Buying online doesn’t mean shopping online

by Roberto Simi | CTO Situ Live

Oct 13, 2020

When it comes to making an important purchase, seeing is believing. We like to get up close, get a feel for something, a sense of its quality and how its features and benefits fit within our lifestyles. Experience it.

Right now it’s much harder to meet that need, but if the global pandemic of 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that people crave physical experiences and human connection.

Online sales continue to claim a greater proportion of retail revenue. An annual study conducted by marketing platform, Selligent, recently reported that the proportion of people making an online purchase every week jumped from 28% to 36% in the midst of the pandemic.

But for many this may be out of necessity, not choice, and something is clearly missing. A recent report from Royal Mail revealed returns have increased by 25% compared to the same period in a pandemic-free 2019. And footfall data from retail market analysts Springboard confirmed that people were quick to return to the high street as soon as they were given the opportunity.

36% of people make an online purchase every week


It’s hard to say if this reflects the long-term impact of the pandemic, but I believe the path to purchase was already changing. Online sales will continue to rise, but that doesn’t mean the entire ‘shopping’ experience is taking place online. It only really confirms that the end of the journey, the final transaction, is increasingly happening through digital channels.

Every touchpoint is a part of that journey, and each plays an important role in influencing the consumer’s choice in terms of the final purchase.

I am a firm believer that people will increasingly seek out new experiences and opportunities to discover life-enhancing brands and products in a more intimate way. And once we enter the ‘new normal’, whatever that may look like, it is these experiences and opportunities that will shape the future of retail.

The age of anti-prescription

Our report, Retail: The Quantum Shift, includes a look at the effects of ‘showrooming’ - when consumers find products in-store, but then leave and later purchase online after price checking their options.

According to RetailChoice, 74% of UK shoppers admitted to doing this regularly before the pandemic, but it’s not a mere quirk - it’s the reality of modern retail and a trend brands are more than aware of.

Although buying online can be very easy and convenient, it works best as the final stage of a journey. It doesn’t fulfil consumers’ need for exploration and discovery.

We’re getting tired of prescriptive, templated shopping experiences and one of the greatest annoyances is the algorithmic nature of product recommendations. They don’t always operate as they should, with poor logic or inaccurate data degrading the experience for consumers.

A report by shopping centre operator Westfield suggests we’ve entered the “age of anti-prescription”, where consumers are frustrated by how things work online. This is a good thing for the physical store, where we want to browse freely and anonymously, enjoying the delight in discovering something new and prompting impulse purchases that make us feel good.

But despite these frustrations, online shopping continues to grow, not least because the traditional offline retail experience doesn’t deliver enough excitement or engagement for new and inspired choices to be made.

Brands become the centrepieces

Even before the pandemic, consumers were increasingly valuing experiences over possessions. And this is true across most generations, with Experian’s 2019 Spending Power Index showing continued growth in ‘experience spending’ on holidays, meals out, live events and other forms of real world entertainment.

These experiences are a form of escapism from the day-to-day, and a much needed relief from social feeds and inboxes, something most consumers yearn for. Their impact doesn’t deteriorate over time, in fact they often become more potent through emotional memory and personal meaning.

As a recent report from Eventbrite summed up: “Living a meaningful, happy life is about creating, sharing and capturing memories earned through experiences that span the spectrum of life’s opportunities.”

Consumer desire for uplifting and memorable experiences clearly applies to the retail environment as well. They’re willing to spend more in stores that provide something different and unique, aside from selling products off the shelf.

They want to be engaged, inspired, educated and given a compelling reason to visit and to stick around longer. They want to discover and experience new things they’ve never seen before.

And they’re expecting stores to dedicate a lot more of their floor space to creative, health and gaming experiences in particular, as well as those that help them find new ways to improve their lives.

Multidimensional shoppers want multifaceted retail spaces.

“Living a meaningful, happy life is about creating, sharing and capturing memories earned through experiences that span the spectrum of life’s opportunities.”


Of course, this doesn’t mean that brands and products become the sideshow in any way. In fact, quite the opposite, they need to be the centrepieces for these new experiences, as consumers want to touch, feel and interact with them.

Engagement throughout the path to purchase

Our work with innovative brands is all about engaging and inspiring consumers in this new era of retail. Our physical venues won’t try to simply compete with the online experience, they’ll offer consumers the chance to immerse themselves in premium products, showcased by knowledgeable experts.

Without the pressure to make a purchase there and then, so-called ‘showrooming’ will become the norm. The experience will continue seamlessly online, as rich content and intelligent tools support consumers in their decision-making process and brands continue to engage directly with their audience throughout the path to purchase.

“Purchases will increasingly happen online, seeing physical stores exert a bigger influence on both consumer awareness and consideration.”

Warren Richmond - CEO, Situ Live

What we offer brands is a radical departure and an entirely new business model.

We won’t have a storeroom stocked with products, so there are no long-term contracts or prices to negotiate. No supply chain issues, no minimum order demands.

It’s an opportunity to get the brand and its innovative products in front of consumers quickly. To test how new products resonate without the need to convince traditional retailers of their value, and explore new approaches in a low-cost, low-risk way.

For consumers who are now more cautious than ever about how they spend their money, particularly on high-value items, it’s a chance to make a deeper connection with those brands while experiencing the excitement that’s been missing for so long.

We take a closer look at the trends that are ushering in this new era in Retail: The Quantum Shift, and explain how brands can quickly and easily explore new, meaningful touchpoints that influence the choices and decisions of the modern consumer.