According to an article by Ann Zimmerman of WSJ.com, people bought $36.4B of stuff from online retailers this holiday season (between October 31and December 23).
This represents an increase of 15.4% over the same period last year. Online retail sales now account for about 10% of all retail sales – excluding gas and automobile purchases. 1 in 10 dollars made in retail this holiday season was made over the internet via ecommerce enabled websites.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the article is that the sector that experienced the largest growth was specialty clothing retailers –up 25% over last year. This is interesting because most of us like to try stuff out – especially things we need to wear.
What does this say about our perceptions of the buying experience?
Many experts feel that at least some of the increase had to do with online retailers offering free shipping (some both ways, like Zappos.com) and exclusive online discounts. These two things are apparently enough to help online shoppers overcome their fear of buying clothing or shoes online.
An anecdote if I may. My wife was in need of new shoes this Christmas. So we went down to the premium outlet mall to try on shoes. After a couple hours of shopping we did not finding anything that she liked. I suggested that we look online – maybe we could find something she liked and then find it at a brick-and-mortar retailer to go try it on.
After finding some shoes she liked we searched for retailers that might carry the brand so that we could go try them on – but to no avail. No one in the area carried this particular shoe.
My wife needs to try stuff out with her hands, and in this case her feet, so I thought that ordering online might be a mistake. That was until we discovered that Zappos.com offered free shipping both ways. “Both ways” meaning that if you do not like what you got, you can send it back for free and get refunded.
When we discovered this fact my wife’s exact words were, “I don’t care if I can try it on or not, if I don’t like it I’ll just send it back – it’s free.”
So we settled on a pair of Mary Jane’s from a brand she had never bought before and hoped that everything would work out – and so far it has, but we keep the Zappos.com box handy just in case
The lesson to be learned here is that customers now feel comfortable buying nearly anything online as long as the conditions are right (meaning a liberal and up-front return policy and cheap if not free shipping). If you are a small fashion boutique or custom cowboy boot manufacturer, people all over the United States are willing, more than ever before, to buy from you if you can get your shop online. Be a part of that more than $36.4B next holiday season.