Click and Regret: How physical retail can encourage more mindful purchases

With Brits wasting over half a billion pounds every year online on unwanted goods, Gekko’s Daniel Todaro looks at why shoppers should be more mindful before they buy online, and support their local businesses offline.

Since it really took off in 2014, the success of Black Friday in the UK has very much focused on bricks and mortar retail, with only 33% of all Black Friday sales being transacted online. Fast forward four years and in 2018
online sales accounted for 61% of all Black Friday sales, increasing on average 8% year-on-year. The focus for retailers to take an omnichannel approach, in this time-dependent shopping event, is obvious for those looking to make Black Friday a success. The need for an effective online solution that entices customers to make immediate decisions, convincing consumers that they ‘need’ a certain item, is part of the strategy some adopt and execute very effectively. Interestingly, there are no recorded figures for all those items returned and refunded immediately after the event, impacting on the December Christmas trading figures.

To pre-empt the online frenzy that has now become Black Friday, in October, my agency Gekko conducted research to ascertain shopper motivations towards online spending and in particular the immediate fix online shopping offers, which usually results in a euphoric retail therapy high leading – for some – to immediate regret and guilt. Not surprisingly for me, it revealed the shocking waste now involved with online shopping. According to the survey, an estimated £641 million is the astonishing figure consumers are wasting online every year buying goods they don’t want and which they subsequently fail to return.

The survey of 2,000 UK adults conducted by One Poll on behalf of Gekko reveals that 27% of respondents (equating to 12.4 million UK adults) order goods online they regret buying but never get round to returning. The average amount wasted every year is £51.90 per person equating to £641 million overall. Nearly a third of UK adults (31%) also confess to being lured into buying items they don’t want or need and 70% regularly regret buying things online so send them back.

Despite people seemingly unable to resist the temptation of spending money online, nearly half felt that the ease of shopping online fuels extensive shopping habits, and 43% said they also spend more money online than they originally intended.

Although internet shopping is meant to be time efficient, a whopping 65% said they spent more time shopping online than they expected because there’s too much choice, they want to hunt for the best prices (54%) and they feel compelled to shop around (34%).

Now that all sounds great and from a retailer’s perspective makes online retailing seem the only strategy. However, respondents also claim to be concerned about the environmental impact of online shopping with 75% worried about the excessive use of packaging and single use plastics. Meanwhile, 70% said they were concerned about the societal impact on the high street and local economy of increasing online shopping.

The moral dilemma online shopping creates for many, and not just on Black Friday, is multi-layered. There’s the environmental impact of all that unnecessary transport, packaging and a notorious gig economy verses the speed of delivery, and the convenience that online shopping offers, particularly for those with busy lives.

The media exposure Extinction Rebellion have successfully achieved in raising the issues surrounding the environment will only become more prevalent with consumers who will consciously begin to favour brands, manufacturers and retailers that adopt sustainable measures, from the basic recyclable packaging to carbon neutral manufacturing and distribution. This is truer of younger generations who might choose to invest, not necessarily spend, their budget more sparingly with brands that speak to them. Many invest in brands that resonate with the zeitgeist rather than profit at the expense of the planet, and demonstrate a social conscience in manufacturing, the environment, sustainability and how they give back a proportion of their vast profits to society.

Realistically though, in the case of ‘considered’ purchases such as CE and IT, physical retail is the only place that offers consumers an experience the reflects the significance of the budget a consumer wishes to spend. Presence in-store, as measured by Kantar, proved that whilst ranging in retail may deliver an average reach due to it being index linked to footfall, its impact when experienced is effective as the last chance to stand out against competition in the path to purchase. Combine this with a clear environmental policy, articulate staff in a welcoming environment and the experience is heightened, enabling a more conducive manner to close a sale and perhaps increase average basket values through selling up through a range or making a connection sale.

It’s also interesting to note that for brand loyal consumers, they make purchasing decisions confidently and quickly in favour of their preferred brand, however to drive consideration for less well known or experienced brands, the need to gain presence in-store is essential for success. During Black Friday, clever and coherent placement of products, coupled with messaging to increase visibility, is essential to catch the eye of consumers and close those Black Friday sales in-store that online may never, or be less able to, achieve. Despite online shopping increasing year-on-year, the research shows the 62% of consumers still love shopping in physical stores.

What is clear from this research is that online shopping can be a false economy. Although in theory we can return the goods we buy, many of us are too busy to bother, so what starts as convenience soon becomes costly and inconvenient. This results in unwanted goods cluttering cupboards, gathering dust in wardrobes or heading for landfill at an alarming rate. Despite our high street suffering, many people still enjoying the benefits of physical retail, to “try before you buy”, for excellent customer service and also the immediate purchasing experience. People should be more mindful before they click, and get out and support their local businesses as well as helping the environment and their pockets.

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