Some people adore shopping; others dread it. Either way, you can’t deny that shopping plays an important role in the economy and the way that most modern people live their lives. We shop for all sorts of things, some essential and some superfluous: clothing, electronics, household goods, entertainment, decor, furniture, and on and on the list goes. Take a moment and think about shopping: then and now. How has the activity of shopping shifted in your lifetime? If you think it’s remained unchanged, take a second look.
Shopping: Then and Now
On the Internet vs. In the Flesh
The Internet has had an enormous impact on shopping: then and now. In the past, shoppers would almost always visit brick-and-mortar stores in person, ready to make a purchase that day. One of the only alternatives was to browse a catalog and then place an order through the mail or by phone. Today, many consumers prefer the convenience of shopping online. Nearly all major retailers have e-commerce websites, and some also offer free shipping and returns. If you wanted, you could complete all of your Christmas shopping in your pajamas on the couch – free from the traffic, stress, and hustle and bustle of physical stores. In addition, due to the convenience of free shipping and lax return policies, people are now buying thing online that seem best suited to an in-person, try-out experience: mattresses, eyeglasses, couches, shoes, and more.
That said, the majority of Americans still want the experience of shopping in a brick-and-mortar store. They enjoy the convenience of seeing, touching, and feeling a product in person, and they love taking home their goods immediately. Although online shopping is expected to swamp in-person shopping someday, for now shoppers still want to see and try on/test out products before purchasing them.
The Enlightened Consumer
Decades ago, consumers entered stores with very little knowledge and relied on the expertise of salespeople. Sometimes this worked out well; other times it led to sly salespeople duping innocent consumers. These days, many shoppers conduct their own research online before making a selection (whether online or in person). In addition to consulting the website of the product’s manufacturer, they might look for reviews and insight on other websites, including blogs and YouTube channels. They might also shop around to see if they can find their chosen product for a lower price.
The Opinions of Others
Consumers will always rely on the opinions of people they trust. Some methods of seeking advice remain the same – talking in person, calling on the phone – but others have changed. When you’re purchasing a new kitchen knife, you might text your most Julia Child-like friend. Or when you need a new book to read, you might ask for suggestions on social media. In addition, many people now consult strangers for advice. Before committing to a product, they read online reviews written by people who have already purchased the product, hoping the insight will help them make the right choice.
Decades ago, the process of purchasing an item at a brick-and-mortar store often involved writing a check or counting out bills and coins. These days, most consumers pay by swiping (or inserting) a credit card. According to a Bankrate survey in 2014, 40 percent of consumers carry less than $20 on a daily basis and 9 percent don’t carry any cash. Seniors use checks more than any other demographic (source), and checks are often still required for certain transactions, like paying rent (source), but some believe checks are on the way out. In the future, we may all pay for purchases using mobile wallets, a type of smartphone technology that allows for wireless payments.
It’s interesting to consider the transformation of shopping: then and now. In some ways, shopping hasn’t changed at all. People still shop leisurely in malls, pay with cash, and make purchasing choices with little research. In other ways, it’s drastically different. In the years to come, who can say how shopping will evolve? A kitchen that restocks itself, digital dressing rooms, robot customer service representatives . . . Are you ready for the future?
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