Avoid the line and shop online



As I drove into the entrance of the Town Center Mall in Boca Raton, Florida, on a sunny Saturday afternoon in the beginning of November, my thoughts were on where to park. I was meeting a friend who was already waiting for me by Saks. I glanced at the time. It was 12:55 pm…fast forward to 1:35 pm (that's right, 40 minutes later) and there I was; still aimlessly driving around the parking lot in the hopes of finding a spot. I was beyond aggravated. How could the mall be THAT busy? I was tempted to give up and drive home but instead drove to the opposite end of the mall where I finally found a spot (about a mile away). This whole parking lot debacle got me thinking about the many advantages of shopping online, especially during the holiday season. Why do we do this to ourselves? Is the mall experience such a sacred and fulfilling ritual to warrant this kind of torture? Could it be that window shopping, seeing friends and browsing through brick and mortar stores is worth all of the hassle and headache?

With online shopping, you lose the “sense” component that comes with retail shopping. A friend recently told me he will go to a mall or retail store so he can actually see, touch and feel whatever it is he is looking for and then shop online for a better deal. I am not sure I could be as disciplined; mainly due to time constraints, as free time is so hard to come by. If I see something I want, and have decided to purchase it, the chances of not buying it right then and there are slim to none. Consequently following this "not so much fun" mall experience, my outlook on the holiday season has been completely different than that of any previous seasons. Avoid the line and shop online is just what the doctor ordered (at least in my case) and I highly recommend it.

Online shopping is not just about price and low shipping costs, although both are definitely a factor; especially with today's economy. Who doesn't want a good deal? The reasons why online retailers should be capitalizing on this time of the year are quite multifarious. Sure, there are the obvious reasons like discounts, as most online retailers often go above and beyond their usual deals when the holiday season rolls around. Recent data from Nielsen Online indicates that out of 1,000 online shoppers surveyed, more than 80 percent cited that shopping online afforded them the ability to shop whenever they wanted, over 75 percent claimed that saving time was most important, approximately 60 percent liked to comparison shop, while more than 50 percent enjoyed the ease of finding what they were looking for. These percentages are substantially higher than the rather obvious reasons like price (46 percent) and low shipping costs (24 percent). Even still, online retailers ought to step it up with their offerings, as well as their paid traffic campaigns. Ad copy should be enticing, attention-getting and really stand out. Below are just a few suggestions for retailers to incorporate this holiday season to attract shoppers:

Free Shipping. A recent Forrester Research survey showed that consumers are more likely to shop online at stores that offer free shipping. Forrester predicts about a 21 percent increase from last year in online holiday shopping and says consumers are looking for cost savings and less stress.

Free and/or Easy Returns. The "It's the thought that counts" mentality is nice, but the perfect sweater a shopper bought her niece on your site may not go over so well. Most online retailers such as Apple, Amazon and Wal-Mart make the return process seamless, which is a significant selling feature.

Special Online Deals. Entice your shoppers by offering "online only" specials, discounts on future purchases, free gifts, repeat buyer/loyalty savings, last-minute promotions, rebates, etc.

Free Gift Wrap. What could be easier? Your shoppers never have to leave the comfort of home AND the gift is pre-wrapped on their behalf!

The number of online shoppers is steadily growing. ComScore forecasts a 20 percent increase in online holiday shoppers this year from last. Still, even with the internet boom and hard-to-pass-up online specials, crowded mall parking lots are not an anomaly. Why don't more people forgo the hectic and exhausting retail shopping experience and opt for a quick and easy online solution? What are the drawbacks?

Identity Theft. One impediment is that there are many consumers who are wary of identity theft. Fortunately most retailers take a no-nonsense approach these days, making websites as secure as possible. In an effort to combat fraudulent activity, ensure your site is secure and install conspicuous privacy seals on web pages, especially during checkout. Your shoppers want to feel safe giving you their credit card and personal data.

Time is a very valuable commodity. Everyone wants more of it; but it’s not for sale. Online shopping is quick, convenient and easy! You can save the time otherwise spent driving to and from stores, save on gas and vehicle wear and tear, not to mention avoid parking lot nightmares. Who really wants to spend 40 minutes in a crowded mall parking lot anyway? ‘Tis the season to save time and shop online!

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