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Is Online Shopping Scamming Us?

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You’ve seen the movie montage scene when the frizzy-haired love interest transforms from glasses wearer to gorgeous while on a shopping trip with her cooing friends. In 2018, with 66 per cent of internet users now buying clothes online this scene could never happen and not least because a trip to a dressing room will not give a person a Hollywood makeover.

Recent data showed a third of adults now purchase something on their phone or computer once a week – that’s up by 21 per cent in four years. This could be anything from Gucci heels to bin bags, which is convenient because the same research showed that we’re shopping online as often as we’re taking out the rubbish – something my boyfriend can attest to. The fact we can sit on a bus and add tomorrow night’s outfit to our basket seems like the height of convenience, but this is fake news.

Add up the time spent scrolling through your lunch break, deliberating over a purchase, the wait for delivery and the inevitable queue at the post office to return half your order and the research concluded by a group at Harvard will make sense. While studying the behaviour of 1,500 shoppers they found that buying from a bricks-and-mortar retailer takes less time than purchasing online. ‘Consumers often perceive shopping online to be more convenient than going into a store, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest this is not always the case. High rates of returns and delivery issues remain an issue for both retailers and shoppers alike. Meanwhile, research shows that many consumers also find it difficult to find what they want when shopping online for fashion, which can result in lengthy browsing sessions and lots of research ahead of purchase’, explains Mintel’s Senior Retail Analyst Samantha Dover.

ASOS, Revolve and Net-A-Porter have convinced people into thinking the online experience is just as good, if not better than in-store. Anticipation is key to this racket. Banking on the dopamine rush we receive when a long-awaited package finally arrives and the elation when it surprisingly fits not just matches but outpaces the cognitive high we have from purchasing in-store.

The benefits are obvious as what you spend on delivery (if anything) saves on money spent travelling to a retail centre. And, if you're particularly isolated - either by disabilities or location - this can be invaluable. 'People don’t have to go to the stores anymore – they are able to browse and get inspiration on their phones any time of day – it has made fashion more democratic and accessible – it means that no matter where you live you have access to all of the latest items, not just what’s on sale in your local town,' explains Petah Marian, Senior Editor at WGSN Insight.

With the high street struggling - stalwarts like House of Fraser and River Island are closing stores – this is welcome news for brands, like Boohoo and Farfetch, that have mastered the digital game. Ironically, internet born-and-bred companies like Amazon and Made.com are now setting their sights on physical shops and showrooms. Though the overheads are high and the leases long these e-coms have clocked before the consumer has realised that the touch and feel of a physical product can’t be undervalued. Intriguingly, a study found that 89 per cent of sales in the UK in 2016 ‘touched’ a physical store whether through on-the-spot purchase or via click-and-collect or in-store browsing. The whole landscape of how we shop has changed, notes Marian, ' Even when [consumers] buying products in-store they’re increasingly informed about what they want before they go into the shop – it’s less likely that people go into stores without having at least browsed online beforehand.'

Dover is fully aware that consumers find numerous ‘pain points’ with online shopping, noting 62 per cent of consumers often encounter delivery problems at least once and 30 per cent say they have waited longer than the estimated delivery time.

Scammed by the idea that online shopping is more convenient Dover notes digital sales of clothing, fashion accessories and footwear boomed in 2017 by 17.2 per cent to reach £16.2 billion. Mintel expects to rise in the next five years even further to £29 billion by 2022. As a result, just under a quarter of all fashion spending in the UK is done online. In particular internet-raised Millennials are most susceptible to lure of the world wide web’s e-coms. For digital businesses, this is particularly interesting as 34 per cent of people admit they have kept items because the hassle of returns is too much. Some online stores have become so obsessed with keeping their customers capitve they have gone to extreme lengths says Marian, 'Through engaging content that recreates the sort of experience that you’d get from magazines, so things like celebrity interviews and styling advice on fashion sites. Amazon has gone further into this space by opening an entire film studio in- order to keep its Prime members on its website and more committed to its platform.'

With all the evidence weighed up we're scammed by the e-coms and scammed by our own laziness, but it still seems more convenient, doesn't it?