Shoppers crowd the online stores in hordes. Once upon a time physical stores used to witness crowds. With the advent of online shopping, the crowds in physical stores have thinned. Or have they? Not according to IOS’ latest observation. Most shoppers seem to prefer a hybrid mode to meet their needs. Not all are enamoured by the sheen and convenience of online shopping. We spoke to a few shoppers and this is what they had to say.
How often does the average consumer shop online? We spoke to a few people we meet every day, and compiled their views. Most still seem to enjoy the experience of feeling the fabric, trying on the shoes, bargaining with the shopkeeper for a good price, and walking back with arms full of their spoils of war. Bargaining simply doesn’t go out of style, be it Delhi’s Chor Bazaar, Goa’s Calangute bazaars, Bombay’s Fashion Street, or Bangalore’s Commercial Street.
Shuba Agarwal, a homemaker doesn’t shop online much.
“I don’t find it difficult to shop online, but I don’t buy all my stuff online. I use both options, online and physical stores,” she says.
Rahul P.H, a Cochin based businessman shops online mostly for gadgets and electronic accessories. “I am into a gadget business, so I buy most of my business related stuff online. I pick up accessories for my car and gadgets for my business from websites like Amazon, Snapdeal, Flipkart and Latestone (an exclusive online store for tech and mobile products). I sometimes shop for clothes online too,” he says.
When asked if he shops offline too, he says, “My policy is to check the price. If I find a good low price deal online, I pick it up. If the price difference is not too much, I buy it from the shops. I am ready to wait for a few days after buying it online rather than get the product in hand immediately from a physical store. You get good discounts online, so I prefer to buy from websites.” Ask him if he alternates between the website and the app, and he says, “I prefer to shop from the website, it is more convenient.”
Pooja Ghosh, a college student from Bangalore likes to shop online, because of the variety it offers. “I like to shop online, and I do it often. We get clothes that we normally don’t find in shops. We also have access to foreign brands at good discounts. However, I still go shopping with friends. We mostly shop at Jayanagar and Commercial Street.”
According to Syamanthaka Balakrishnan, an IT professional based in Bangalore, the charm of online shopping has worn off for her.
“You tend to experiment more with your look when you shop online. I fully moved to online shopping at one point. However, I found quite a few other ladies wearing the same pieces that I had bought. That put me off! I have returned to physical stores for my buys.”
She explains, “I chose to explore online shopping because shopping became a cumbersome process for me. Most shops are crowded during the weekends, and the changing rooms and billing sections are choked. I was happy with online shopping because there are a lot more options online than you will find in shops. You tend to experiment more with your look when you shop online. With the cash-on-delivery option, I found it much more convenient, as I could try on the clothes at home and could always exchange it if it didn’t work for me. I fully moved to online shopping at one point. I have also bought smartphones and my TV online. I find there are more benefits of buying gadgets online, as they provide interest free EMIs, something that is unheard of in offline stores. However, I found quite a few other ladies wearing the same pieces that I had bought. That put me off! Sometimes I have to keep exchanging the product till I find the right size. So it takes quite a few weeks by the time I get what I want. As a result, I have returned to physical stores for my buys.”
From the seller’s camp
Take a walk down the shopping area of any city, and you will find it doing brisk business. In Bangalore’ Commercial Street, it is business as usual for the small and large businesses. The weekends are particularly crowded. The online boom does not seem to have caused a major dent on their activities. Most shoppers are ladies who appear to be in the age bracket of eighteen to thirty. While the main street boasts of brands like Westside, Max, Veromoda, Flying Machine jeans to name a few, the parallel Ibrahim Sahib Street is where all the action is at. There is plenty of the local street fashion up for grabs. Tiny stores overflowing with clothes are packed with young ladies trying to get the best bargain.
Other items like imitation and costume jewellery, footwear and bags are out in the streets. I notice that the jewellery designs are the same online and on the streets.
Curiously, the discount factor seems to be deeper in street jewellery stores than their online counterparts. I spotted a few earrings across the street shops in the by lanes of Commercial Street, which were the exact same that I found online. While the earrings were selling online at fabulous rates of Rs. 499 and Rs. 599, their ‘local’ counterparts were going at Rs. 200 and Rs. 300. With a little bargaining, I managed to bring the price of a Rs. 200 pair to Rs. 150. It could possibly be wrangled at a lower price, had I pushed for it.
I asked Ahmed, a shopkeeper, if business has been hit by the online wave. “No, people still come in here regularly for buying shoes and bags,” he says. When I gently tell him that online stores offer unbelievable discounts, he scoffs at it.
“Even we give you good discounts, madam, don’t we always give our customers the best prices?”
Online stores versus physical stores
Shoppers are trying to make the best of online and offline shopping. Many, especially youngsters, going online to buy almost everything is quite large. While most are happy with the convenience of online shopping (home delivery, discounts, ease of buying from anywhere, exchange and returns from the doorstep), some still feel the pinch of the disadvantages (no trial option, no way to check if the product is authentic, warranty/guarantee issues). Many still prefer to touch and feel the product before they buy it.
However, online retail has clocked a significantly high growth percentage in the last year. The prime reason for shoppers choosing online stores is the deep discount factor. Reports observe that this year the focus will not be on giving hefty discounts, which means the edge over offline retailers will diminish.
Should we go by these hard facts from the horse’s mouth, or projected growth charts for online retail? You be the judge.