Sting in the Tale of Internet Shopping

The week before last, STV news featured a (very brief) clip of me discussing the rise of internet shopping. This had been prompted by the news that it was 20 years since the first commercial internet shopping purchase. I am not sure which was the more astonishing; where did those 20 years go? Or the fact that someone bought a Sting record as the first internet shopping act?.

I tried hard to remember my first internet purchase, but have drawn a blank. Being an academic I suspect it was a book, but I really have no clue. But these days, where would we be without it?

As a number of my presentations on this blog show, I have argued for some time that the long-term structural change of the internet revolution is more significant than the recent deep recession – as damaging as that has been. The structural change of the internet is both a physical and a perceptual realignment – and we are by no means finished yet.

So what has been the impact of internet shopping? In a physical sense it has demonstrated the over-supply of physical stores that we have and has begun to alter the space requirements of many retailers. Ye,s it has kept delivery vans busy, which may not be for the good, but it is also now opening up click and collect lockers, return drop offs etc. which paint a different picture.

It has also given many people access to products and supply they could not get before. As my colleagues Paul Freathy and Eric Calderwood have pointed out in terms of the Scottish Islands, internet shopping has altered life for the good and for the not so good.

Perceptually, internet shopping has changed our views of availability and expectation. We expect products to be available and to be deliverable or collectable now. If they are not, we go elsewhere. Our tolerance levels have shrunk in many cases and the consumer has become the supply chain controller (see the recent debates on this on www.brickmeetsclick.com). More subtly perhaps, it has redefined functional shopping in such a way as to make much of our activities routine or mundane.

This poses huge issues for the retail stores we have left. Yes some will be functional and more will be local, but what about the rest? Flagships stores in large centres and cities are beginning to point the way to a more interesting future. If the legacy of the internet is to make places more local and make shopping more fun and pleasurable, then that’s not bad.

I was taken by this in reading the proofs for an article due out in the journal I edit. Lene Granzau Juel-Jacobsen in the forthcoming paper ‘Aisles of Life’ (will appear here soon) explores the design issues of space in stores, but focuses not on designing where shelves go, but on what spaces we need in stores to make them interesting and customer-centric and thus defining the spaces where shelving is not put. Can the internet help us rethink what physical stores should be for and how they should be designed?

If so, then I might even forgive Sting – or perhaps not.

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues.
This entry was posted in Click and Collect, Consumer Change, Design, Internet, Internet shopping, Multichannel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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