THE BLOG

We've Got the Power: Why Consumers Are in the Driving Seat When It Comes to Online Shopping

29/07/2015 11:26 BST | Updated 26/07/2016 10:59 BST

What do Apocalypse Now, Escape from Alcatraz, and online shopping have in common? Surprisingly to some, all had their seminal moments in 1979. During this year, as the groovy '70s made way for the electronic '80s, an unassuming British gentleman named Michael Aldrich changed the way we shop forever. Aldrich was a British IT expert who, by connecting a modified domestic television with a phone line, invented online shopping. What was science fiction then is now the preferred way to shop for one billion of us across the world*1.

Online shopping is convenient, it's cost-effective and it lets us cross boundaries without leaving our screens, giving us the chance to choose from thousands of products outside our own countries in today's borderless world. For many of us, online shopping is a necessity - if we live in rural areas, for example, or prefer to shop without having to drag whinging children along the high street. For some of us, online shopping has become an enjoyable hobby. In fact, research shows that the nucleus ambens - the brain's pleasure centre - is stimulated just from looking at goods to purchase. There's also an area of our brain that weighs up the cost of an item against the benefits. Evidence reveals that activity shows up in this area reflects our preference for a bargain: it seems we're hard-wired to get pleasure from a bargain, getting value for money*2, and online shopping is the perfect outlet.

Global Ecommerce sales reflect our love of online shopping, and reached $1.3 trillion in 2014. This is partly driven by the increase in handheld devices, as more and more of us now shop online using our mobiles and tablets. We expect a seamless, omnichannel experience, whatever way we choose to access a website. We want the same items to appear in our virtual basket throughout our buying process: when we add an item to our cart using an app on our mobile on the way home, we assume the item will still be there later that evening when we visit the site on our tablets. Some companies - clothing company Joules, for example - present an integrated, intuitive experience. They notice what we're browsing on our mobiles, for example, and if we haven't bought it, they send us emails later that day prompting us to take a second look.

Many companies' websites include multimedia, feature-rich content such as video to engage us and encourage us to share content. Some are using immersive personalised interactive video in their marketing to us. Virtual fitting rooms are being used by the likes of Henri Lloyd and Hawes and Curtis. Businesses are finding more and more innovative, dynamic and engaging ways to interest and engage us, and encourage us to part with our cash.

Now, as well as these dynamic new website experiences, there is another way that companies can persuade us to shop with them: with great delivery and shipping options. Admittedly not as glamorous as personalised interactive videos or virtual changing rooms, delivery is an emotive subject and can make or break our customer experience. Almost everyone has a delivery or shipping disaster tale to tell, from packages left on the roof or in a dustbin, to huge shipping charges at the doorstep, the result of unexpected taxes or duties. Research*3 reveals that 44% of shoppers actually leave websites before checking out, due to costly shipping fees.

Savvy Ecommerce companies know that, and are now realising that by providing a broad choice of precise, accurate delivery and shipping options, they can actually win our business over a company with similar products but fewer delivery and shipping choices. Rarely now do we click-and-hope, assuming our parcel will arrive sometime in the next two weeks. Now we can choose from click-and-collect, next-day delivery, second-class delivery or track-and-trace by courier. Amazon shoppers can collect their items around-the-clock from parcel lockers in Jet petrol stations, or from 300 other parcel lockers in the UK alone. And marketplaces like Etsy and eBay have online postal cost calculators, so there are no hidden surprises when packages arrive from overseas.

We're what the retail industry call 'empowered consumers': the ball's in our court. It's a buyer's market. We work hard to generate our disposable incomes, and companies need to work hard too, to earn our custom. Providing us with a host of shipping and delivery options along with upfront costs is respectful, informative, and convenient. And convenience is surely the driving force behind our online shopping - well, that and giving brain food to our nucleus ambens...

*1 Source: eMarketer.com

*2 Source: research by Stanford MIT and Carnegie Mellon

*3 Source: Forrester 'Understanding Shopping Cart Abandonment'