Why Shopping is Moving Online - And What That Means for You

Sergio Penguamo

f you’re reading this, chances are you’re already an online shopper. It’s taken a few years, but the trend has become global, with steady year-on-year increases in global eCommerce sales of over half a trillion US dollars.

The pandemic has accelerated what already seemed an inevitable trend for the fate of brick-and-mortar businesses. And it’s not just mom and pop shops that are suffering, with abandoned malls becoming a bit of a meme on YouTube and similar sites - we wrote about how even Mall of America, the largest mall in the US, is going broke. So, let’s dig into what’s been undergirding the trend, and go over some of the outcomes.

It's Just More Convenient

To start with, let’s touch on a familiar reason why you’re probably already shopping online. A few taps of a phone screen, while you sit in your pajamas, is a whole different experience to getting dressed, heading out to a physical store, and waiting at a cash register before heading back. Even for those who prefer the physical experience, that always-on functionality keeps us coming back at all times of day, though online shopping is consistently high after 3 pm and peaks between 8 and 9 pm before falling off after 10. The busier days tend to be Monday to Thursday, suggesting that we’re keeping ourselves busy with other activities on the weekend.

Better Options

Let's say you want to purchase a greeting card. You could get one in person but online, there’s a cornucopia of designs on offer, and you can personalize your card to your heart’s content. You can commission an artist to personalize it. In fact, the return of handcrafted goods has helped Etsy become the top eCommerce platform behind Amazon, according to Charged Retail.

More Sellers Are Going Online

Speaking of artisan sellers, selling goods has for a long time been risky, and in some cases a virtually impossible venture. Many upfront costs simply disappear or become far less of a worry online — overheads like renting a physical store may have no analog or become negligible concerns. Add this to things like the opening of access to the market, customer communication, and all-in-one solutions including built-in advertising options, and online retail has undergone nothing less than a quiet revolution. AskMoney’s guide to the online platform Shopify outlines a few of these many benefits for sellers, as well as some of the downsides.

Best Prices

This is a big one that should come as no surprise. Price is among the most cited reasons for shopping online, with over 70% looking for less expensive products. This means the modern shopper is savvier than ever in a ruthlessly competitive environment. Over time, price comparison tools have become substantial businesses in their own right. All this means there is an effect even on the strategies of physical storefronts.

Curated Experiences

This is a more recent trend related to the fact that the line between online and offline is generally fading more broadly, with shopping as part of the community experience. In a piece for the New York Times, TikTok is shown to be just the latest of the social media outlets where more personalized storefronts replace the old search and scroll. Buying goods related to your favorite influencer, channel or community meme is a far bigger phenomenon than it used to be when you could only get band merch when they played in your town. The algorithms also leverage all that data on your preferences so that if you don’t, say, wear strapless tops, you just won’t see them. These phenomena truly are the leading edge of retail’s future.

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