Ripping into your Amazon package only to see that the dream dress you bought online—you know the one that looked silky and sexy and life-changing—actually has the texture of a pot scrubber is a downright drag. Digging through a mountain of denim on display to find a pair of jeans in your size is a hot and tiring mess. So which shopping experience is the way of the future?
Over the last few years, e-commerce fashion retailers have transformed the way we shop for clothes, increasing by 46.9 % in the past year alone, according to data from Statistics Canada.
Brick and mortar retailers are falling through the cracks like a Jimmy Choo stiletto would, leaving a broken, ugly mess that isn’t worth saving. Take the retail bankruptcies of J.C. Penney, Macy’s and BCBG, or Sears, who white-knuckled it by closing locations overnight, tried to ramp up their online offerings instead, and ultimately crashed and burned. Sad for shoppers, sure, but devastating for the employees and their families.
Companies whose stocks have hit all-time lows are brands we used to deem untouchable in their raking-it-in-retail status, like Urban Outfitters, American Eagle and Ralph Lauren.
When it comes to both large and small brick and mortar shops and their struggle, some analysts blame the recession we experienced a few years ago that impacted shoppers’ disposable income, while some point the finger at a new kind of shopper who likes to browse from the sofa in their PJs.
So what are the pros and cons of both shopping experiences, for both you as a consumer and the retailer themselves?
- The touchy feely, try on before you buy factor is obvious. Size changing, colour swapping and accessorizing (read salesperson opportunity to up-sell) is immediate.
- Comparison shopping. Let’s say you’re buying a coat. Likely, you’ll visit a few boutiques on the same street or in the shopping centre to suss out what they have. This lets you narrow down your decision to ‘the one.’ Meantime, popping into nearby shops or having your eye caught by non-coat items is a reality, and impulse buys are likely.
- The salesperson’s help. Maybe you luck out and have a real go-getter that delivers ideas and sizes to your change room, or you have a regular who knows you by name, has some serious styling and wardrobing skills and is part of your closet-building team.
- The experience. The sensory experience, beautiful boutiques, displays, great music and fun atmosphere all make shopping a pleasure. Add your bestie and shop ‘til you drop is a bonafide outing.
- Bad service. Struggling retailers scale back on both number of staff on the sales floor and on the quality (read hourly wage) of the selling team.
- Line-ups to purchase or try on. Not just left to Black Friday, but any busy season.
- Messy stores. Digging through a table of sweaters that looks like a rat-king’s pit is not pleasant. Where is the person that keeps the sweaters stacked? Oh right, the store can’t afford to staff them anymore.
- Shop anytime. 24/7, not around store hours. Fast delivery options, too.
- Easier return policies. Making it faster and risk-free.
- Ease-of-purchase. Mobile apps, PayPal and digital wallets make buying a no-brainer. Compare this to years ago when you had to painstakingly enter all your info and set up accounts over and over. Even some retailer Instagram accounts have links to ‘buy now’ with just a couple clicks.
- Better selection of special sizing. If you are a petite or plus size, for instance, you can only find your size on the website, not in stores. GAP is a good example.
- Impersonal. No matter how many pop-ups you have from a virtual salesperson who is ‘here to help,’ it is no replacement for a real live human.
- Sizing and colour variance. Not all sizing guides are created equal, making it difficult to find the perfect fit from a variety of online retailers. Colour is tricky too; what looks like a great shade online could be Pepto in real life.
- Unexpected taxes. Ever had the FedEx guy arrive with your package only to announce you owe him tax on that great Irish linen shirt you purchased? Yeah that. It can happen, and you don’t find out at the final click.
Shopping, much like style, is clearly a very personal experience, whether you go the in-store or in-cyberspace route. I doubt online shopping will shutter brick and mortar stores completely, but embracing the changes is a real thing. Shopping is here to stay, but how we shop is up to us.
For the latest in fashion, beauty and culture, sign up to receive ELLE's bi-weekly newsletter