How To Fix Online Retail

We’ve got an idea. On Sunday, NYT wrote about how the increase in online sales has gone from 25% to 10%. They wondered whether shoppers were getting tired of online commerce. A Harvard professor said that etailers were giving shopping a “blase” experience that felt too much like work. The solution seems simple to us. Hire more game designers to help design online shopping sites. Find ways to introduce “leveling” concepts. Let us become 34th level BattleShoppers who can shoot 20% off coupon fireballs from our clenched fists. — BEN POPKEN

PREVIOUSLY: Are Consumers Tired Of Online Commerce?


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  1. Canadian Impostor says:

    I buy almost 100% of my things online. I bought Amazon Prime so it comes in two days, no shipping charges. When I want stuff faster, $3.99 for overnight is about the same as sales tax.

  2. Wormfather says:

    “Let us become 34th level BattleShoppers who can shoot 20% off coupon fireballs from our clenched fists.”

    I just went a big wet rubbery one.

  3. Promethean says:

    Sure, coupon fireballs are all well & good for you magic types, but what about the rogues of the shopping world? Retailers are traditionally non-plussed by the use of the thief toolkit +3.

  4. Shadowman615 says:

    Ben, online retail doesn’t need any fixing. The truth is, it’s just growing at a slower rate today than it was a few years back. This had to happen eventually — it couldn’t keep growing at that tremendous pace forever. The New York Times either badly misinterpreted the results, or more likely, are hoping their readers won’t notice. Modern-day yellow journalism at its finest.

    It’s unfortunate that the consumerist seems to fall for this stuff hook, line, and sinker.

  5. Zgeg says:

    At first I laughed.. Then I thought about it.. Ben, you might be on to something.

  6. Papercutninja says:

    ^ Agreed. I believe this is called a “plateau”. Not everything is going to be purchased online. People still like to get outside and shop. In suburbia, you know it’s a nice weather when the shopping malls are packed. There’s nothing people like better than to enjoy a day out by walking around a windowless climate-controlled building.

  7. shoegazer says:

    er, what? You can’t keep growing online sales by 25%? Tough shit. That’s a maturing sales channel for ya, they won’t always be in “hypergrowth”.

    Having said that, part of the reason why people don’t shop more online is because it’s perceived as “insecure”. With all the media hype around identity theft and trojans and online scams, is it any wonder people feel safer going to a store and handing over cash money?

  8. catnapped says:

    @shoegazer: But even there (B&M) they get their credit cards hijacked (ala TJX)

  9. Rahnee says:

    I do most of my shopping on-line but I’m not a total recluse. I use the net to find good deals in stores, print the ad then take it to the retailer. Some deals you can only get online thought.

  10. Crazytree says:

    its’ because all the good coupons have dried up.

    amazon always had good coupons back in the day… these days not so much.

  11. Rahnee says:

    Sorry for the typo. Guess I shouldn’t shop and comment at the same time :)

  12. brew400 says:

    so i got my wizard hat and robe on…

  13. BeastMasterJ says:

    “The room is dark. Years of marketing mold growth make it difficult to breathe, and clouds your vision. From a shadowy corner, a horned figure materializes. The dreaded RETENTION DEMON from the infinate layers of Customer Service Hell. You get first attack.”

    “I attack with my +2 Retail Bane Longsword.”

    “It’s deflected by the Demon’s wall of Beauracracy. He casts THICK INDIAN ACCENT. Make a Fortatude save, or get -2 to all attacks made by outsiders from Customer Service Hell.”

    “*Rolls* I make my save. I cast EXECUTIVE EMAIL CARPET BOMB.”

    “His W.o.B is dispelled. He Attacks with his Early Termination Fee Unholy Sythe, *rolls* and hits. You are unable to Cast spells with the ‘cancelation’ descriptor.”

    “Nuh-uh. The Succubus of Sales hit us with a Rate Increase Ability last week. We’re immune to all ETF attacks for the next 6 months.”
    I could go on like this, but I’ll stop before Ben or Megan get fed up and ban me from posting. :-)

  14. frogpelt says:

    Identity theft and credit card fraud are becoming more and more rampant and I think people are (justifiably) uneasy with shopping online versus going to a store.

  15. bbbici says:

    I would be more worried about credit card fraud when shopping at a store or eating in a restaurant than buying something online.

  16. B says:

    “It is pitch black, you are likely to be eaten by a grue.”

  17. padabo says:

    I hate regular retail shopping. I find they run out of my sizes quickly in B&M stores. Shopkeepers, crowds and fitting rooms are annoying. You can’t really go online shopping with girlfriends, but I hate shopping with other people anyway.

    I shop for everything possible online (books, electronics, apparel, beauty products, dog stuff, groceries, financial services, real estate, furnishings, paint! everything!) I can research and compare with ease.

    I go to my favorite online retailers for inspiration/treat-myself shopping, which is one of the things the analysts claimed people did not do. At least one person does, is my point.

    I am also a big “returner” (e.g. buy 6 things to try and send back 4) and I hate the attitude you get in stores when you return something, even though it’s completely permissable and encouraged. “So, what was wrong with it?” a B&M storekeeper will ask, but they don’t care and they don’t document this information, they just do it to exercise a tiny bit of control and make me feel uncomfortable. I prefer to mail returns and avoid the meanies.

  18. savvy9999 says:

    Haha, all the suppressed DMs have their day on Consumerist.

    My $0.02: There is no reason that online retailers should not have more (and every possible) pictures of every item they sell. Disk space and bandwidth are cheap, high-quality photos and scanners are cheap. When I am thinking about buying an item online, it would sure help if I could see more than just one tiny 20×20 low-res photo. Show me the product from every angle. Well-lit and close up. Put it next to a ruler or a yardstick or a quarter or whatever. Show me the item as it will be packaged and sent to me– I want to see if it’s in one of those g*dam oyster packs (and if it is, offer to send it to me already out of the pack). Show me every screw and wire and extra button that comes with it. I should be able to tell by looking at it online whether or not I need a tool to put batteries in it. Does it have those stupid Torx screws (or worse) holding it together? Scan the tag, manual and/or backer board as a pdf, I want to read it, find out if it’s made in China, if it’s UL-approved, if it’s dry-clean only, and if the instructions on how to use it make any sense. This is what I would do at a store.

    IMO, the common fear of not knowing exactly what one is buying online is more of a deterrent than the improbable chance of identity theft.

    Online retailers will be that much more successful if/when they focus on replicating the actual shopping experience– the holding, the looking, the judgment on quality– rather than on the buying part, which is what a lot of sites seem to be about these days. How quickly can the online retailer get your “shopping cart” full and your credit card charged. That attitude quickly comes back to bite them via a poor image of customer support. Support the product up front very well and a quality, well-made product will sell itself. If the product is total crap and the retailer doesn’t really want to tell us much about it, then maybe it and the retailer should (and will) rot.

    PS: “customer reviews” are a piss-poor and uber-lazy way for a retailer to tell me about a product. Don’t do it.

  19. Benny Gesserit says:

    re: “Level 34 BattleShoppers”?

    You made diet-coke come out of my nose! At work!

    I love you, man.

  20. spidra says:

    I think Shadowman615 and others are right. You can’t sustain that level of growth forever. It doesn’t necessarily mean that people who were previously using online have stopped.

    For my part, I’m using online more than ever. We have absolutely crazy traffic where I live and my neighborhood is ghetto so there are few places where I’d shop in walking distance. Driving, much less driving to shopping districts, has gotten so stressful that I do everything I can to avoid it. I’m doing a lot more shopping online.

    As folks pointed out above, though, online security is more of a fear for me than it was years ago. And Consumerist stories about ID theft and security lapses don’t make me feel any better about it all… :)

  21. KenyG says:

    I’ll buy electronic stuff online, buy books, order a kitchen gadget etc. But for clothes, I want to try them on first, same with shoes. Sometimes I want to hold the item in my hand, pick it up etc.

    When buying online, the first things I check are – object price and shipping price/timing. Then am I coming out ahead? If it’s real close (with sales tax etc.) I may then just go out and buy it at the store.

  22. etinterrapax says:

    You know, though, I do tons of shopping online, and I can’t bring myself to feel all that excited about a slowing growth rate for e-commerce. I can’t being myself to feel anything about slowing growth of any commerce. I’m sick of shopping and really sick of how whenever there are new jobs created, they’re all in retail. Forget it. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

  23. MercuryPDX says:

    @savvy9999: “PS: “customer reviews” are a piss-poor and uber-lazy way for a retailer to tell me about a product.”

    Seconded. My ‘favorites’ are negative reviews for video games that are not released yet and “Bad product, don’t buy” with no information other than that. One the plus side, I’ve noticed Amazon does a little bar graph showing how many people voted how many stars, but even then you can see people either pick one or five.

    If you’re not going to put effort into a review, just don’t write one.

  24. chili_dog says:

    Dear lord in heaven, I beg your mercy to not allow the gamer developers to enter online commerce development.

    Besides, do we really *need* to upgrade to the GeForce7800 just to buy a book.

  25. Snakeophelia says:

    I love shopping online. The online retailers that get the most money out of my wallet are those that (a) provide plenty of photos and descriptions of the product, (b) allow for easy and/or free shipping and returns, and (c) allow shoppers to review products.

    Before Sephora, I would never have considered buying makeup online, but their color swatches are wonderful, as is their return policy. And Zappos hits all three – multiple photos of every pair of shoes, fast shipping & free returns, and buyer reviews so you know if a particular pair of boots will fit over your calves.

    I’ve also had more luck complaining via email about a web shopping experience than I ever had complaining in person about a B&M shopping experience. And as for online security, well, I use an AmEx and check it religiously, and they’ve certainly done their part by checking with me when ever they thought the card use might be fraudulent .

  26. Jasmo says:

    This might sound boring, but I shop offline because I enjoy physically looking at whatever it is I want to get – be it books or clothes or electronics. Plus, believe it or not, I like the ability to ask a live person actual questions about the items I am thinking about buying. And then, there is the formerly universal experience of actually taking it home and using/reading/wearing whatever I bought minutes after I bought it. No waiting for the ups gal or schlepping to the other side of town to the ups pick up center or hassling the mail room guys at work to set aside boxes shipped to me at work. Etc. etc.

  27. Televiper says:

    I agree with Savvy:

    Online retailers should be taking advantage of the opportunity to provide the customer with a better presentation of the product. I love Tiger Direct when they have all the fields filled out. You get pictures of the connectors, you get the specification, and you can see the documentation.

    When I look at user reviews I generally look for the ones that are 3/5 stars or 4/5 starts. I find if there’s a bit of meat to the review they’ll give you an informed reason for lower rating. I’ll skim the 5/5 ones for details. Too often Tiger Direct gets a lot of reviews that talk about shipping and packaging instead of the product. That’s fine… but I already know it’s coming in a box in a couple of days :)

    I prefer shopping online, but there’s a few things that I always buy off the shelf just to avoid the hassle of paying for shipping, and picking the package up at the depot.

  28. factotum says:

    The weakest link in online shopping is delivery. I’ve had numerous problems with both FedEx and UPS (packages not delivered, but status showing delivered; packages lost; no attempts made–this was a order of food with a gel pack sitting in FedEx’s hot warehouse; etc.)

    Then there’s the packaging. Amazon is notorious for shipping thin little books and CDs in huge boxes. There are more “air bags” than product in them. I can only reuse/recycle big cardboard boxes so much.

    Finally, the hassle of returning wrong, broken, or unwanted things. Amazon shipped me a Theater in a box system because, according to the website specs, it had the inputs that I needed for SACD playback. The model they sent was not the one described on the site, so I had to repack the damn thing and lug it to the porch. Amazon CS insisted they ship me another one promising it would be the right one. Of course, it wasn’t and when the UPS driver saw the 2 huge boxes that he had to pick up, he was sort of pissed.

    C’est la vie.