September 2023

The Online Shopping Mystique

What and Why do We Love to Buy Online?

The internet has been in our everyday lives for the past 20+ years. And it is here to stay. The age of smartphones has untethered us from our desktops and laptops and with smartphones in our pocket and wearables on our persons we are now online whenever we want.

People looking at screens, browsing and interacting with the multitude of content available online has, for a while now, been just the usual background noise of our daily lives. But, what do we all do there? One of the answers is: we shop.

The Boom of Buying Online

Online shopping is a multibillion-euro industry, with millions of people worldwide availing themselves of the convenience of purchasing products and services with just a few clicks or taps of the finger.

Ease of payment and availability of products have made shopping online increasingly similar to or have, in certain ways, surpassed shopping in person, if we keep in mind the effect COVID-19 has had. 

There are many reasons to shop online: prices for online purchases are often lower than for the same product in a brick-and-mortar store while the range of products on offer is always larger and more diverse. And you can shop any time you want!

Online stores are open all hours, eliminating the need for headlong rushes to the local store to make it in time before closing.

Demographics of Online Shoppers

Forward-thinking businesses have been marketing themselves to all age groups and demographics using social media. Studies show that it’s Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen Xers who are currently the biggest online shoppers. This comes as no surprise since all three generations are in general very internet-savvy, and most Gen Z (18 to 26 years of age) shoppers have been exposed to the internet almost their entire lives.

Education seems to be a factor too, with higher educated consumers shopping online more frequently; and those who are currently employed or self-employed also making more purchases than students, the unemployed, or especially retirees.

Certain trends also emerge when looking at what digital shopping baskets contain.

Everyone’s biggest purchases are clothes, shoes, and accessories, with food delivery not far behind.

Additionally, Generation Z buys a lot of electronics, Millennials and Gen X purchase furniture and beauty and wellness products, while older shoppers frequently purchase printed books and magazines, as well as pharmaceuticals, including medicine and dietary supplements.

In general, most online shoppers from all age groups will spend from 100 to less than 500 euros over the course of three months, with purchases of under 50 euros being most frequent among Gen Z, and purchases of over 1000 euros most frequent among Millennials.

Male vs Female Online Shopping Statistics

When looking at online shopping statistics, certain trends reveal themselves with regards to the gender of consumers.

Women are more prone to making impulsive purchases (57%), especially of clothes and shoes, but also of games and books. Men are not that far behind, with 49% of male online shoppers very quick to put electronics, games, and books into their digital shopping baskets.That said, when comparing male vs female shopping statistics, it’s the men who – according to studies – seem to be the dominant online shoppers.

Also of note is that while female shoppers might make more purchases, male shoppers spend more overall, with estimates of up to 10 euros of difference between an average man and an average woman’s individual online purchases.

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Top Reasons Why People Shop Online

But while previous numbers tell us what and how much, another question poses itself: why do people prefer to shop online? What is it that provides such an edge to online stores when compared to their brick-and-mortar counterparts? Why is online shopping better and what draws so many people to it daily?

And what if the product is faulty or you’re unsatisfied with it for some reason? Data points to an easy return policy as being another factor in people choosing online stores in general, and certain online stores in particular.

For example, clothing e-stores will often deliver products in self-sealing envelopes with pre-paid postal charges, meaning that a customer can return a product with no extra cost to them.

Data from multiple surveys point to several key factors, but there is a keyword that is common to most of them and the reason why people shop online: convenience / simplicity. Research points to convenience rating as the top reason people shop online in Europe, especially in Sweden (44%), Norway (40%), and Finland (36%).

Price is also a significant factor driving online shopping, especially in Italy, where 22% of consumers put lower prices as a reason they prefer online retailers.

While a big downside to online shopping is that you can’t see the item in question with your own eyes and hold it in your hands before purchasing it, this is greatly offset by customer reviews and ratings. Often plentiful and conveniently displayed on the product page, reviews and ratings are often a deciding factor in shoppers making up their mind about the purchase. Also, any person online shopping can not only check the reviews on the store’s webpage, but also simply open up another tab and do a quick online search for even more reviews and ratings.

Everything an online store has on offer is always on display on the webpage; products out of stock are clearly labeled as such, often with the ability to notify you the moment an item is back in stock; searching for a particular product is easier than at a physical location, and more/most importantly, the checkout process is fast and simple with no waiting in line and no crowding at the register.

Call it by other names like ease of use, streamlining, frictionless – at the end of the day, convenience is what we all desire in our shopping experience and successful online stores have put in the time and effort to provide it to their clients.  

Online stores offer free delivery – some for any purchase, others for all purchases over a certain minimum amount of money spent – and this feature is very often stated as one of the main reasons for online shopping. You put in your address, you make the purchase, and the item is delivered to your doorstep, eliminating the need for scouting out local brick-and-mortar stores, hoping they’ll have the item in stock. It bears note that among online stores that do offer free delivery, those that fare even better are stores that can provide next-day delivery.

While payments are simple, payment plans and conveniences such as e-coupons and discounts are also important factors for online shoppers, as well as loyalty programs. Also, products on special offers and sales are clearly visible on the webpage, which means there is no chance of a shopper missing a sale because they didn’t stop by the brick-and-mortar store on the right day. 

Your Lifestyle & Your Online Shopping Go Together

The Influence of Technology and Social Media

Social media has affected many facets of our lives, so it stands to reason that it also influenced not just how we shop but also why. With social media increasingly present across all age groups, savvy online stores and businesses have for a while now been marketing not only to the younger generations – once perceived as the “only ones online” – but have been targeting all ages and demographics. 

The ability to buy a product or service directly through a social media platform has also proven a significant benefit to both consumers and online stores, with consumers of all age groups making purchases with no need to visit the store’s main webpage.

Influencers have more than once proven a boon to brands and stores, providing at certain times an almost unprecedented effect on the sales of a certain product or service – for example, BookTok is a large reader and reviewer community based on the social media application TikTok and BookTok influencers have more than once in the past years made the sales of certain novels – or indeed certain author’s entire catalogue – skyrocket.

Online sales have also significantly increased revenue for online stores and businesses. Maybe one of the best examples is how Black Friday and Cyber Monday transformed from something we associate with the US to global sales events, marked by aggressive social media campaigns promoting special discounts.

There is also an often overlooked technological factor influencing online sales: the chatbot. A simple, but effective program that can answer a shopper’s questions about products and services on offer by the store, chatbots are popular among Millennial and Gen Z consumers for their ability to provide quick and to the point answers about availability, price et al. And “bot” use goes beyond chatbots on webpages – a large percentage of smart devices are equipped with digital assistants such as Siri or Alexa, through which consumers also search for and buy products and services online.

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Live Streaming Commerce – Top or Flop?

Remember when grandma bought a whole collection of pots and pans because someone on television suggested that she buy now in order to get this amazing, once-in-a-lifetime deal? This thing is back, in a way – except now, it’s mostly about Gen Z buying clothes through live streams on social media.

What Do You Buy the Most?

So what are the products that consumers are the most interested in buying online? According to polls, it’s clothes, shoes, and accessories – an impressive 68% of online shoppers have marked these three product categories as most often purchased. Another category of product people online shopping will put in their digital shopping baskets are pharmaceuticals, followed closely behind by cosmetics, beauty, and wellness products.

While food delivery had experienced a dramatic rise in demand during the first lockdowns, with restaurants, diners, and stores reopening fully, this service is now something only a third of those polled still use.

Other products frequently purchased from online stores still form a wide and eclectic array of categories, ranging from children’s toys to sporting goods to printed books and magazines, as well as electronic equipment – anything from desktop computers and tablets to mobile phones or wearables.

Online vs Trade Shopping: What Will Win?

As with any big change and advent of new technology or a new application of an existing one, the age-old question is presented once again: will this new thing – online shopping – replace traditional shopping?

Just a cursory glance at the world around us might provide an answer: not any time soon, if quite possibly at all.

Brick-and-mortar store owners might fear that online shopping spells certain doom, and while it may be the case on an individual basis, these stores in general are probably not going anywhere. Many people still like to visit an actual physical location and see and feel the product before purchase as well as enjoy the real-world interaction with other people in the store and receive help and advice from store assistants. 

As many times before, here a compromise is emerging as well, a type of hybrid solution. Online shopping most certainly is one of the highest-growing sectors worldwide and eCommerce is projected to comprise over 22% of global retail sales in 2023 – an unexpected rise in just a few years, considering the percentage was only 14% in 2019. But just because online shopping is here to stay and grow, does not mean that brick-and-mortar has to go: many business-savvy companies and store owners have been expanding into the online shopping sphere while maintaining their physical locations.

In conclusion, the world of online shopping has been growing in size and evolving by leaps and bounds in the past several years, and with new developments in technology and increases in convenience and ease of use, it is expected to continue to do so in the foreseeable future. While consumers may never get tired of visiting a brick-and-mortar store, the many benefits of online stores have made them an indispensable part of our daily lives, across all demographics and age groups.

With this in mind, online stores that don’t rest on their laurels but aim to not only maintain but also improve the quality of their offer and user experience can expect to see their business and revenue increase in the coming years.

Just because online shopping is here to stay and grow, does not mean that brick-and-mortar has to go: many business-savvy companies and store owners have been expanding into the online shopping sphere while maintaining their physical locations.