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Sep 262010

This is a collection of a few thoughts mostly in relation to online shopping – I’ve been doing it for quite a while now; for over 10 years.

Online Shopping

There are two kinds of online shopping – those items that you really want and are prepared to go to the extra effort of finding, and those items that you’ll pick up online if it is convenient.

It seems that nearly all online retailers  want to build a relationship with their customers; complete with yet another username and password to remember, and yet more promotional emails cluttering up our inboxes, Frankly many of us do not want a relationship with the people who sell us stuff – we just want the stuff.

The effect of this, is that many of us have a tendency to stick with a relatively few online retailers (think Amazon), and only build new “relationships” when the special purchase crops up. This gives smaller retailers and those new to the marketplace a bit of a disadvantage. Although I would naturally prefer smaller retailers rather than the huge multi-nationals, I would rather not go through the hassle of creating a new account with a new retailer and deal with a bunch more “near spam“.

Plus of course there are people who are more cautious about online purchases who might stick to the larger online retailers as a way of avoiding risk.

What would benefit both the consumers and the smaller retailers is some sort of ‘meta-retailer’ who deals with the authentication, the “near spam” (by sending out a single digest collecting together multiple messages once a week please!), and serves as a clearing house for complaints. You might immediately think of eBay (or Amazon itself), which resembles what I have in mind, but the weighting is in favour of the ‘meta retailer’ rather than the business actually doing the selling.

As an example of what I have in mind, think of a retailer like Blacks (with whom I have a “relationship” for buying boots every few years). Whilst the process of choosing what to buy would be the same – by visiting the retailer’s website and picking out the chosen products, the process of buying would be different. You would select “Buy Now” which would take you to a different website, where you would authenticate using a username and password used for all the retailers who choose this service.

Such a service would benefit the smaller retailers by encouraging their use, and benefit the consumers who want reassurance and less hassle.


Delivery of online purchases needs to be fixed. Some of the companies that perform deliveries are less than competent. I’ve taken days off work to wait in for deliveries only to be left sitting in my flat all day without a delivery being made.  And often when such deliveries fail to appear, the delivery company is less than flexible about making alternative arrangements – for example refusing to making a second delivery attempt on a Saturday requiring me to take a second day off, or insisting that the goods are returned (which I have done, and encourage others to do when the delivery company tries to pull a fast one).

There are two immediate solutions that come to mind :-

  • Firstly, online grocery shopping is often delivered in a way that all deliveries should be made – you get to choose a time slot when the delivery would be made. I would much rather have a window between 18:00-20:00 in three days time than a next day delivery “sometime” when I’m at work.
  • Secondly, retailers should offer a choice of delivery agent. I know which delivery companies are good and bad in my area, and I would always choose the Royal Mail (or Parcelforce) if given the choice as even when they fail to make a delivery, the package can be left at my local post office which happens to be conveniently close.

The High Street

Some people like shopping on the high street in genuine bricks and mortar shops where you can touch and feel what is on offer. Fair enough, but there are those who hate it too. In addition, the high street is under threat from online shopping which offers a greater choice, and more convenience … especially for those who do not like shopping on the high street.

What strengths does the high street offer to give it an advantage over online shopping ?

First of all, there is the possibility of getting something right now. If I need a pair of socks urgently (!), then I need to pop into a shop and get a pair suitable for my size of feet (12). I don’t need a wide variety of socks to choose from – I need an ordinary pair of socks in my size.

Reduce the variety of socks available slightly and introduce a proper range of ordinary socks in all sizes. So what if the size 12 socks don’t sell in great quantities ? An occasional sale will serve as good publicity and keep people coming back to the high street. And who knows ? Whilst buying my size 12 socks I might pick up a silk scarf at the same time.

Secondly there is the ‘touch & feel’ factor. In many cases, it is possible to deliver goods from a distant warehouse at a later date or time leaving the shop as a showroom for the goods on sale. This especially works for larger goods – TVs, washing machines, and the like. But could work equally well for smaller items given that a shop with less storage has more room for goods on display.

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