Sales & Marketing

Future of shopping: Mortar and bricks vs. online clicks

7 min read

28 August 2013

Today, the UK remains the top spender; in 2012 the figure was averaging £311bn in sales. With the internet gaining astounding consumer investment, we felt it necessary to look at how spending patterns, demographics and their attitudes relate to the online and offline battle.

Increasingly multi-channel retailing strategies have seen spending choices filter between physical and online stores. Year on year, the UK’s online spending has faced growth; 2010’s £58.8bn spend reached £68.2bn in 2011. By last year, the figure had reached £78bn. To put these statistics into national relation, an individual Brit will spend an average of £1,083 online every year. Our rivalling Australian consumers average at just £842 a year.

What’s driving buyers to online spending?

Reasons for purchasing online are perhaps not nation-specific. Wanting a bargain for instance, must be a motivation across the globe. In the UK a survey by Mintel found that 77 per cent of online shoppers went for the web to save money. This increased notably at Christmas, where online spending rockets with one in five of the least frequent shoppers still choosing the online option.

Gillian, a lifestyle blogger at Elevator Musik told us her reasons for favouring online shopping: “Being able to look online makes it easy to see exactly what’s available, and allows you to shop around for the best deals and offers in just few minutes, which really suits today’s busy lifestyle. It’s so easy to keep a note of items you want to purchase on payday by bookmarking or favouriting the things you love. This ability to compare and keep track of different items is something which can’t really be done in ‘real life’ shops.” By going to the internet, busy consumers can save time and money – a clear correlation to why most frequent groups include families with young children and the young working population.

Is there hope for the high street?

Perhaps a feature of the traditional British shopping landscape that remains largely unharmed by online competition, is the all-inclusive shopping centre. From Sheffield’s emerald Meadowhall to Manchester’s Trafford Centre, 90 per cent of consumers in a YouGov survey had visited a centre in the last six months. Predominantly, the enticing factor given was their parking availability.

Recently, when asking Olivia Newman, a fashion student and blogger at tea.toast.fashion her about her shopping habits, she pointed out that the most important thing for British shoppers alongside value is variety: “Fashion-savvy British shoppers like to mix vintage fashion with high end and high street.” (and therefore, online with offline). “The fact that Britain offers some of the best fashion brands and vintage items allows us to be creative and give that ‘mix it up’ attitude.” 

But, she adds, “We’re now able to buy unique items from independent sellers in safe, familiar online environments like eBay. This encourages shoppers to support small businesses and supports the rise in online shopping.” What else does Olivia think has contributed to the imminent online takeover from a consumer perspective? “Being able to use a student discount online and of course, free postage!” 

Demographics

Despite the fact that British shoppers enjoy the high street experience, shopping habit patterns are increasingly favouring online choices. This year, online spending will accumulate as 11 per cent of the total in the UK. By 2017, this is estimated to be closer to 15 per cent. A vivid sign of this trend is amongst older demographics. Online shoppers aged 55 and above are actually rising at a rate of 31.9 per cent. Older age groups in general are adopting online spending across sectors. Some 19 per cent of 45-50 year-olds are using the internet for groceries and 24 per cent of those aged 51 to 60 are choosing it for purchasing holidays. In three years, this age group is predicted to be in the region of 10m users, according to SAS.

Surveys on the UK demographics of online spending according to gender, show that women are paying-out more. Surprisingly, however, when investing in health and beauty products, YouGov found that only 21 per cent would buy online, while 89 per cent argued that they would prefer to buy such products in-store. 

Why the shift?

E-commerce is not only more practical and quicker for the customer. Digitally, brands have the ability to react and respond quickly to new trends and changing customer’s needs than they would in the traditional store-chain set up, which keeps them ahead of the high-street game. Rebecca Smith, Head of e-commerce at boohoo.com, one of the UK’s leading online fashion suppliers, told us, “As we are a pure-play online retailer. We can change our focus and react to new trends and changes in customer shopping behaviours much more quickly than high street retailers can. Coupling this with our strengths in social media and strong relationships with fashion bloggers across the web means we can always be one step ahead.”

The step ahead 

So, it is evident that there are shifts in business and consumer practices. As online choices expand and become more simple and accessible, it is inevitable that online spending will grow. This year, online will overtake brick and mortar for the sale of books, accounting for 52.9 per cent of purchases. Music and video sales, already highly dominated by the internet, are predicted to reach an online percentage of 97.7 per cent of all sales by 2017. As such changes occur and brands become more social media savvy, it is certain that other sectors will follow suit and online sales will conquer. “Perhaps,” Gillian, of Elevator Musik muses, “one day we’ll be able to buy our favourite new dress just by tapping on a tweet!”

Charlotte Scheggia is SEO and online marketer at boohoo.com.