Consumer • Digital • Growth

Will E-Commerce be ever able to match In-store shopping experience

Over the last 24 years of my retail journey I have observed these typical purchase patterns of consumers and I think even today these by and large remain unchanged, even post evolution of e-commerce channel.

  • Planned Purchase – Home, Auto, Furniture, Appliances, Mobiles, IT products etc.
  • Impulse Purchase – Lifestyle, Fashion, Personal Accessories, Gifting etc.
  • Regular Purchase – Groceries, Dairy, Bakery, Pharmacy, other daily consumption items.
  • Services – Dining out, Movies, Electrical, Plumbing, Mechanic, Carpenter etc.

Families start planning much in advance to procure a household durable and this will involve selecting the brand, mapping the need to select a model and what fits into their budget. Being a big ticket investment, quality of after sales service becomes a critical factor. Hence, a retailer with not only deep understanding of the category but also being customer centric to ensure brand support brings huge value to be preferred for such big ticket shopping.

Lifestyle, Fashion and other personal shopping have always been experience based and in way it is also a part of the planned shopping but going to malls, one’s favourite market or branded store has always been preferred for this. Family shopping outing can be a mix of planned shopping as well as impulse shopping. We fancied something in a store window at acceptable prices and we land up buying it. We go out to buy 2 shirts and also liked some new trouser collection and we ended up adding those to our basket. Good experience and great prices can be the clincher.

Regular purchases is like a daily chore. For some this is part of life and for others it can be very boring as well. Normally, consumers rely on retailers of their choice for the reasons of trust, quality and convenience. These retailers are either neighbourhood guys or on your way to your daily routine. Since this is part of their daily activity, without realising consumers start shopping with the merchants whom they start trusting and find convenient. They don’t really bother to do any price benchmarking.

Service categories are purely experience and trust based. You always go to your favourite restaurant or theatre and you trust your electrician or mechanic to have access to your house for service.

Over the last 20 years Modern Retail has done a great job in addressing these needs through various formats and modern consumers have certainly started recognising these in the neighbourhood, malls and traditional shopping avenues. In fact use of technology, customer friendly shopping services, and displaying larger range has added huge value to the overall shopping experience aspect for consumers. Since modern retail is heavily dependent on availability and cost of suitable real estate for each format it has not been able to penetrate much into smaller towns across the country.

Over the last 5 years variety of e-commerce platforms are trying to cater to each of these shopping needs but most of them are offering similar experiences. Instead of trying to offer category specific experience all of them are trying to catch consumer attention using deals and discounts and that too on big ticket items which actually deserve planned shopping experience. We can buy a television, AC or a mobile on a portal but who is responsible if there is any product or service issues. Consumers have to struggle their way to get desired service from the brand after lot of struggle.

Apart from personalised offers and ease of placing an order, there is hardly any other innovation to deliver the required planned shopping experience. Discounts and return policies are driving good business for online Fashion and Lifestyle retailers, however, large section of consumers don’t find it satisfying at all.

My view is that Regular Shopping need is the most suitable for e-commerce channel but that is the least penetrated by e-commerce players. I would like to use e-com portal for my daily chores if they can be trusted for quality, right prices and consistent service. Probably due to very low price to weight basket ration this category becomes least profitable for e-com portals to sustain desired service levels.

The biggest beneficiaries of e-com portals have been the consumers in smaller towns who didn’t have access to all the categories in their neighborhood through traditional or modern retail. On the other hand these consumers are not very demanding and since these portals are now getting larger share of their business from these markets the risk is that they are getting away with poor service quality and consumer connect practices.


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