Retail vs online shopping

by | Mar 15, 2022

I’m old enough to remember those crazy, carefree days before the internet where shopping was a physical pursuit and an adventure. Obviously a lot has changed since then and sometimes I have to check myself about my own consumer behaviours, especially over the past two years since Covid barged into all of our lives. I used to love ‘actual’ shopping but I have to happily admit that I love ‘virtual’ shopping far more. It has less hassles and it is far easier – I can access all of the information I need to be able to purchase online and I can avoid throngs of strangers.

Shopping used to be a real adventure

Without giving away my actual age, I can blissfully recall bus trips into town in Christchurch, with a glowing neon Cowboy (with a lassoo!) adorning a store on Colombo Street, streets packed with people, and inviting and interesting shops. The huge department stores like Ballantyne’s and Beaths, as well as Farmers Trading Co, were the places my mum would take us for clothes and the retail assistants were seemingly everywhere – eager to help. Most of these stores had cafes that served the sort of food that you do not even see anymore, unless you are in a small town with a great, old style bakery. My point to this trip down memory lane, is that shopping was centralised – this was before the advent of the ‘look all the same, with all the same stores’, malls. The centre of Christchurch was the centre of retail and sure, this was over 40 years ago.

I remembered all of this last weekend when I made the mistake of braving a local mall. I know some people love malls, so please don’t be offended. I hate them. I cannot for the life of me understand human behaviour at a mall. Why do people walking ahead of you apparently zig zag and not walk in a straight line? Why do groups of people walk five abreast? Why do randomers come out of nowhere and get into your space? Anyway, rant over. What I wanted to say about my recent physical shopping excursion was something I have noticed more and more over the past years – hardly any retail staff on the floor.

Now, in the olden days, when I was younger, there were always people there to help. To tell you where stuff was, to go find things that weren’t there. Now I find myself trying to find someone to assist me as if it is some sort of quest. Sometimes I haven’t found anyone at all and have given up on the whole thing. I understand there are margins to adhere to and staff cuts mean bigger profits – or in a lot of cases in Covid world, survivability but this was happening before Covid. I think I have given up on actual world shopping.

The virtual marketplace is far more appealing

The past two years has seen the percentage of ecommerce sales skyrocket. Obviously with lockdowns and restrictions people had nowhere else to go so they got on their devices and did it all at home. That is a massive cultural and behavioural shift and I have no doubt I am in not alone in preferring it. I can browse, I can research, and I can compare and contrast. Many sites have chat assistants that are present and helpful and although the time between purchase and the arrival of the goods can take days to weeks, it is exciting.

Reviews seal the deal

Online shopping is backed up and enhanced by readily available online reviews – not only on the site but on the products themselves. Access to peer reviews is key. It gives trust and assurance and takes away all of the doubts that what I’m thinking of buying may not be what It appears. It’s also comforting to find out from reading reviews that I would be making a mistake in handing over my money and that there are better options available. I fully believe that the growth in ecommerce is only possible because of reviews.

It will be interesting to see what the figures between retail and ecommerce will be now that the actual world has opened up as Covid restrictions have eased or been removed. Will people give up their online shopping habits and join the thousands jostling together in uncomfortable proximity? I really don’t think so.


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