopper has become all the easier.”

Peter Cuderman – Bruno Air Conditioning: “The idea of online shopping is very attractive. It saves time that would be spent walking around or stopping at a market that is not as close as perhaps you would like. It saves money, in most cases. because you are cutting out the middleman. It is also convenient because instead of stopping for your essentials each week or month, they arrive right at your doorstep. I believe as time goes on, this will be the major market segment for retail. However, the intangibles that are not accounted for when considering a shift to online over the next decade is supporting local stores, having the ability to source the healthiest of options, and knowing that you can walk in and grab an item right then and there. The shift won’t happen immediately, but expect the Amazon shake up to cause some changes in the not-so-distant future.”

Margo Brewster – Foundation for Lee County Public Schools: “If I could do 100 percent of my shopping online, I wouldn’t set foot in a store unless absolutely necessary. We live in a world of “instant gratification” and it’s only a matter of time before online shopping can provide delivery within hours, and there’s no denying that it would be beneficial to people and families across every generation and lifestyle. I look forward to the advancements being made in online shopping and hope there comes a time when I don’t have to set aside a few hours every week for a grocery shopping trip anymore.”

Kimberly Wallace – FGCU: “While online shopping is convenient there is nothing better than being able to touch items in a store. Because I prefer this method over the one click approach- I guess you can call me old school.”

Austin Abke – Casa Ybel Resort: “I’m a big advocate when it comes to buying local, but I’m also big on shopping online as well. The issue is that a lot of our local businesses have not adopted the new technology for their consumer base. With apps ranging from $10,000 all the way up to $1,000,000 for development, I can see the issue when wanting to compete with “Big Box”. However, it’s an investment that will benefit our local retailers in the long term as the “buying local” movement continues to grow. Convenience is the first word that comes to mind when shopping online and if our local retailers adapt, they too will also see revenue grow.”

Editorial Board citizen members

Melinda Isley: “I really enjoy the convenience and ease of shopping online, especially through my Amazon Prime account. It’s delivered fast and they are reliable. I haven’t tried online grocery shopping yet, though I probably will soon. I’m a member of one online personal clothes shopping site my friend turned me on to, StitchFix, which has also worked really well so far. From the online profile and measurements, provided them they have been successful at sending me items that I like and fit. However, sometimes I still need my retail therapy and for that, nothing will compare to actually going to the department stores to try on clothes and shoes or to leisurely browse William Sonoma for my foodie fix. I would hate to see the brick and mortar stores disappear altogether.”

Steve Maxwell: “The advantages of online shopping vs. shopping in the store are:  24/7 accessibility, availability of products and affordability.  Savings on transportation costs: With online, I do not have to fight traffic or crowds of people. I don’t have to experience inattentive sales clerks or the  lack of customer service.”

Becky MacKenzie: “Though there are a few items I like purchasing in person, online shopping has become my preferred method of bargain hunting and I think we’ll see a mixed bag in the future.  Instead of spending my time after work in a grocery store, I can use online ordering with store pickup services and head home to do the things I love.  I also budget my money better.  I can plan and compare prices while they sit in my cart, shop less on impulse, and take items out of my cart if they push me over budget.   I don’t click that purchase button until I see that I’ve spent within my budget.”

“I think the future will see a mixture of online and in person shopping, but even more online shopping than ever.  Amazon is a great current example.  Most of my Christmas shopping is done on Amazon, where I can watch prices and deals and stay out of crowded stores. With their purchase of Whole Foods, we’re seeing actual store sites, but I never expected to see some of the online options Amazon provides now.”

John Naylor: With the advent of online shopping several years ago, our family opts for online retail shopping almost all the time.  There are no time constraints, no parking issues, or check out delays.  We utilize the ability to “shop” for products and research reviews of other buyers.  Online grocery shopping is another matter.  We have not tried these new services yet and are unsure about availability, substitutions, delivery times, delivery charges, minimum orders and product source.  Groceries are groceries, but I am not sure I want someone else picking out my meat and produce.”

Qiara Perez: “I believe that personal preference takes precedence when one decides whether they would like to shop in a traditional brick-and-mortar store or online. I understand the benefits that appeal to frequent online shoppers. For example, those who are unable to drive or with medical conditions that hinder their physical activity could enjoy the convenience that comes with online shopping. Additionally, finding the best sales on items offered online is relatively easy to accomplish. Despite the perks of online shopping, some do prefer the routine of perusing their local grocery shop or farmer’s market. I would say familiarity and examination of store products firsthand often overshadow the inherent obscurity of what may appear at your door, like if those jeans will be a perfect fit. Personally, I tend to shop in-person, but the price and availability of items would ultimately affect where I shop, whether that be online or in-store. In this way, the increasing trend of online shopping has affected the way I shop. With the e-commerce market growing, online pricing becomes more competitive with retailers vying to surpass each other. Fortunately, deciding which store has the best deal is just one-click away.”

What do you think about the rise of online shopping?  Is the convenience of online pulling you farther away from shopping in stores?  How about local business?  Share your thoughts in the comments or on Facebook.com/TheNewsPress.

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