Experienced consumers consider more options

As people get more used to online shopping they way they buy things on the web will change. They will become “experienced consumers” and will search harder for bargains.

Woman shopping online

It is clear that online shopping is highly attractive. Buying items online is convenient, fast and allows us to do more with our time than trudging up and down High Streets in the rain. Even so, the vast majority of purchases are made in the real world. The UK is the “e-commerce capital” of Europe with around 18% of all items being bought online. Our nearest online shopping rivals live in Germany, where 15% of goods are purchased through e-commerce. Meanwhile, in Italy, just 3% of buying is done online. Overall, worldwide, the average is that 12% of retailing is online.

What is staggering, though, is the growth. The most recent “Black Friday” was 20% up on last year, for instance, and much of that growth was online. Last year in the UK the number of goods sold online grew by 18%. This year it is predicted to have a 27% rise. That would mean that by the end of 2018 around a quarter of all shopping would be done online.

For many companies, this is causing a problem. In the world of traditional retail, for instance, it is leading to significant issues for well-established firms, such as Marks & Spencer, or Debenhams.  They are losing customers from their bricks and mortar stores who are going online instead. However, as footfall gets lower their rent for physical space continues to rise. That means the cost of servicing customers is rising for traditional firms.

Meanwhile, the problems are only just beginning for “pure play” online retailers, who are only on the web. The issue facing them – and every other business that operates online – is the phenomenon of the “expert consumer”.

Expert consumers behave differently to the “ordinary” consumer. They know exactly what they want and will not compromise on features or quality. Furthermore, they spend considerably more time choosing what to buy and researching the alternatives. Just as online stores are gaining from the rise in customers, they are about to start losing out through the intensity of competition created by the “expert consumers”.

All online businesses face this problem

It doesn’t matter if you are not an online retailer. The fact is, as more and more people use the Internet to buy things they move from lower levels of consumer behaviour to the “expert” level. That’s because they have considerably more experience.

Think of it this way. Imagine you have a department store in your nearby town. You only pop-in a couple of times a year. As a result, you don’t know precisely what’s on offer. Nor do you understand their “systems” as well as a regular shopper. As an inexperienced shopper in that store, you probably spend a few minutes looking for an item and then popping out again if you cannot find it. However, if you are a regular shopper who goes to that department store every Saturday, for instance, you know the staff by name, you know what has changed in each department, and you know what’s worth buying. But that Saturday shopper spends much more time in the shop; they look around more, spend more time considering the options and will often bargain with the salespeople.

It’s the same online. The occasional online shopper doesn’t understand the systems and doesn’t know where else to go for things. So they visit a store, buy something and then leave. However, the experienced shopper knows the systems and understands online buying very well.  That means they spend more time looking around and considering things. They know where to get the bargains and will comparison-shop more than the newcomers to online shopping.

As more and more people start to buy online, the level of experience and expertise amongst Internet users grows. That means their shopping habits will change.

If you sell anything online, you need to get ready for the change in behaviour that is coming your way. Shoppers are going to get much pickier, they are going to spend longer taking the decision to buy, and they are going to seek out the competition more than they have done in the past.

If you thought all you had to do was get more people to your website, think again. That’s only the start of your problems. The “experienced consumers” are going to present you with a wide range of issues in the coming years, not least of which is funding longer delays for purchasing decisions and fending off the competition.

Why are online shops struggling against the real world?

Online shopping is a minority activity. Forget the “mobile first” nonsense too. Most people want to go to real shops.

Happy shoppers

We have had online shopping for a long time. Indeed, the first online consumer purchase was made in Gateshead, UK, in June 1984 by a 72-year-old lady, Mrs Jane Snowball. She did her shopping at Tesco using an online system that was connected to her TV set and telephone. This was five years before the invention of the World Wide Web. Once we had websites, things started to accelerate. Yet it wasn’t until 27th April 1995 that the first book was sold online by WHSmith – months before Amazon started trading ((Click.ology: What works in online shopping, By Graham Jones, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2014)).

Online retailers trade on the convenience of their offer. You would think that given we have all become even busier since the 1980s, we would all lap up the convenience of online shopping.

Yet, in spite of the evident growth in shopping online, we persist in buying things from the real world, even if that is less convenient.

Online stores will be eager to tell you about growth rates of more than 10% a year. But 10% of not very much is still not very much. Almost 90% of everything we buy is still purchased in real world stores. Little wonder that Amazon is investing heavily in bricks and mortar these days.

Has online shopping peaked?

Just a few months ago I wrote that online shopping appeared to have stalled. Now, there is new research that confirms people still prefer real world shops, in spite of more than two decades of online shopping.

This new study shows that even the so-called darling of online retailers – mobile shopping – is still a minority activity.

Shopping activity chart

People prefer real shops, which begs the question why are so many online retailers failing to achieve the obvious benefits of the convenience of online shopping?

After all, you have to travel to a real world shop, you have to pay for fuel and parking, plus you might get wet if it is raining. Why do that when you can sit on your sofa at home in the warm, or while sunning yourself on your patio with a glass of bubbly in hand? Worse still, you might get all the way into town only to discover that the item you want is out-of-stock. What a waste! With online shopping, you would just click to another store in seconds. When you add up all the problems with real world shopping, online retail is a “no brainer”. However, we still like real world shopping. So, online retailers must be doing something wrong, surely?

What’s wrong with online shopping?

The world of online retail is so convenient that any minor slip-up in that level of convenience is massively noticeable. Most online shops are inconvenient compared with Amazon, for example. Amazon has the ability to buy items with a single click. That’s because they patented “one click” shopping. Yes, I know you are going to tell me that the Apple Store has one-click shopping too. But that only happens because Apple pays Amazon a royalty to use its patented technology.

So, compared with Amazon, almost every online retailer is slightly less convenient.

But it gets worse. There are online stores that require you to register with every last possible detail about you, in order so you can spend a couple of dollars. Similarly, there are online shops that take you through several pages of shopping cart levels, only for you to discover at the last moment that there is a massive shipping cost added to your bill. Plus, there are stores on the web that have no obvious place where you can get help or support.

Compare these factors with real world shops. In a bricks and mortar store, you don’t have to fill in pages of information to make a purchase. Neither are you given any surprises on the bill at the very last moment. And there is usually a sales assistant you can ask for help.

One of the reasons why we like shopping in the real world is because the convenience extends to the actual shopping itself. The act of buying is more convenient in many real world stores than it is online.

Amazon succeeds because the act of buying there is so simple. Other online retailers need to take note. Convenience is not just about being able to shop 24/7 in your jim-jams. It is also about the act of purchasing itself. Far too many online stores and shopping carts miss out on this issue, making real world shopping more attractive.

One of the reasons why real world shopping is so attractive is because bricks and mortar stores understand their customer needs more than many online retailers seem to do.

Retailers are failing to impress their customers

Internet shopping sites are not really providing what people want. Bricks and mortar retailers have a lot to learn.

Happy woman with shopping bags

The three biggest online shops – AliBaba, Ebay, and Amazon – were not invented by retailers. The amount of online shopping on those sites dwarfs the spending on websites from traditional retailers. Indeed, the online stores of some retailers with more than 100 years of selling experience are only making the amount of money in a year that AliBaba, for instance, earns in a day. There is a huge gulf between the top online retailers and many traditional High Street brands.

So what is going wrong? Why are many experienced retailers failing to make the grade online?

The answer is preconceptions. All those years of experience tell those traditional Main Street stores exactly how customers behave. They know where to put things in a bricks and mortar store to make the most money (the most profitable items are always at eye level, for instance). Those traditional retailers also know the way you move around their shops, or what makes you more likely to part with your cash (the lighting is essential in creating the right spending mood). But what they don’t seem to realise is the fact that people behave completely differently when shopping online.

Amazon, Ebay and AliBaba were started by individuals from the finance, technology and education worlds. They had no idea how people bought. Similarly, the UK fashion success story, Asos, was started by people from the film and TV props hire business – again, no idea about shoppers. Yet, their online store is hugely successful.

All of these businesses have one thing in common; they had no preconceived ideas about shoppers and so they started with a blank sheet and learned from what people did on their website. Indeed, Amazon built its own software to continuously learn from its customers; every action you take on their site helps them understand even more about the behaviour of their customers.

So, what are the traditional retailers doing wrong?

Part of the answer to that came in a BBC Radio 4 phone-in programme, Call You and Yours, during which listeners discussed their frustrations with online shopping. A key theme that emerged during the programme – which was also reflected in the associated social media activity using the hashtag #youandyours – was the notion of convenience.

The effective online stores make it easy for shoppers to go directly to what they want. Indeed, their products can be found quickly using a Google search. This is reflected in a research study conducted for the BBC which revealed that 42% of people start their online shopping journey in a search engine – and not on a retailer’s website. Shoppers enter what they want into a search engine and the click on the product result that is presented to them. More often than not, those results come from the leading online shops, set up by people with no retail experience.

Meanwhile, you can visit several traditional online High Street shops and discover that they want you to browse their store, often presenting items in the same “aisles” as they use in the real world bricks and mortar stores. It is as though they are trying to recreate an online version of a physical store. It is an indication that these stores have not noticed that people behave differently online than they do in physical shops.

So, those struggling traditional retailers introduce concepts like “click and collect”, which sounds as though it is convenient. By doing so, they often reduce the physical store’s offering because if you want something you can go online and get it. The problem for shoppers is that the convenience of the real world store is diminished because the variety of products is lowered and they cannot “showroom” – see everything in store before buying online.

Some callers to the BBC programme were annoyed that real world stores were making things less convenient. Similarly, other callers and social media commentators who loved the convenience of online shopping were frustrated by the lack of product knowledge or expertise – something they could get with an experience real-world retailer. (By the way, I know these calls took place, as I was the expert studio guest, providing some insights into shopper behaviour.)

The research conducted for the BBC by Savvy Marketing also showed that younger generations are shopping in completely different ways to their parents. Many retailers have yet to take this into account, it seems.

Many online stores are reducing the convenience of being able to find exactly what you want, getting it and then moving on, by introducing a variety of techniques for upselling and cross-selling, which just frustrate and annoy people. Meanwhile, real-world stores are cutting down the convenience of being able to get what you want in town, by pushing more and more product lines to the Internet.

Retailers appear to have forgotten that convenience is central to shopping, as is making it an enjoyable experience. And there were some people who called the You and Yours phone-in the other day who apparently did not enjoy the experience of shopping either online or in the real world. Retail is struggling, but it does seem there is a great deal it could do to help itself by ditching pre-conceived ideas about shoppers and getting to understand how people behave online better.

Plus, if they did that, they could boost their real-world sales too. Most people’s experience online is being able to get what they want instantly. They are used to finding what they want straight away. What do real-world retailers do in their bricks and mortar stores (increasingly)? They keep changing layouts and shop design, making it harder for people to find things. This just increases frustration with real world stores, sending more people online where they search on Google and end up on Amazon.

Retailers are not really helping themselves – they are often helping those Internet upstarts who came into the world of shopping with no experience.

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BHS failure should make everyone rethink their online strategy

BHS failure shows that retailers should not see the Internet as competition or an also ran, but as central to their business.

BHS store
Picture courtesy: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Mtaylor848

The UK retailer BHS has failed to find a buyer and went into administration today, putting 11,000 retail jobs at risk. Retail analysts have been quick to point out a series of issues with this troubled shop. These include a huge pension “black hole”, enormous rent and rates commitments, and a tired offering within its shops.

However, one issue that only gets the occasional mention in media coverage of the BHS failure is “online shopping”. Often, the reports say things like “oh, and they have had to contend with online shopping as well”.

That is not entirely true. Face facts. Nine out of ten items we buy are purchased in the “real world”, not online. It is true that there is a massive increase in online shopping, but a gazillion percent of not very much is still not very much. Yes, online shopping is growing rapidly, yes we are all spending more and more online each year, and yes, we love the convenience of Internet retail. But, we still love the real world.

The problem for BHS and other retailers is that they have not taken into account how the online world has changed and shaped our expectations of the real world.

For instance, consider the world’s number one consumer site, Amazon. It has loads of navigation options, but the majority of people just type what they want into the search box. You walk into Amazon and within seconds, you can see what you want.

Now, translate that into the real world High Street shop. You walk into the store and……and…..yes, it takes ages to find what you want. There is no “search” facility in a High Street shop. Yet for the majority of people, their daily routines on the web mean that their minds expect to be able to find things in an instant.

Real world retailers need to translate that into things like better signage, not to “revamp” the store every week to move things around, and to have a search app that we can use on our phones to find things inside each store.

Similarly, online we are used to stock changing rapidly. One day we visit an online store, and we see “the latest thing” only to find a week later that there is a new “latest thing”. The Internet has made us much more aware that things change quickly. Yet, most of the real world physical stores like BHS are built around “seasons”. That is so old-fashioned and out-of-place. What it means is that bricks and mortar retailers have failed to consider adequately the drastic changes needed in logistics and fulfilment. The online world has made people want the latest “now” or even the out-of-season, “now”. Bricks and mortar retailers, like BHS, have not really responded to this shift in attitude.

Speculation has already begun as to who will be next, after BHS. Will it be Marks and Spencer or even John Lewis, asks The Guardian. Such questions need asking. Eight years ago no-one thought a giant like Woolworths could disappear. Similarly, no-one predicted that companies without any retail background, such as Amazon, Asos, and AliBaba, would dominate online shopping. Traditional retailers have been very slow to adapt to the changes in the way people think and the attitudes to shopping that the Internet has caused. Instead, all they have done is recreate a shop online and added “click and collect” and said this is “integration” or it is the “omnichannel”. Frankly, it is neither; it is clutching at straws.

Until every business truly considers the way the Internet has changed the way people think and what they expect, then more failures like BHS are inevitable.

[box type=”note” size=”large” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Of course, if the owners of BHS had read my book Click.ology, they may not be in the pickle they are now in. I said the kind of things you have just read in this blog back in 2014 when I wrote the book. [/box]

[Tweet “If the owners of #BHS had read Click.ology they may not be in such a pickle http://click.ology.biz”]

No wonder the retail sector is in a mess

Retail is becoming increasingly fragmented as store owners fail to respond to consumer demands.

Offline and online retail is in a muddle

Shopping is socialThe retail industry is fond of statistics. They love telling us that “like for like” sales are up. Or they love quoting the “fact” that growth has risen year on year. They even love telling us that this month we spent more than last month. The problem with statistics is that they can say one thing, whilst meaning another. Furthermore, retailers appear to be fond of quoting statistics rather selectively. And it is not only them, the media tells us that retail is booming, when actually it might not be.

For instance, earlier this month we were told that UK retails sales had hit an eight month low at the same time as being told that they had accelerated. Technically, of course, these two articles are correct; one month of “acceleration” can still happen even if over the previous eight months sales were down. In other words, we have to be very careful about what we read on retail – the complete picture is not always correct.

People watching helps analyse things

Watching people as they shop is part of consumer psychology. And when you watch people shopping in the real world bricks and mortar stores, it doesn’t always tally with what the retail statistics tell you. The other day, for instance, I stood in the middle of Oxford at 2.30pm on a weekday afternoon. I counted 100 people walking in one street. Only two of them carried any shopping bags. I then went to another street and counted a further 100 people, of which only three had any shopping bags. I then went into a shopping centre and counted 100 people and only one of them had a shopping bag. Out of 300 people in a busy retail area only six had any shopping -and three of them were supermarket bags.

Retailers might have relatively high footfall – another figure they like quoting – but if people walk into your shop, look around and do not buy anything, that’s a “#fail”. Most of the people I saw were not buying anything. Most of their activity was social. Indeed, the only places with queues were coffee shops.

Where is the growth?

This year in the UK the amount of what we buy from retailers has fallen. But the value of what we buy has risen. Retailers can point to increased money in their tills – but that has only happened because of rising prices. We are buying fewer items from retailers but paying them more.

Some big retailers, though, can point to volume growth. They can legitimately say that the amount of stuff bought from them has risen. But what they do not then like saying is that almost all of that increase has come from their website. Almost all the growth in the UK retail market is happening online. And that is causing a problem for offline retailers in bricks and mortar stores.

The real issue for bricks and mortar retailers

Online stores are convenient, true. But so are real world stores. You can nip out of the office, stroll down the street, buy what you need and take it back to the office with you, for example. You might be able to order online from your desk, but you then have to wait 24 hours to get the item. That is often more inconvenient. Saying that online is convenient misses the point that real world shopping is also frequently highly convenient.

The problem for real world retailers is that online retailing has changed behaviour and expectations. You can “walk in” to most online retailers and within moments find exactly what you want. The ease with which you can find things is speedy, the range available is wide and checking out is easy and quick. That means nowadays when we walk in to a real world store we expect to find things easily, to have a wide range and to pay quickly.

A little test

So, I put this to the test and pretended I was going clothes shopping in three different retailers – Debenhams, Marks and Spencer and Primark. Would these stores make it easy to find things, have a good range and make checkout quick and easy? I went to these company’s stores in three different towns.

My cursory findings did not impress me. Each of the six stores showed differences from one town to the next. There was no consistency between the way things were displayed, the range available or the way you could pay. Indeed in Primark in Reading they have completely hidden the checkouts behind a massive set of pillars at the back of the store; it is as though they do not want you to pay. Meanwhile, in Marks and Spencer they appear to think that the world is made up of people who are not the average size. The UK average waist size for men is 38 inches. So you would expect clothing in these stores to reflect that with half of their items available below that average and half above. Not true, something like 80% of the sizes available are below the average waist size. Not to be sexist, I checked some women’s clothes racks too, only to find that the majority on sale were below average dress size. In other words, the range of items stocked in retail clothing stores doesn’t, at first glance, to represent what people actually want to buy.

Is it any wonder that bricks and mortar retailers are struggling against the competition even of their own websites? Their real world shops make it hard to find things, awkward to pay and do not have the range people want.

Until the bricks and mortar stores respond to the growing change in behaviour and expectation triggered by online shopping they will continue to lose out. That convenience of being able to nip down the road to a shop and get something now is being eroded all the time bricks and mortar retailers restrict ranges and make it hard to pay.

What it looks like is that bricks and mortar retailers have given up – they appear to be saying “we have lost to the Internet”. That’s why you find towns packed with people going to coffee shops but not carrying much shopping any more. They did that at home before they went out.

Tesco troubles teach website owners a lesson

Tesco is in trouble despite being Britain’s biggest retailer. The company’s problems provide a warning for online retail.

Britain’s biggest retailer faces crisis which reveals what is wrong with websites

Tesco - Picture by Martin Bodman

Tesco is in trouble. In spite of being the biggest retailer in the UK, the company faces turbulent times. The new CEO, Dave Lewis, starts his job today, taking over from the previous CEO a month early. He had told the BBC earlier this year that he had “no plans” to leave;  within weeks he had gone. Yet, the last day in his job saw the giant grocer give a profits warning and 6% was slashed off its share price in a few hours. On top of this, the company has cut the dividend it provides to shareholders and seen its market share drop from over 35% of all shopping in the UK, to 29%. Today, as if Dave Lewis’s job was not complicated enough, one of the company’s major investors has halved its stake in the business, citing “incoherent strategy”.

There is a great deal of chatter on social networks, analysis by the pundits and news coverage in the media, all telling tales of woe. One of the key issues discussed in the coverage is price – and how the new entrants to the UK supermarket sector, such as Aldi and Lidl are able to provide lower costs, thereby attracting more customers away from Tesco.

Except, it isn’t price that is the problem.

Shopping has changed

When Tesco was riding high as the trend-setting dominant retailer we all lived in a different world. Online shopping had not taken off. Travel costs were much lower. Our lives were less busy.

When Tesco was at the top of its game we loved the convenience of getting everything in one massive store, being able to buy everything from beans to bedding or toilet paper to TVs. The age of the giant “hypermarket” was born and “Tesco Extra” was established giving us everything under one roof. No longer did we need to trudge up and down the High Street from butcher to baker to candlestick maker.

Giant stores, though, mean more time shopping. It takes longer to walk around the massive warehouse-style stores and it is more difficult to find what you want.

Nowadays, we have become used to getting what we want almost instantly, thanks to online shopping. The superstore may provide more choice than a smaller supermarket, but our increasing desire for “instant” solutions means that we perceive the time it takes us to shop in big stores as wasted time. Indeed, over in the USA, the giant retailer Walmart is reportedly focusing its strategy on smaller stores.

Speed trumps choice

Human beings prefer to do things in the shortest time and least amount of effort that is possible. It is a basic psychological survival instinct, part of our homeostatic mechanism designed to preserve energy for when it is most required. When Tesco launched its massive stores, they appealed to our need for speed; they meant much less effort than going to several different shops.

But now, the mid-sized stores, like Aldi and Lidl, not only offer keener prices, but they also provide faster shopping. They may provide less choice, but they do have a greater range than other medium-sized shops. It means we can get what we want, but in a faster time than at giant superstores.

[quote]It is not price that is the main psychological attraction of Aldi or Lidl – but shopping speed.[/quote]

Responding to change

The troubled times for Tesco should be a warning to website owners. The turmoil shows that your business can quickly lose ground and shareholder support if you do not adequately predict and respond to market changes. The shift in shopping in recent years has emphasised the importance of the psychological driver of convenience – the need for speed. Tesco needs to adapt its super sized stores to make shopping faster – and then its customers will return. If you run an online store, the convenience of being able to provide what customers want in an instant is essential. Unlike Tesco customers, who have to drive to the competition, your online competitors are a mere click away. Customers vote with their feet or the click of a mouse if they cannot get what they want, in an instant.

Tesco’s troubles started when it did not respond to the changes in the speed with which we can shop. Don’t let your website suffer the same consequences – make sure your customers can get what they want, in an instant.

Pricing strategies used by Apple should be copied

Apple’s pricing strategies link to psychological studies that show people appreciate the most expensive items more, you should put prices up.

Apple is well-known for pricing strategies that keep its products expensive

Apple do not discount and even though they cannot legally control prices charged by resellers, you will not find significant differences in prices if you search for an Apple product. Everyone, it seems, wants to charge a lot for an Apple item.

Pricing Strategies Used by Apple help increase emotional attachment to these items, iPad and MacbookBut Apple’s products are just phones or computers – nothing more. Of course, Apple fans will disagree. They will say, for instance, that the iPhone is “so much more” than a phone. Yet, cold, hard, objective analysis shows that there is diddle-squat difference between an iPhone and similar smartphones. So why do Apple fans think their phone is so much better than the others available?

The answer is – price.

When you pay more for something you appreciate it more. And when the difference is stark – £499 for an iPad compared with £79 for an Android tablet that does the same job – you think your expensive item simply must be brilliant. After all, if it were not better they would not charge so much for it, would they? At least that’s what our subconscious gets to think.

Price equals quality

People equate price with quality, which has been shown again with an experiment involving diners in a New York restaurant. The diners ate the same menu – an anything you can eat Italian buffet – but some were charged $4 and others were charged $8. The diners were asked for their feelings before eating, during eating and after eating. Those who had paid $8 found the meal better and enjoyed the food more with those feelings persisting. Those who had paid $4 found the meal less enjoyable – and their enjoyment tailed off from start to finish.

This confirms other studies which show that when we pay “top dollar” for something, we appreciate it more – even if it is the same quality as something which would cost us less.

Apple’s pricing strategies use this psychological feature well. The company makes us think their products are better simply by charging higher prices than their competitors. And, as the study of New York diners shows, when you are charged a higher price your positive feelings about the product you have bought seem to persist.

Competing on price only makes your customers think that your products and services are less valuable. Not only that, any positive feelings they have for your business fade away simply because of the low price. The reason you may not be getting the business you want or keeping customers for as long as you want could simply be down to your pricing strategies.

So, what does this all mean? It suggests that you need to charge higher prices than your competition – assuming you produce things of comparable quality and functionality. But if you do, then charging higher prices, just like Apple does with its pricing strategies, will make your customers more emotionally attached to your business with positive feelings that persist.

Local shoppers are mobile focused

People are more likely to buy when the search locally on a mobile phone than on any other device.

Local shoppers are much more likely to buy from a mobile than from any other device. New research shows that when people are using the web to find a suitable supplier for their goods, the individuals using their mobile phone instead of a tablet or a PC are the ones most likely to make a purchase.

Graph showing sales conversion rates

Almost eight out of ten searches conducted for a local supplier on a mobile phone ended up in a purchase. However, on a PC only six out of ten searches lead to an actual sale. Tablets were half-way between these figures.

Interestingly, even though the desktop computer shoppers were less likely to buy than the mobile individuals, around the same number of people ended up buying in the store, rather than online. In other words, it doesn’t matter whether you have a mobile website or a desktop one, it seems that people still prefer to buy in the real world. That suggests we ought to be using websites to drive footfall into real world stores, rather than focusing on e-commerce alone.

The other interesting finding in this study of 3,000 people, was that tablets are the worst performers overall. In spite of the immense popularity of them, when it comes to getting people in to your store to buy something PCs and mobile phones win. This probably has something to do with the fact that the tablet is largely seen as an entertainment device, whereas mobile phones and PCs are more associated in our minds with being utilitarian.

For website owners and local businesses this research suggests several things:

[unordered_list style=”tick”]

  • People want to buy locally – in spite of the global nature of the Internet, emphasising local can boost sales
  • People want to buy in the real world – even though we can all buy stuff online, it appears we prefer face-to-face buying
  • People prefer mobile phones for local search – that means you must have a dedicated mobile phone friendly website to capture more sales


Websites dominate for shoppers

Most people now start their purchasing online. Even if they buy offline, the majority of shopping begins online.

Where do you go to buy things these days? The chances are you use a variety of sources – local shops, out-of-town retail parks, town-based shopping centres and, of course, the Internet. However, increasing amounts of evidence show that the starting point for our purchases is the web, with Google being our “number one” place to go to start our shopping journey.


The latest piece of research comes from the incentives company, Parago. They found that the majority of shoppers begin their decisions about what to buy on the web. It means that if you are not using your website as central to selling, you are missing out – big time. Only for groceries, building supplies and pet supplies do people choose a retail store as the first port of call – though second on the list is either Google or Amazon for those shoppers.

But look deeper into the figures. They show that your products and services need to be found on Google – but that you also need to be on Amazon and have your own retail website too, if you are to pick up the most shoppers. Indeed, even for subscription services, people prefer to look for you on Amazon than in social media.

The study also found that the time taken to buy something is now down to 2.25 days. That suggests that if you don’t follow-up website visitors immediately, then you are losing out on sales because the decision to buy will have already been made if you wait more than a day or two to contact people.

In other words, to sell these days you have to be fast and you must have the web as central to your sales process.

Sainsbury’s results show how not to sell

Sainsbury’s results show drop in sales. Focusing on price is the problem.

PricingSainsbury’s have announced the first drop in sales in nine years. The company’s trading figures show that they sold 3.1% less in the first three months this year than for a long time. Indeed, in many previous quarters, Sainsbury’s had increased sales.

The figures from the company are being dressed up in fancy rhetoric about the recession and the fact that people have to budget when they are facing rising electricity and gas prices. Sainsbury’s is also very keen to point out it has retained market share.

But the real issue is price. Well, not price exactly, but focusing the buyer’s mind on price.

Indeed in an interview with BBC Radio Five Live this morning, the Sainsbury’s boss, Justin King, said in response to a question about prices that people prefer value – and then went on to explain how Sainsbury’s provided lower prices with its “Brand Match” scheme and with its “own label” items. Even though the boss wants to suggest that price is not the only factor he seemed unable to stop himself from focusing the listener on price.

This is the fundamental flaw in thinking at supermarkets. When people are not focused on price they do not consider it to be a priority. When the shop focuses the customer’s mind on price, it becomes the number one priority. Simply by focusing our minds on price the supermarkets take the price issue from relatively small consideration, to the number one factor.

Consider the claim by Sainsbury’s that is the prevailing economic issues of the past five or six years that are part of the conundrum. Possibly. Yet in those restrained economic times we have seen, for instance, Ferrari have record sales and Apple continue to sell highly expensive phones and computers with no discounting. Neither of these companies focus the mind of their buyers on price. Instead, they focus on quality and the psychological attachment between the product and the individual. Once that takes place, people find it easier to find the money.

Indeed, in my book Click.ology on page 71, I explain how discounts often work against you. Essentially, when you focus people on prices they have a psychological motivation to try to “beat you”. They want to find an even cheaper version; it becomes a game.

In supermarkets you can see this happening every day. People walk up and down aisles trying to save a penny or two. Yet if they are buying expensive jewellery they rarely do comparison shopping, justifying their over-priced and expensive purchase on other factors.

Sainsbury’s needs our sympathy, though. They are forced into focusing on price because their competitors do the same. It needs a brave supermarket CEO to stop the price comparisons in order to get customers focused on other issues.

It should be a lesson to us all, though. The more you focus people on price the more they will want to beat you down even further. The more you focus on the psychological connection between the product you are selling and the customer, the less concerned they become about prices.

In other words, do not commoditise your products and services. It is a route to problems.

Smartphones cause retail problems and opportunities

Smartphone users price compare within stores causing difficulties for bricks and mortar retailers. But smartphone users also love being approached on their device with coupons.

Black Smartphone, blue screen with icons. IsolatedRetailers are facing a major threat to their traditional ways of working. Most bricks and mortar retailers have benefited over the years from what you might call “customer intransigence”. People tend to go  into a real world physical store, find the item they want and buy it. Rarely do they price compare, for instance. That’s because it is too much hassle; the nearest store to make the comparison could be a long walk, even a drive away. People trade not getting the best price for the convenience of getting the item immediately.

Online retailers have been quick to realise that price comparison is easy on the web. It is only a click or two away to find an alternative website with keener prices or better delivery terms. The world of online retail is much more competitive than the bricks and mortar world.

Until now.

These days smartphone users are price comparing within bricks and mortar stores. They see an item they like, get out their mobile phone and check the price on the website of another local store. According to a recent survey of smartphone users 70% of them do this. In the past, to find out where the cheapest deal was it involved lots of shoe leather…! Now it is just your thumb that gets the exercise.

This is different to “showrooming”. Indeed, the research shows this is  one of the least popular uses of a smartphone when in a physical store. Showrooming is the practice of going into a bricks and mortar store so you can touch and feel the item you want to buy and then going on to your phone or your tablet or even waiting until you get back home to your desktop and buying from a website. Showrooming is not as popular as retailers might think.

Far more popular is price comparison – something that shoppers in physical stores used to be reluctant to do. Now they can do it with a flick of their thumb.

It means that retailers are going to lose sales unless they offer keen prices or added value. Or they can do something else – something that the survey reveals that shoppers in physical stores love.

They love receiving offers or vouchers from the store they are in. That means retailers can keep those smartphone shoppers in their stores if they know they are there and can send them an instant voucher. A bit of discount would be better than losing the sale as a result of price comparison.

However, this means you need to know where your customers are – you need their details and they need location-based software switched on. The alternative is to use Bluetooth to target all devices in the store, but that is fraught with problems, not the least of which is people keeping Bluetooth off to preserve battery life.

With location-based software switched on by default though it also means a store’s competitors know that a shopper is in a bricks and mortar store. In my book Click.ology I explain how this was done to huge success by one shoe store “stealing” customers from a major nearby retailer. What’s more,  even online retailers can target people inside physical stores with a price competitive voucher, taking the customer away from the bricks and mortar  shop.

The increased use of smartphones in shopping means it is about to get a lot more competitive for bricks and mortar stores; they have had it too easy for too long, some might say.

Shoppers force changes in online retail

Online retailers are being squeezed as shoppers focus their activity with fewer and fewer sites. Research shows that most online shopping is now done with fewer than five different websites.

A miniature shopping cart isolated on white with a blue letter "E" in the basket depicting e-commerce or online shopping.Online retailers are facing dramatic changes and they need to respond quickly if they are to survive. That’s the conclusion you can draw from research showing just how much shoppers are in control. The study from the consultancy firm PwC should be a wake-up call to online retailers as it reveals some stark messages.

For one thing, the study has found that the majority of online shoppers only buy from fewer than five websites. Indeed, 46% of the 15,000 people in the study only shop at one online retailer. In other words, the vast amount of online purchases are being concentrated into a handful of leading stores. That should come as no surprise. With Amazon, for instance, raking in around $1bn ever four to five days it dwarfs retailers like the world’s biggest online fashion store, Asos, which managed to produce an income of around $1bn  but only in 12 months. Even so, Asos itself then dwarfs other fashion retailers online. However you dice and slice the data, most online retailers are not doing well; they are only producing tiny amounts of trade compared with the giants of online shopping.

We need to ask ourselves why this situation exists. After all, the standard mantra of “online success” is that if you create a niche, a tiny niche at that, people will flock to you. The data suggest the opposite – that people are flocking to the generalists, like Amazon.

The reason is revealed in the PwC study. It’s mostly about trust. Some 86% of people in the study cited trust as the most important factor in a retailer. With the majority of people shopping at a few online retailers it is clear that these are highly trusted companies. One reason other online retailers may not be doing so well is because they have not demonstrated enough trust.

Trust is established when a company delivers the right product at the right price to the right person in the right way. Good old-fashioned marketing. Many online stores fail at several of these hurdles. They do not deliver the right product. They push products inappropriately. They have poor logistics systems in place. In other words, trust begins with having a solid business in place. Far too many online retailers are simply trying to “cash in” on the web wave without actually putting proper business systems in place – leading to lowered levels of trust.

However, trust is also established in another way – by demonstrating expertise. Amazon, for instance, is an acknowledged expert in online retail. Their shopping experience has inspired many other online retailers to offer something similar. You cannot move on the web for articles about creating a store like Amazon and the company even produces systems, like Amazon Web Services, which other retailers rely on. Throughout the web, Amazon has shown it has extensive knowledge about its “world”. Shoppers – even subconsciously – see this extensive knowledge and influence and this increases their trust. We trust people more when we believe they know a lot about something  – as I point out in my book, Click.ology: What Works in Online Shopping.

The PwC study also demonstrates how important knowledge and influence is. Shoppers said that they expected retailers to have a compelling story to tell. In other words, they don’t just want an online store – they want to shop from retailers who know lots and spread their knowledge widely. Asos was one company that discovered when it launched a magazine and blogs that sales went up. People start to trust you more when you don’t focus on selling but instead offer compelling content.

It all suggests that shoppers are driving change. If retailers do not respond by increasing trust and by demonstrating great knowledge the stranglehold of the main online retailers will merely strengthen. The PwC study should be a warning shot to online retailers – improve your business, gain more trust and fill the web with your stories and you will do well. Simply run a shop and you will be out of business before long.

How to sell a product – make it shiny…!

How to sell a product involves making people want it. This article looks at research explaining why products must be shiny to sell more.

water drops on blue backgroundHow to sell a product seems such an easy notion. You make what people want and then offer it to them. Simple. Except, of course, there is often more to simple things than we might expect.

When you look at product sales overall it seems that the “shiny” things sell more than non-shiny. When the Apple iPhone was introduced most phones at the time were made of matt coverings – the iPhone was black and shiny and highly reflective.

And when you think of cars, which ones are the most attractive? Those with shiny, glossy paint or the flat, matt ones?

People love shiny stuff. But why?

In a series of studies conducted in Belgium, researchers have found that we do indeed prefer shiny things. And the scientists have an interesting explanation for it. They reckon that it all connects with our evolutionary instincts for survival. To survive we need water. Shiny stuff looks wet and so it triggers that basic, animal instinct within us all that makes water appealing because it helps us survive.

The research managed to rule out other explanations of why we prefer shiny products – such as social pressure or advertising trends and so on. The desire for something shiny was much more basic, it turned out in the research.

This has important implications if you want to know how to sell a product or service online. What if your product is not shiny? Just how can you make it attractive? And what if it is a service? What do you do to trigger that basic instinct for being attracted to something wet.

There are several possibilities. You can make the web page you use to sell the product shiny, with a watery background, for instance. Or you could package your item in a glossy clear covering so that it is reflective making it have a sense of being shiny – even if what it contains is not shiny. Good packaging is one way you can sell a product more often.

I remember a few years ago an Internet Marketer telling me that his sales trebled when he started shrink-wrapping his CDs and DVDs that he was selling online. The items were no different, they just had shiny wrappers and sold much more.

So if you sell a service, instead of a product, first turn it into a product. Many services are available in boxes in High Street stores, for instance, whereby you buy a glossy, shiny box as a gift and inside is merely a piece of paper with a web address showing the recipient how they can receive their “weekend break” or whatever else you have bought them. Turning services into shiny products will help you sell more.

So how to sell a product online? Make it a shiny product. After all, Apple hasn’t done badly out of inventing a shiny phone.

Supermarkets only have themselves to blame

Supermarkets have focused too much on price, commoditising their goods and making people want cheaper instead of quality.

PricingIt is a year since the “horsemeat scandal” blew up in the UK with people eating lasagne they thought was made of beef which actually contained horse. Today, the food safety agencies are telling us that we probably have the safest food on the planet. Yet as BBC Radio Five Live was told this morning, the food supply chain is so complex that no-one can be sure. The programme heard that cod fish fingers can be produced by fish caught by UK fishermen which is then distributed to China for production before coming back to the UK via several other countries. It leaves the door open for potential “food fraud” the BBC was told.

But why are the food manufacturers doing this?

The answer is cost. They are being forced to drive down costs because the supermarkets want to sell us things at the lowest possible price. A former supermarket executive told the BBC this morning that if people want higher quality food then they are going to have to pay for it and accept higher prices.

Supermarkets say this as though it were some kind of threat. “You want quality…? Well dip into your purse…or else…!”

Meanwhile, they focus our minds on price. Their TV adverts show how their shopping basket is cheaper then their rivals. When you look at the shelves the price tickets show that there is a saving of a few pence compared with a nearby supermarket.

The executives of supermarkets are focused on price. They believe we buy things on price. They are convinced we want the cheapest goods.

They are wrong.

Sure, they have evidence from millions of items which demonstrate clearly that price reductions, comparisons and bargains pay off. Their data shows without doubt that people want cheap stuff. Except that is a statistical quirk. It is the same as giving everyone in your street free grass mowing for several months and then asking them if they like their grass short and neat. They will of course say yes. So when you say to people we are the cheapest and focus their mind on price and then ask if they like low prices they will inevitably say yes.

When you commoditise something, people treat it as a commodity.

Supermarkets are having to push prices lower and lower because THEY started it…!

And that means supermarket suppliers are pushed on price and that means corners are cut in quality to deliver those cheap prices.

Now the supermarkets are being forced by regulation to increase quality and that means they are going to have to either accept lower profits, upsetting shareholders, or increase prices upsetting consumers. They are in a lose-lose situation. But it is of their own making.

Study after study after study confirms that people do not buy on the price of goods UNLESS the seller focuses their mind on price.

People prefer value and quality. Emphasising price is a mug’s game.

[box type=”note”]I discuss the whole negative issue of price discounting in my new book Click.ology[/box]

Convenience is key to your online success

Convenience is a key factor in people deciding whether or not to use your website. Demonstrating convenience equates with success online.

Torch Banner - Natwest 09.10Yesterday’s problems at the Royal Bank of Scotland during the busiest shopping period of the year were a signal to us all. The bank suffered a system “meltdown” meaning that no-one could use any of the bank’s credit cards or debit cards. It caused no-end of issues. For instance, I woke up this morning to hear a woman on the radio saying how she had been arguing with a taxi driver who she had tried paying with her debit card which failed to work. She couldn’t even get cash out with it. The taxi driver, of course, was angry; he didn’t appreciate it was not his passenger’s fault.

Meanwhile online, thousands of NatWest, RBS and Ulster Bank customers missed out on special one-day only discounts offered by Cyber Monday traders. The Royal Bank of Scotland has apologised and offered compensation. But that is little comfort to people who have missed out on the one thing they rely on with their credit and debit cards – convenience.

Imagine if you wanted to buy something online and you pressed the “Buy Now” button only to be presented with directions to an office where you could take your cash. Then once they had received your cash and banked it they would send out your goods. That cash office might be a hundred miles away, of course, perhaps even in a different country. Online retail would collapse.

The fact that you can pay right now, instantly, using a variety of systems from debit cards and credit cards to PayPal accounts or instant bank transfers means that online shopping survives because we can conveniently pay for what we want. People don’t use NatWest debit cards because they love the Royal Bank of Scotland, in spite of what their branding people might say. People use those cards because the bank they got it from was convenient to get to and using them is convenient – or at least until last night it was.

But what is “convenience” anyway? The dictionary tells us that something is convenient if it fits in with our needs and behaviours. In other words, we perceive something as convenient when it is focused on us as individuals and our specific requirements.

PayPal may be convenient for some people, but for others it is not convenient because it does not fit with their desire for using a British company, for instance. Equally, a Barclaycard is only convenient if you have a good credit score. Convenience does not mean just that it is easy, it means that it has what you might call “goodness of fit” with us as an individual.

So, for website owners the convenience question is important to consider. Does your website demonstrate convenience for your specific customers? After all, if your customers are the kind of people that prefer to pay by cheque, but you offer only PayPal, then no matter how convenient that might seem to you, it is not convenient to them. Yesterday with the RBS problems the apparent convenience of a debit card was laughed at by the millions of people who find cash much more convenient. It is horses for courses.

There are other issues about convenience of your website, in addition to whether or not it is tailored precisely to your customer needs. For example, can they find the search box? Is it “conveniently” located, which means in the place where people always look for it on web pages (centre or top right)? Is the shopping cart “convenient” – which means it also needs to be top right and uses as few clicks as possible. In other word, convenience is also about website functions and design decisions.

Far too many websites appear to think “convenience” is about “Buy Now” buttons and quick delivery. It is much, much more than this – as the Royal Bank of Scotland found out yesterday.

[box]Convenience is the first part of my CLICK System, a five-step method of ensuring your website really works. The CLICK System is explored in my new book, Click.ology, due out next month.[/box]


It’s a black Cyber Monday for most online retailers

Cyber Monday and Black Friday combine to make these few days brilliant for online retailers. The problem is, store owners are not using the data to help them sell for the rest of the year.

Cyber Monday Sale Green Road Sign with Dramatic Clouds and Sky.Cyber Monday may be fantastic in terms of one-day sales for online retailers, but that’s all it might be. Over the past few days, no doubt, you will have received dozens of emails offering “Black Friday” deals followed by “Cyber  Monday” special offers. Indeed, many online retailers are now merging the two days into one great long weekend of deal making.

They will be able to report soon that today’s Cyber Monday is the “best ever”, that last week’s Black Friday was the most successful since the last one. It will all be positive, whoopee-sounding excitement.

And there will be truth in it. Each year online we see the ever-rising impact of both Black Friday and Cyber Monday with increased sales, year-on-year. More people shop online throughout the four day period each year as increasing numbers of people try to get their Christmas shopping done in the comfort of their own home, without having to trudge round the shops. Each year, Cyber Monday and Black Friday get bigger and better for the retailers.

Yet, new research shows they are not capitalising on that frenzy of activity. Millions of people today will be visiting tens of thousands of online stores – yet most of those Internet retailers will ignore any activity on their website other than a purchase. A worldwide study from the global search firm, SLI Systems shows that six out of every ten online retailers are ignoring what people look for on their own sites.

When people visit an online store they may be attracted by a deal, but then go on to search for other items. This data is vital to the long-term success of an online shop because it shows EXACTLY what customers are interested in buying. Yet, the majority of online retailers do not even assess the search data their website is collecting, meaning they have little idea of what their customers really want.


It reminds me of when I moved house several years ago and we needed curtains and curtain track. I went to several curtain shops asking if they would make the curtains AND install the track. Every shop I went to said, “we get lots of people asking us to do that, but that’s not a service we offer.” Er…? When your customers repeatedly ask for something and you don’t offer it, isn’t that a signal that there is a money-making opportunity for you?

It’s the same online, when people are searching for items on a website it is a signal that this is what they want you to provide. Ignoring those signals is tantamount to throwing money away.

So today, if you are selling stuff online make sure you analyse your search data. It will help you extend the benefit of today’s Cyber Monday right round to next year’s Black Friday.

Mobile generation are actually couch potatoes

New research shows that most shopping from mobile phones is done in the home, rather than “on the go”

Teenagers using smartphonesHave you seen any mobile phone adverts lately? They’d all have us believe that people are forever on their smartphones, busy clicking on apps while they are out at the shops, or in a restaurant or on the beach. Indeed “Internet Gurus” are fond of telling us that a whole “new way” of engaging with the web is taking place and that the future is mobile. Gosh, I have even said as much.

Meanwhile, retail experts are telling us that the High Street needs to change to accommodate the growing trend for “showrooming” whereby people come into a store, check out the goods on offer and then buy them from the Internet using their mobile.

In fact, almost everywhere you look for Internet retail advice these days, you’ll find someone explaining it is all mobile.

But it isn’t.

The statistics are lying.

The data is conclusive, however. More and more people are using mobile devices to buy things online.

However, the “experts” appear to have made an assumption. They assume that because the device is mobile, so is the user.

But new research shows that this is not the case. Two thirds of online purchases made using a mobile device are made from within the home of the owner of that smartphone. In other words, the people are not mobile at all; they are using their mobiles from their sofas.

This means many retailers may need to re-think the language on their websites. There is a lot of talk about “mobile convenience” and being “in store”. Maybe this should all be refocused into “from the comfort of your armchair” because that is where most of the mobile buyers are.

This study is yet another indication that people are quick to jump on so-called “big data” trends, when actually analysing human behaviour is more worthwhile.

Reports of the death of the High Street are premature

Retailers are under threat from online shops, so much so that one report predicts substantial closures of bricks and mortar stores.

Women shoppingRetailers have had a tough time in the past few years – some of which has been of their own making – but they don’t deserve today’s news saying that one in five shops will close soon because of the Internet. According to a new study, the amount of shopping we do online is set to double, putting bricks and mortar retailers out of business.

Given that the recession itself has closed an average of one in five High Street shops, another one in five disappearing will decimate towns and cities across the nation. Can you imagine your local town with only about half the shops it has now? That’s the kind of future being predicted.

There is little doubt that online shopping is having an impact on traditional retail. But much of that is because of the intransigence of old-fashioned retailers and their lack of willingness to respond to the rapid changes going on. HMV and Jessops are but two examples of old-style thinking amongst retailers; their collapse partly came about because they were simply too slow to respond to the online world.

Bookshops are also proving they are not keeping up with the impact of online shops. For instance, how long does it take you to find a book on Amazon? Probably just a handful of seconds. How long does it take to find someone to help you find the same book in a retail store and then find that book? Several minutes. We are used to seconds, but the bricks and mortar bookshops are giving us minutes. The technology to allow us to find books in seconds in a bricks and mortar stores already exists and has existed for decades – warehouses use it. There is no reason why book retailers can’t use such technology – it’s just that they are either unwilling to do so, or move at such a snail’s pace they are planning to introduce the technologies in their next ten year plan. Ho hum.

Many retailers, though, have seen the writing on the wall and are responding. Indeed, retailers now dominate the world’s social media brands, suggesting that they are getting to grips with the threat of the online world and integrating it much more into their activities.

In my forthcoming book, Click.ology, I suggest a way out for embattled retailers and that is to make their real world stores much more akin to the online experience we are now used to with Internet stores. Having search options, choosing delivery/collection methods and seeing what our friends bought in that store are all what people are used to online and having such features available in bricks and mortar stores is what will bring people out of their homes and back down the High Street.

After all, online shopping is lonely. Go into your local High Street and you rarely see people shopping alone – most people shop with other people. It is a social activity. The High Street has been on its last legs not so much because of the Internet, but because shops have let the coffee houses have all the social activity. Our local Debenhams closed its coffee shop, but why? To make more room for men’s shirts. That area of the store is now largely devoid of people – fewer people because they cannot really socialise around a display of 16 inch collars. With the coffee shop in place, they had a reason to be in the store.

Retail is a leisure activity for the most part and the best retailers know this and make their stores fun and exciting with social features. All they need to do is add in some new technology social features, with augmented reality for instance, and they will get people back to the High Street.

The High Street has considerable potential – it will only die if the people running retail fail to respond and do what is possible. HMV and Jessops were early warning signals – let’s hope the rest of the High Street has taken note. If they respond, we’ll enjoy the dual success of online and offline retail. The signs are they are beginning to respond. But is it too little, too late?

Find out how to sell more online – inside Click.ology

Click.ology: What Works in Online Shopping and How Your Business Can Use Consumer Psychology to Succeed.

Cover of Click.ology - http://uklik.me/clickologyWhat Works in Online Shopping and How Your Business Can Use Consumer Psychology to Succeed

Packed with tips, guidance and real-world case studies – from online niche stores Bellabox and Facetache to the universal appeal of Groupon, and from offline discount stores Dollar Tree and Poundland to the luxury Selfridges – my latest book reveals:

[unordered_list style=”tick”]

  • Why most online shopping carts are abandoned before a purchase is ever made
  • Why having a centrally positioned “search box” aids navigation and increases sales
  • Why offering free shipping online pays off
  • Why it makes sense to be sociable


Plus the book reveals the easy-to-use, five-step CLICK System to online sales success.

[button link=”http://uklik.me/clickology” color=”red” window=”yes”]Buy Click.ology Now[/button]

Why the UK leads the way in online shopping

The reason people in the UK do so much Internet shopping is because UK retail is beset with poor service and high prices, unlike online

E-Commerce shopping cartIt’s official…! British people are the leading online shoppers in the world…! According to a report from OFCOM each of us spends an average of £1,083 a year online, almost £250 more than our nearest rivals, the Australians. Whichever way you cut the data, we are the shopping kings of the Internet.

But the question is…why? What is it about Britons that makes us so attached to online shopping? It can’t be the convenience of it, because it is just as convenient for anywhere else in the world. Indeed with the enormous travel distances in American and Australia you might have thought they’d prefer to do more Internet shopping than us.

There are two features of shopping in the UK however which stand out as peculiarly British. Much retail in the UK is awash with abysmal customer service. True, independent local stores do go out of their way to please customers, but the average High Street in Britain is just that – average. And there is another peculiarly British thing about shopping in the UK – prices. The word “rip off” were invented for us it seems.

Online two things stand out – lower prices and improved service levels. Admittedly online there is still some shoddy service, but the low attention spans and the highly competitive nature of e-commerce mean that we can move from shop to shop with much more ease than we can in the real world. As a result, online retailers have to respond to survive. And thanks to price comparisons and our knowledge that in general the Internet is cheaper than the real world then online retailers have to give keen prices.

So why do we flock to the Internet in Britain? Because in general we get better service and lower prices than in the High Street.

Whenever I talk to retailers they are keen to understand how they can make their online presence as close as possible to their bricks-and-mortar stores. But I think they need to flip that thinking. Their real world shops would do so much better if they made bricks and mortar stores operate much more like the Internet – with better service and better prices.