Does online shopping miss the personal touch?
We’ve just published the results of our recent online shopping survey, which lists the best and worst online shops as rated by Which? members. Have you moved your shopping online, and if so, why?
The main reasons for shopping online, according to our survey respondents, are because it’s often cheaper than shopping in a bricks-and-mortar shop, it’s easier to compare prices and also find exactly what you’re looking for.
Looking at the shops that came top in the survey, I was struck by the fact that customer service and the ‘personal touch’ still seem to be of high importance in terms of how consumers view specific online shops.
Online shopping in many ways brings human interaction to a minimum, and consumer behaviour is of course undergoing big changes in this respect. Yet, some of the respondents’ comments suggest to me that certain long-held consumer values won’t change quite so easily.
The personal touch
On a basic level, I still like to think of a ‘real person’ packaging up the product I’ve ordered online, and it seems that many of our readers feel the same. Humanising an online shop is one of the ways that we develop a feeling of trust in it.
‘All of the items are beautifully wrapped, and they always include a free sample,’ a shopper said about Liz Earle, the cosmetics shop that topped our poll. And several others mentioned the card signed by the shop assistant that comes with all Liz Earle packages.
Fans of John Lewis, the shop that came second in our table, also waxed lyrical about the store’s customer service, showing that the company’s focus on customer satisfaction continues to garner huge loyalty, even in cyberspace.
Brave new world
Of course, at the end of the day, lower prices, convenience and good delivery services will likely win out over the human touch when it comes to where people choose to shop. And to a large extent, the changing shopping culture reflects this. As my colleague Ben Stevens discussed last year, online shopping has now gone beyond the laptop or home computer, with shopping on mobile devices becoming commonplace (and, according to eBay, will be the main way of shopping in just a few years’ time).
What’s more, technological advances such as image recognition – whereby shoppers can do visual searches by pointing their device at any object – are set to reduce even further the need to communicate with a fellow human being when shopping online and in an actual shop.
Never the twain shall meet?
So, the way that we shop is becoming more and more defined by technology. What’s interesting to me is to what extent many of us will still try to hold on to previous notions of shopping being based on some sort of person-to-person exchange, combining both old and new values.
I’m a firm believer in the need to support Britain’s dwindling independent shops, and actually the advancement of shopping technology could arguably help them, with many now able to reach a far wider audience then they otherwise might. M-commerce (shopping on your mobile) is one example of how the advancement of online shopping could potentially help to maintain some traditional values on the high street.
Is it naïve to think that old and new consumer values can co-exist? Do you feel that the new shopping technology compromises other values you have as a consumer?
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