The shopping revolution

On: September 14, 2011
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About Laura Burlacu
I am 22 years old, come from Romania, and before coming to Amsterdam I studied Integrated Social Sciences at Jacobs University Bremen. Longing for a change of pace, I moved to Amsterdam to study New Media at the UvA. Pictures are soon to follow...

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http://lauraburlacu.blogspot.com/    

Twenty-plus kilograms suitcase in hand, tackling what seemed to be the longest staircase that had ever been placed in a train station that featured four platforms and no elevators, I started thinking: when did I but all this stuff?

Being in a situation where, for the second time in my life, I had to “relocate” to a new country for a longer period of time, I found myself staring at all of the clothes, gadgets and miscellaneous knick-knacks that had made their way into my small dorm room in Bremen and wondering how they could possibly fit into one suitcase. Long-story short, they didn’t. And no matter how little I had used certain items, I could not find in me the strength to give or throw any of them away. Furthermore, having known for the past three years that my stay in Germany would be only temporary and that I would eventually need to move once again, I couldn’t help but wonder how everything had piled up in my closet.

Being away from home, independent, and earning my own money had given me the liberty to shop without having the daunting feeling that I am placing a burden on my parents’ finances and these factors had definitely played their role. But given the tight schedule that I had, courtesy of my undergraduate studies, going outside of the campus in order to shop was a rare occasion. So where did all the stuff come from? The answer suddenly became clear: online shopping.

With constant ads popping up on my Facebook profile, YouTube videos or personal email, the temptation was too great. And when you look at the percentages of products that people buy through e-commerce as compared to regular in-store purchase, the numbers are impressive, with more than 60% of all sales (in the United States at least) coming from e-commerce stores. Even perishable products, such as food and drinks, are bough this way. It seems that everything is now available online, making it easier for anyone to buy anything in the comfort of their own homes.

Image available at http://www.permuto.com/blog/2010/02/27/what-are-people-really-buying-online/.

And one of the factors driving the shopping revolution is the improvement and of user-generated reviews. A Nielsen study showed that:

”One of the great benefits of online shopping is the ability read others’ reviews of a product, be they experts or simply fellow shoppers. These opinions are most important when it comes to purchasing consumer electronics: 57 percent of online respondents consider reviews prior to buying. Reviews on cars (45%) and software (37%) rounded out the top three most important online influences when making a purchase.”

Thankfully, what these results show is that online shoppers are not mindless credit card holders jumping on the first offer they see, but rather savvy consumers employing the full possibilities that the internet has to offer in order to make a calculated decision. Rather than buying a product based on the recommendations of a store clerk whose main purpose is to convince you that you want to buy that item, the modern customer makes an informed decision and makes sure that their money is well spent. Online sales companies like Amazon or eBay already offer shoppers the possibility to review the products that they have bought and inform other potential customers. But another useful tool at any user’s disposal is review websites, such as CNet Reviews or ConsumerSearch, whose sole purpose is to aid the informed buyer.

Of course, online shopping has its clear advantages, among which comfort, variety of choice and availability of products are only a few. But will it ever truly replace conventional shopping? Sure, it’s all quick and easy now, but shopping used to be a more personal experience, putting your people skills to a test and demanding more from the customer than the ability to search online. It seems that since eBay bartering has become a dying art, and trying on clothes an unnecessary hassle. When did we all become so passive?

So is this is really the end of shopping as we (used to) know it? With jobs becoming more and more demanding, and with people finding it difficult to reserve even a few hours for themselves, it seems as if the consumerist society is taking a new turn, aided by new technologies and busy shoppers. And the question is: how will stores survive? Given the rather significant number of people that are migrating more and more towards online shopping platforms, regular stores will need to find ways in which to stay afloat during the changing tides. One option would be to start moving at least some of their activities online. Apparel companies have been doing this for a long while (in internet time), with purely online stores having existed for several years now, such as Germany’s success story, Zalando.

Therefore, the future of most companies will depend on how soon the can meet the users halfway, on online platforms. Otherwise their future may be hanging by a thin virtual thread.

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