/ Shopping

What makes a good online shopping experience?

online shopping

What entices you to shop online? For me, it’s knowing that I don’t have to get on a bus to my local shopping centre before lugging everything home.

I also think trying on clothes in the comfort of my home is a much better option than queuing for a few dusty changing rooms with curtains that don’t quite draw all the way.

But, as the results of our annual survey to find the best and worst online shops reveal, there are a number of reasons why others chose to shop online – and why certain stores become favourites.

Why buy online?

Our survey found that the main reasons people shop online are that it’s easier to find what they’re looking for than on the high street, there’s a greater choice of products, and you can shop around the clock.

Online stores can also be cheaper, and lots of those polled told us they like receiving the unexpected free samples you often get with an online delivery.

And when it comes to the online shops you chose as your favourites, these tend to have sites that are really straightforward to use, so you don’t have to trawl through pages of search results to find one specific item.

Biggest bugbears

On the flipside, 45% of people we surveyed found paying a high price for postage to be the most irritating thing about shopping online – and 40% resented having to pay for postage at all.

And among the people who had a problem with their online purchase, just under two-thirds of them had a delivery turn up late. No wonder around half of people opt to use click-and collect where possible.

Customer service

You might think that going into a shop on the high street, being able to inspect the item you want, having staff on hand to chat to if you need advice about it, and being able to take it home on the same day might tip the scales in favour of shopping online.

But some of you actually prefer the service that comes with shopping on the web.

One Convo contributor, Liz Halsall, told us that the plastic bag charge had ruined retail therapy on the high street for her and persuaded her to shop online more:

‘I object to buying a dress, and having it pushed over the counter… all idea of service seems to have gone along with the bags!!

‘Online shopping becomes even more attractive! Surely shops should be trying to encourage people in, by making the shopping experience a pleasant one?’

So what draws you to shop online or do you still prefer to head to the high street so you can size up what you’re buying?


I do a mixture of both. I don’t really like buying things without seeing them first, especially if it’s for my house or an item of clothing. More often than not I’ll find something I like online, go to the shop to see if I really like it, then, if it needs delivering, order it online, where it’s occasionally cheaper. Also, I’m an odd shape, so need to try a few different sizes on in the shop. If I did this online, I’d end up with loads of deliveries and parcels.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I have just finished my food order online with Ocado that will be delivered tomorrow morning. Other supermarkets just can’t beat the choice Ocado has for our dietary requirements.

I don’t get freebies as I have not signed up to their Smart Pass and that does annoy me especially as I have been shopping with them since they started so must have spent £000s by now. Ocado proudly stated I would have saved 5p today if I had signed up. I also use their free slots for delivery so why would I want to sign up? Ocado are basically charging for freebies and I thought that was illegal.

For other shopping, I do most of my walking online then head to the stores as I like to look and inspect things before I buy. It depends what I am buying whether it is bought in store or online. If John Lewis sells it, then there is a good chance that is where I will buy it and maybe get it delivered to my local Waitrose for collection.

If you know exactly what you want, then shopping online is a breeze. But when you’re seeking something rather more vaguely, then visiting the shop is more useful. Some high street shops have circumvented the plastic bag charge by providing paper bags. We tend to buy clothes by looking at, feeling and weighing them first in a shop then ordering precisely what we want on-line.

Part of a good online shopping experience is a filter that works and narrows things down nicely so that you don’t have to finally find what you want on the 15th page you’ve looked at.

I agree with you there Sophie, if a website expects you to wade through pages of products in the hope that what you are looking for is there somewhere, then I look elsewhere.

I was looking for something recently where height mattered. A website had filtering for width and depth but not height….grrrr!

Websites where hovering over an item displays a balloon with a brief description or size can save a lot of time and definitely improves the shopping experience.

Giving clear and complete details is crucial. Sometimes one measurement is missing, so it’s impossible to tell if the item will fit where you need it and sometimes important aspects aren’t even mentioned.

I always look online for anything I want to buy.I look at prices but many time then visit a local shop to examine the product. I then decide just what to buy. I ask their price then usually say can you match the online price. They usually do or come very near. I prefer to buy locally as returning faulty items is easier It is usually small cost items I buy online I will always look for manufacturer refurbished items as many are brand new ,unused returned items at a lower price

I have done a lot of online shopping since moving house and it can be very time consuming unless I know exactly what I want. As Ian says, essential information can be missing and once I had to look at three websites to put together all the information I wanted about a product. The cost of carriage is sometimes not shown until you register on a website, which is an annoying waste of time if it turns out to be expensive.

I look for retailers that offer longer guarantees/warranties, which has encouraged me to use John Lewis. My first experiences were grim, with unexplained problems and one computer error, but the main problem seems to be me selecting the option to collect from a Waitrose branch. Waitrose is miles away and I was not happy to be told that my goods had not been received when I had received an email to say that they had. Fortunately it was established that JL had changed the identification number because of an earlier mistake and I did not go away empty handed. Fortunately I have had few problems with goods delivered to the door by JL, though I have to plan to be in to take the delivery.

One of my most frustrating experiences has been the unprofessional behaviour of an agent for a manufacturer of lighting fixtures. I placed the order and a couple of days later received a call to say when they were planning to deliver. Then there was an email referring to this as an approximate delivery date. Then the parcel did not arrive and there was no explanation. When I phoned, the person that had called to advise me of the delivery date said they would go to the warehouse and call back. That did not happen and when I called again, I was told that my order had not been in the consignment from the manufacturer. Eventually the goods arrived, but I will not be using the same retailer.

I no longer use Amazon unless I am desperate. Many of the products advertised on their website are sold by Marketplace traders, often unheard of companies making use of the well known Amazon name. I have learned of unsafe electrical products being sold via the Amazon website and while these are removed if a complaint is seen, it seems evident that the company is not doing enough to make sure that products on their website are safe. I do look at Amazon as a guide to prices and buy elsewhere. When I did use Amazon, they generally delivered a day before their estimated delivery dates, which is not very professional.

Some of my best experiences with online shopping have been buying inexpensive items from eBay traders. I pay by PayPal to avoid giving my credit card details to an individual or small organisation that may not take care of sensitive information.

Interested to know why early delivery is considered unprofessional – I really like that my goods arrive quicker than expected. Sometimes my order arrives the next day regardless of the expected date, I think that’s excellent service!

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Hi Alyson – An early delivery is welcome as long as the goods will fit through the letterbox and no signature is needed. I have frequently missed deliveries when I was working or even in the back garden, and have had to collect from a depot or rearrange delivery. Even though I’m retired now, I attend meetings and do charity work, so online shopping can be a nightmare. Some carriers are happy to leave parcels with neighbours but that does not always happen even if you request this when ordering. I’m glad it suits you. 🙂

Can Which? balance the coverage it does on shopping on-line with stories of those shops closing down as they are ignored by locals who thing examining the merchandise in the local shop and buying on-line is the way to go.

While individuals may benefit overall the local economy suffers. Loss of shops is a snowballing effect and once the centre collapses then unemployment is inevitable.

One way of doing this would be to highlight the disadvantages of buying online. Actually seeing goods is very helpful in making decisions, even if the web is a good place to see what is available. If the goods are not as described or develop a fault, it’s often much easier tor return them to a shop. I am prepared to pay a reasonable premium to buy locally and it avoids all the hassles associated with deliveries.

I agree with wavechange on not buying stuff on Amazon too often. It is a useful place to see what exists, then look for it elsewhere.

I don’t like Paypal after having hassle with them over an ebay item not delivered even after proving to them the seller was a fraudster that didn’t become apparent until after I had bought an item from him and he also produced a fake tracking number.

I also try to shop locally if I can, because it is either use them or lose them. We have Euronics locally and although I have bought a few things from them, the owner is miserable and his prices a bit on the steep side, so I don’t feel too obliged to think of him first.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I recall your tale about PayPal, Alfa. You are not the only one who does not use it. What concerns me is a safe way of paying small eBay traders. I am cautious about passing on my credit card details to individuals and unheard of companies. My best purchase was packs of top quality taps (machine tools rather than water variety), which were unused old stock.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

That’s it, Duncan. Packs of 3, mainly Presto. I still sharpen drills by hand, at least the larger sizes. I’m also adept provoking off-topic discussion. 🙂

This comment was removed at the request of the user

For us, when we have decided on a product, the reason for often using online shopping is largely about price – the ability to seek out the best offer – and convenience – no hassle in trawling round shops. We don’t see shopping generally as a leisure. However, looking at Which? reports and examining some products in the flesh can be advisable before deciding what and where to purchase. But unless the product is worth a risk (on quality, not safety) and inexpensive we choose reputable on-line suppliers.

Retailers make it very convenient. I recently bought shoes from M&S in their 50% sale. I generally fall between two standard sizes, so ordered a pair in each size with the intention of sending the unwanted one back. Click and collect so no delivery or return charge. As it happened it proved unnecessary as the smaller pair fitted me, and the larger fitted one son who was visiting at just the right time.

Shoes and most clothing come from shops where they can be tried on and inspected for quality. A certain Scottish woollen shop provides me with some of the most comfortable tops I’ve worn and when near one of their stores I tend to buy a couple more just in case. I recently had to replace my P.C. and did the research on line before ordering from a high street store, on line. I collected it from the store at my own convenient time and without postage charges, and if it proves troublesome I have somewhere to take it back to. The same store sold me a cordless vacuum cleaner and I was able to poke and prod all the stock to see which felt right, which had sensible controls and waste containers and which seemed to offer value for money. During this process I looked on the Which web site and found that the one I liked wasn’t listed, so I bought it anyway! Good choice as it turned out. Things like carbonless receipt books are a couple of clicks on Amazon. That’s the trouble with them, one can buy things much too easily using their streamlined buying process and it is good to step back and think before pressing the “buy now” button. I do like the fact that their umbrella covers most purchases and if it should happen that someone fails to deliver something, they actually step in to the deal and help to sort it out. I have yet to have a problem with them. It is also easy to find and buy small items instead of going out to the shops and getting then locally as one would in the past. I feel guilty about that, and carry on because life is just too busy sometimes.

Peter says:
20 October 2016

I love the Amazon locker feature, which means you don’t miss the delivery, just walk five minutes to the locker. It puts all of Amazon inside a small newsagents. I’m a big keyboard fan, which I buy online from a specialist retailer in England. But possibly the most useful thing was a few years ago after a gallbladder operation I was able to look after myself by buying my groceries online with the Tesco app. Order them up at midnight, and they’re brought to your door the next morning. It meant I wasn’t depending on anyone to shop for me. Highly recommended.

For me one of the biggest advantages of online shopping is the wide choice available. I live in a rural area and even the nearest town and nearest city don’t have a huge amount of stuff to choose from. I order a lot of yarn online because the local shop only sells big brands, mostly acrylic, and I want indie brands and luxury fibres. Ebay is good for this, also markets like Etsy, where you can buy one-off items that you are very unlikely to find on the High Street.

We tend to use Amazon a lot, Prime members and the choice and price make it a no brainer really.

Much as I would like to use local traders and do sometimes I won’t spend over the top to support them. Some higher price, especially if they value add (service, advice etc) is OK but often the difference is too big to ignore. So I tend to by my archery stuff from a store, it’s not often that much more to on-line and I have a chance to try out for somethings and get good advice. Electronics it’s online nearly always, just no competition.

Should we be concerned at the number of online retailers who trade the same goods under different names and websites at the same postal address?

Yes, Alfa – it’s a form of deception and clearly a move to compartmentalise any liabilities so it’s generally not in consumers’ interests.

I have just noticed your reply John.

I see retailers using multiple names and websites as a really bad thing. They often sell the same products with different prices hoping to catch the unwary with a higher price, or catch those looking for a bargain with a lower price. They will give free postage on one site, but charge you on another. All meant to confuse the shopper.

If they are trading as multiple companies, they may also avoid paying taxes enabling them to offer lower prices.

It is time there was more control and transparency over online retailers. Many have no address or contact details displayed on their websites, and sometimes if you search their names, many others will also crop up. Often you will buy something from an online company, find your payment has gone to another company and might even be shipped from a third company.

More control and transparency might save some of our rapidly disappearing High Street shops that just cannot compete.

I agree Alfa. This kind of marketing has done as much damage to the high street as the big supermarkets that sell everything. Up to a point it seems appropriate to be tolerant towards small businesses and budding entrepreneurs, but when they reach a certain scale they ought to be paying business rates, having commercial insurance, having trade electricity and gas accounts and a business phone line and broadband. If they are operating out of a residential address their constant incoming and outgoing deliveries are a public nuisance. Frequent name changes are possibly part of a scheme to pay less tax, keep below the VAT threshold and avoid company registration. Such operations also avoid employing staff on any proper basis. Unfortunately governments of both flavours have condoned it and will probably continue to do so. I wouldn’t buy from any firm that doesn’t give full [and verifiable] contact details. It’s amazing what a Google Maps search can reveal.

I also check out their addresses on Google Maps. Don’t know what they are called, but very often an address will be in a building that has the sole use of giving a company an address. They probably never use the address and might not even have legal use of it judging by the comments some customers have left after trying to contact them.

Maybe all internet traders should have to have a VAT code to operate even if they are below the threshold, and all their transactions applied to it. So if they get paid through Paypal or a credit card, a record gets sent to the VAT office and they get charged when appropriate.