Online or In-Store? Why Shoppers Embrace Multi-Channel Shopping

A lot has changed thanks to the internet. In the world of retail, the internet has given way to eCommerce and its rapid shipping, easy price comparisons, and other perks for consumers. The rise of eCommerce is also behind the prevalence of multi-channel shoppers: folks who buy from both online and in-store channels. 

In fact, it’s a challenge to find someone who only shops from one channel. Multi-channel shopping is the name of the game today.  

That begs the question: What gets shoppers to switch channels? Why will they buy from a brick-and-mortar store for one product and then buy online for another? To find out, let’s dive into a few of the reasons why shoppers are embracing all channels. 

In-store Sales Still Beat Online 

Personally, which channel do you prefer? Online or in-store? Looking at U.S. retail data, most consumers still lean toward brick-and-mortar stores. Online sales only accounted for 9 percent of total retail sales in the U.S. in 2017, with projections of closer to 12 percent of total sales by 2020. Amazon is the top eCommerce retailer, while Walmart has historically been at the top overall thanks to strong in-store and online business. 

What these numbers show is that in-store is still king. However, shoppers enjoy the online experience as eCommerce sales are forecasted to grow. People are finding value in multi-channel shopping. But what is that value? 

Man and woman hold baby on escalator in mall

Why Shoppers Head In-Store 

Let’s look at physical stores first, given their large share of the market. Shoppers who prefer this channel have a few more tangible reasons to shop in-store compared to online. 

We turned to our data to get some answers. Wiser solutions include comprehensive market intelligence and our network of smartphone-enabled shoppers, which gives us visibility into all channels. One of our recent surveys of more than 3,000 shoppers ahead of the 2018-2019 school year uncovered insights into their channel preferences. 

When buying back-to-school supplies, nearly 51 percent planned to spend their money in stores, almost a 50-50 split between physical and eCommerce stores. Why did those who wanted to shop at brick-and-mortar locations do so? The reasons included: 

  • Trying products before buying – Almost 47 percent of shoppers bought in-store to test products first. 
  • Easier shopping in-store – Of the 3,000-plus surveyed, 41 percent thought their needed products were just easier to buy in-store than online. 
  • Improved shopping experience – 34 percent of shoppers liked the in-store experience over online. 

In general, shoppers head in store for the experience of shopping at a physical location. They want to try products out, they want the instant gratification of getting their products right away, or they want to talk to knowledgeable store associates and learn something in the process.

82% of online shoppers buy online because of how easy it is to compare prices.

Why Shoppers Head Online 

On the other side is eCommerce. Online retail has provided a successful counter-balance to brick-and-mortar for years, and it looks like the share of retail sales going online will only grow from here. Why? 

Looking back at our back-to-school shoppers, many ended up buying from online webstores like Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Staples. Their reasons for this included: 

  • Ability to compare prices – 82 percent liked to buy online because of how easy it was to compare prices across retailers. 
  • Lack of crowds – 65 percent preferred the online experience because of how easy it was, such as the option to skip crowds and long lines while waiting to buy. 
  • Greater selection of products – Variety helped, too, as 59 percent enjoyed the large assortment possible online compared to physical stores. 

Respondents to additional Wiser surveys have also reported leaving physical stores without buying due to out-of-stocks, too-high prices, or too few sales and promotions, among other reasons. When compared to physical stores, eCommerce shoppers love the convenience, affordability, and selection of online retail. 

Three women outside holding shopping bags

How to Capitalize on Multi-Channel Shopping 

Given this data, you may be wondering what you can do to ensure shoppers buy from your store (or your desired channel) instead of jumping to a different one. 

The answer may be in a little-bit-of-both approach. For instance, many major retailers are now offering Buy Online, Pick Up In Store (BOPIS) policies. Here, shoppers can order products online (large assortment, easy price comparison, no lines) and pick up from their nearest store location (instant gratification, try the product, speak to associates).  

This is just one multi-channel retail strategy available. If you’re looking for ways to keep shoppers from leaving your channel, perhaps bring together the best of both worlds to keep people coming back for more. 

Matt Ellsworth

Matt is the Content Marketing Manager at Wiser, the leading provider of actionable data for better decisions. He holds a BA from Salem State University.

Need better data to inform your decisions?

Schedule a Consult

Leave a Comment