Each year more canadians say they are more likely to shop online for holiday gifts. According to 2019 FedEx Holiday Shopping Survey, among those shopping online, time saving (62%), better stock and selection (59%), and the ability to shop in peace without interaction with others (35%) were identified as the top three reasons for shopping online instead of in-store. To understand this industry and its increasing success, we spoke with Michael Leblanc, senior retail advisor to Retail Council of Canada and host of The Voice of Retail podcast.
Milénio Stadium: What is usually the profile of online shoppers?
Michael LeBlanc: Well, I would say that more and more the profile of the online client looks like the profile of the retail shopper. Overall, retail shoppers are almost 70% women. And more and more, as online retail becomes a big part of the overall retail industry, those two things start to marry up. So, in the first early days of the commerce it was mostly men, with mostly men buying electronics. I mean, that’s all that was on offer. But now, when you think about what is available to shop online for and the convenience, there’s some interesting insight behind it. We just did research, we talked to Canadians across the country, and they told us that in terms of holiday spending, they would spend 72% of their dollars in stores. And we’re trying to forecast for this year’s holiday that 20% of people would spend their dollars online, via computer, and 8% via a mobile device. That is higher than what we have seen. On average, about 10% of what I call core retail is spent online. So, online continues to grow double digit. We will see maybe a 16% year over year growth. What you can see from the numbers is there’s a shift happening, for sure. More people are shopping online. And what do they look like? They increasingly look like the average shopper.
MS: What makes people choose to buy online instead of going to the store?
MLB: What people look for when they shop anywhere is value, assortment of products and convenience. Most people choose online, initially I think it was because the prices were lower, in the original days of e-commerce. But now the prices are pretty much aligned, whether to store or whether it’s online. So, what that means is people are mostly shopping for convenience. But interestingly, even the ones who shop online… what’s very popular is buying online then picking up in store. Because people still like to go to the store, for different reasons. Also, what I can tell you, answering the question differently, is what they are not shopping online for: that is an inspiration or insight or culture or the sociability in the shopping experience. So online shopping does a great job of being very efficient, right? You go online, they ship your package to your door, it happens. Very efficient, very productive. But it’s not very good at other points. For example, when I go to buy my wife a birthday present, I go to stores because, you know, I don’t always know what to get. And online is not very good at that. That’s why people still love going to retail stores, street shopping or malls.
MS: How much are small businesses suffering with the increasing number of people shopping online?
MLB: I think the small business have both good things and challenges that have come out of modern retail. The good things are that modern retailers have a lot of technology at their disposal, but they never would have been able to afford it 20 years ago. Let’s call that the democratization of technology. They also have what they’re strong at, which is being physically local. And that’s where they can win. And there is a challenge, for sure. When people shop online, do they shop online from their local store? Again, the good news is that small retailers can get online today much easier than they ever did before. But it is a challenge for sure.
Back to our results, 85% of canadians said it was important to shop in Canada, so that’s interesting points in the direction of people’s awareness of how important it is to the economy and to jobs.
MS: When shopping online, what should we be aware of?
MLB: I think three things are very important. One is that you deal with what looks to be like a reputable brand. Knowing the brands and major retailers is important. Like many things, try to understand who you’re doing business with. The second advice is: try to understand what the store’s return policy is. It should be clear. If you can’t find out what the return policy is, you should question that purchase. And then, third: understand how they are going to deliver your order and what are the costs for delivery. If you put those three things together, you’ll have a fine shopping experience. Also, the credit card company does a very good job of protecting you in terms of fraud, the systems are secure.
MS: What message would you leave for this Black Friday?
MLB: I would say to get out and shop at Black Friday this weekend! In fact, 43% of canadians are going to shop on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, so it’s going to be a very exciting week. Pack your patience, because the it’s a busy time for everyone and try to enjoy the event and get the inspiration from shopping that it can provide.