UPPER MERION >> Do you prefer to hit the bricks or clang the clicks for your Christmas gift shopping?
If you’re like many shoppers, you like it both ways.
In the end you may choose to beef up the world of e-commerce, but only after you’ve seen, touched and smelled the desired merchandise at a brick-and-mortar store.
As the internet soars to the front of the line as Americans’ top holiday shopping destination, according to consulting firm Deloitte’s 31st annual survey of consumers’ spending plans and trends, shoppers expect to spend as much of their shopping budget online as at traditional stores.
Regardless of where survey respondents said they will be shopping, Deloitte discovered some pretty optimistic news for Greater Philadelphia retailers in general when it conducted its online survey a couple of months ago.
“The timing may have had something to do with the results, and I don’t know if it was because of the election and pre-election, but with our original survey people were a little on the conservative side and now that the election is over people are digging into their pocketbooks a little more and saying they will spend more than they thought they would,” said Bill Park, Deloitte’s Philadelphia retail specialist. “With the economic predictions of the original survey I don’t think we saw that, but it’s an interesting dynamic this year. What’s really amazing is that half the shopping will be done online this year, and that’s a dramatic increase over where it’s been historically.”
Taking advantage of the customer’s fondness for having the best of both worlds will be critical to traditional retailers’ strategy in the future, Park indicated.
“Understanding that behavior is very important for retail. People still like to go to the store and go shopping. They may just be looking for ideas and then go back to their home on their computer and buy the product they looked at in the store, but they still like to look at it, they still like to touch it, compare it.”
The physical experience of shopping — the sights, the sounds, the smells of the food court specialties wafting through the air — is something the internet hasn’t yet found a way to duplicate, Park pointed out.
“People still like the on-site thrill of shopping,” he said, adding that nowhere has that experience been refined and delivered quite as effectively as at the recently completed King of Prussia.
“King of Prussia is different than most malls,” Park said. “When you talk about going out to a retailer for an experience, King of Prussia offers that experience unlike any other mall in this area. And very few malls in the country can offer the kind of experience that King of Prussia can offer. They have the new connection with all the new restaurants and food, and that’s part of the experience that shoppers want. You can shop online but you can’t eat online.”
The survey confirmed that while price is important to shoppers in both formats, the physical experience is equally important to many, Park allowed.
“In order to entice the customer retailers have to be providing something more than a good price. While price is important to most, consumers are really looking for that experience when they go out shopping,” he said.
Park credited the venerable department store giant Macy’s with mastering the fusion of e-commerce and in-store shopping.
“The key is getting the two to complement each other, and they’ve done a pretty good job of meshing their online experience with the store experience, and globally, Urban Outfitters has done a tremendous job as well. Stores that bridged the gap between online and the store are doing it with things like ordering online but picking the item up at the store, and offering the same loyalty rewards for online and store customers.”
Although Philadelphia-area consumers expected to decrease their total holiday spending by 19 percent, when compared to national responses, Greater Philadelphia respondents allowed that they would spend slightly more than the national average ($1,010 compared to $998), Park noted.
“Overall we’re forecasting that holiday spending will be up about 3 to 4 percent,” he said. “People are feeling pretty good about the economy, but when we ask them specifically how much will you spend the individuals we surveyed said they were going to spend less this year, particularly in non-gifting — things like decorations and entertainment. Those numbers are down.”
According to the survey, online shopping is Greater Philadelphia respondents’ No. 1 choice for gift buying this holiday season — a continued trend, that is only slightly down from last year
The main reason they prefer to shop electronically?
To avoid the crowds, long lines and slow checkout service, Park noted.
But despite a decline in foot traffic, 44 percent of shopping (47 percent nationally) is still expected to happen at the store. Consumers surveyed said they will shop local stores primarily to support the local economy or find one-of-a-kind gifts.
Clothing and gift cards still lead shoppers’ wish lists, as they have for years.
With smartphone ownership in the Greater Philadelphia area now at 84 percent among those surveyed (compared to 83 percent nationally), there’s often no escaping the electronic reinforcement that can greatly enhance gift buying decisions.
“Mostly likely when consumers are in the store they have their phone out and are looking at reviews of the product,” Park said. “That’s another important way that the internet and the store experience come together.”