There are two types of offline shopping. There is the type that I do – especially around Christmas – which involves rushing into town, buying the exact things I went for, and getting home. Hopefully in the space of an hour. There is also the type that my wife likes to do, which involves taking a leisurely trip into town with some friends, meandering around the shops, having a coffee, stopping for some lunch, and coming back with a lot more than she went for.
The kind of shopping I do translates relatively well into the online world, and is ultimately bad for retailers and other business owners, because I am spending less money, and buying fewer ancillary items. The kind of shopping that my wife does is bad for me, but good for the town. It also translates poorly into the online world, because the paradigm of online shopping is different.
Sure there are attempts by websites to up-sell – Amazon is really good at this. If I wanted to buy a gorgeous 3 wolf moon T-Shirt, Amazon would show me a range of similarly delightful items that other people have bought:
The fact is though, that online shopping lacks the leisure aspect that off line has. Sure there are benefits – mainly in the form of lower prices, more extensive product ranges, and convenience, but sitting around a laptop browsing through eBay is a lot less sociable than chatting with friends over a coffee.
A lot of businesses are moving aspects of their store functionality onto Facebook, which gives a layer of social networking – essentially whenever someone buys something, they tell all their friends – but again, it’s not quite the same – although Facebook stores are likely to be a major source of increased revenue for retailers, and provide a huge boost to online sales via recommendations.
The big difference between on and offline is that in a city centre, there are distractions but more importantly, there is community. Even if two stores are competing against each other for business, they have a shared interest in encouraging customers to visit the city. Online, things are much more cutthroat. Businesses seek to shut out their competitors, when in fact they should be looking at different cross sell opportunities.
A lot of people shopping for clothes on a Tuesday might be buying an outfit for a night out at the weekend. A savvy and location aware store might have community relationships with related businesses – taxi companies, bars, restaurants, cinemas. A bike shop selling training gear might want to foster community relationships with local groups, and use the post code of the buyer to put them in touch with a training group. The lists are endless.
There is no business that can stand alone, and no business should want to. Working to build a commercial community around a shared interest is something that offline leisure businesses are very good at. It might not add the same level of social interaction or interest to an online shopping trip as a trip to Starbucks might, but it does give a more pleasant user experience that adds value.