E-commerce Gone Wild
My new Restoration Hardware bed linens arrived this morning. So exciting! I'd been waiting almost two weeks after ordering them online. So just imagine how disappointed I was to discover the fabric colours weren't exactly the same as the swatches I saw in-store, meaning I now have to go through the hassle of packaging it all up and sending it back. E-commerce is killing my shopping high.
For me there is nothing better then the thrill of scoring that perfect gem and taking it home to unwrap and adore it, right now. Waiting weeks or months just isn’t the same. And I’m a tactile person; I need to see and touch in 3D and it seems more often then not, even the best online pictures don’t tell the whole story.
And that means having to return. Talk about a buzz kill. I don’t need any extra errands in my life and when returning to the U.S.? That just gets my blood boiling. Over the last 12 months I have wasted hundreds of dollars on the fee Visa charges for foreign currency conversion. (Of course the same thing happens when you buy and return an item in the U.S. in person, but I’m far less likely to return when I’ve shopped in person.)
Then there’s the packaging. I’m not the poster girl for recycling (I do my best, really, but I must admit the odd piece of plastic has made its way into my garbage), but the extra cardboard, paper, wrap, tape, styrofoam and plastic that arrives at my door with any given online order is sickening. I hope someone really smart is out there working on a way to make packaging non-toxic and water soluble (that whiz kid is going to be rich) and the smart e-tailers who use less packaging are making themselves known for it.
Even shopping for food online has become big business, with the American meal-kit industry alone estimated to hit $5 billion in the next few years. But I am not a customer for the meal-kit business. How do I know what I want to eat for dinner three days or a week from now? Or I might go to the store to buy tomatoes but when I get there I decide the asparagus looks better. I can’t enjoy my food through a computer screen.
Of course e-commerce is an important part of any retail offering and I love it for buying products I already know, like books, airline tickets or shoes I’ve already tried on. And Amazon and Alibaba are goldmines for finding new snack foods (hello, honey butter flavoured potato chips from South Korea? The best.) Shopping online can be the ultimate time saving convenience.
But e-commerce needs to balance with a brick-and-mortar experience. Nowadays it feels like too many retailers are out of whack, swinging too far toward stocking less and forcing customers to buy online. I understand why – smaller store fronts with less inventory means less overhead and the ability to offer a greater product range. But I want my brick-and-mortar store to act as more than just a consultant, where I go to get advice on what to buy online. Restoration Hardware doesn’t need to stock every sofa, but they should carry sheets in-store.
One day I predict we’ll all have a lock box on our front doorstep so you don’t have to be home to receive all those packages. They’ll be refrigerated so the milkman can leave the organic grass-fed 2% while you’re at work and shipping will cost pennies as drones rule the skies.
In the meantime I look for e-tailers that offer a truly borderless experience (i.e. free shipping to Canada, loyalty programs and gift certificates that are valid anywhere) free returns, live chat (either on the phone or web), reduced packaging and a relaxed return policy. And extra points go to any e-tailer that offers useful content on its website (like Netaporter). And setting up a U.S. dollar account with a credit card so I don’t pay those currency conversion charges is on my to-do list.
But will the online experience ever be able to mimic a shopping high? That feeling you get when you spot the last jacket in your size hiding at the back of the rack? The thrill that comes from talking the sales person into an extra discount or slipping on a pair of jeans that you know in an instant are going to change your life? I doubt it.