With a reported 32 million people in the UK (66% of adults) having bought goods or services online in 2011, there is no doubting the popularity of internet shopping. As that number continues to rise, retailers are realising the power of an online presence. A little planning ahead and some savvy shopping can make sure of a good deal.
Shop Around For Deals.
There are many price comparison websites now, whether you want to check deals on your grocery shop or car insurance. They work well for some products, but for others, you might find you need to check individual retailers.
For bigger items, you might want to 'try before you buy,' and feel a physical product; sit on the cheap leather recliner sofas or see just how firm that orthopaedic mattress is. Nothing stops you doing your research in a 'bricks and mortar' store and then committing to your decision from the comfort of your armchair. Online retailers are often able to discount because they don't have the overheads of a High Street retailer. Some might argue though that this approach is leading to the demise of many household names who have fallen foul of the current recession.
Check What Other People Think.
The myriad forums and blogs online mean there is almost undoubtedly a voice out there to give you feedback on a product, service or retailer. These work both ways, so it is worth adding your opinions to these groups, too.
Beware The Impulse Purchase.
With no closing time for internet shops, you can browse for hours. The danger then is that you see things you weren't looking for and add them to your basket.
Retailers count on it. Clever ones set up their websites to show what "other people also bought" or suggest "you might also like" this or that product that you hadn't considered. Suddenly, the money you saved by buying online has gone, eaten up by another purchase that you hadn't planned on.
As a consumer, to get the best from online shopping, prepare. Know what you want and research it. It's not always about the lowest price, but rather the best value and if you can only see a picture, the opinions of others who have already made the purchase become invaluable.
Physical stores won't disappear altogether, at least not for retailers willing to embrace change. Those that understand the growth of online retail will ensure their stores change with the times and perhaps they will become more like showrooms or somewhere to collect goods. Ultimately, convenience rules and whether that is browsing at leisure from home or on a smartphone on the daily commute, consumers are shopping in a different way that looks set to stay.
Tom Campbell writes regularly on business and marketing for a range of retailers' websites and blogs. He is currently renovating a house abroad, using the internet to source anything and everything, from floor tiles to cheap leather recliner sofas.