Picture your average Saturday – heading to the stores to pick up some specific items, perhaps wondering what you might be tempted by when you’re walking around and gazing into the windows of your favourite stores. And then of course there is the fun of trying things on for size and falling in love with an item.
Except there are fundamental flaws with some aspects of our shopping habits. Recent media reports show that high streets in the UK are changing, as do the scientific reports by university researchers (1,2).
One of the first issues is that so many of the products we wish to discover and ‘try’ in stores have no fitting process to go through. Even if we are to leave aside any attempts by the likes of ASOS and others to help us to fit clothing online, and presume that we can’t fit clothes without seeing them in stores, this still leaves a huge number of non-clothing items that we don’t actually need to try on at all. And then there is the fact that online products can ‘catch your eye’ just as well as high street ones; you could even argue that they do this in a more informative and efficient way and will make sure you find the bargains you want because of online ad targeting.
So all that remains is the social phenomenon that keeps us at it; the feeling that we are finding out what is popular by being in a social place. The rise of high street coffee stores – as outlined in the article linked above – is a testament to the social nature of shopping experiences, and a sign that we could have predicted the changes. But in fact the feeling of being privy to what is popular and what is not is the first of several myths created by retailers to ensure their survival:
Myth 1 – You get a feel for what is popular in a real-life store
Take baby products for example; several big brands predominate. They are popular for good reasons; they have grown over time, and consistently manufacture safe, cheap products that conform to UK standards of safety. You know you’re getting safe products that other parents want and need for their little one. You don’t need a crowded store to re-affirm this.
Myth 2 – You need to see and feel before you buy
As described above, big brands are popular because of their consistency and safety; if they lacked either of these attributes they would not be successful. In the day and age of plentiful online reviews for any product imaginable, a 5 second Google search yields more information from real users of a product about it’s quality and longevity than poking and shaking a product in its tough plastic packaging on a store shelf.
Myth 3 – You can’t buy with others, only individually
Sure, if you’re shopping with friends you can queue together and pay together, but ask for a group discount? The cashier will likely laugh in your face. Retailers rely on our separation as consumers to get their (often extremely high) margins. Yet in this day and age of high interconnectivity, we continue to flock to high streets to see high rent window spaces to be sold items by people trying to pay for their high rental costs. And we do so as individuals when we could easily come together to demand more for less.
The first two myths outlined above have been rendered more or less obsolete by the likes of Amazon along with groups of traditional retailers shifting to the online space. But the final area is the one that will change in the coming times. In 2045 we’ll be wondering why people in 2015 herded onto streets to buy items that they could look up online, but also why people didn’t come together to buy these items using the power of the internet. If enough people did this, or if statistical power was built into such a buying system, the throughput would be easily as fast as the ‘individualist’ retailers already in existence. Meaning dispatch and deliver would be equal, and prices would be lower. What is not to like?