Christmas comes around again, and the madness of Christmas shopping descends upon us once more. In previous years I plan the campaign many weeks in advance and have a list with names and intended gifts. I then typically spend one weekend shopping in-Town (Saturday + Sunday), in my case West End London first weekend in December; and anything I don’t buy in-store on Saturday or Sunday, I order online on the Sunday night.
There is a vast difference to shopping online and shopping on the High Street, yet both are a necessary part of the process for me, for the following reasons.
High Street Shopping
The Online Experience 2010
As always, Amazon was a good friend of mine this Christmas - mostly, that is to say. Both last 2 christmases one of the gifts ordered did not make it! The Amazon delivery deadlines are actually all over the place; possibly because of post office congestion (poor UK Winter-Weather-Preparedness), packages rarely arrive in the specified time - frequently the supposed early arrivals arrive late, and certain packages that weren’t supposed to be there until next week arrive earlier.
This year 2 packages went missing in the post! Royal Mail can find no trace of them! They should have arrived more than a week ago. I had to dash into town to get replacements - which I fortunately was able to do, although I paid a lot higher for those gifts than I would have on Amazon. Amazon very nicely (as they should of course) refunded the missing packages.
I’m not sure I would start the process any sooner next year, as the allotted time should have been quite sufficient; there was plenty contingency in there! If you are a serious shopper like me though, you just need to have a number of contingency plans - a plan B and a plan C. If everything had arrived on schedule, it would all have been perfect, apart from one gift which I ordered online, which I was not 100% happy with its quality - of course I had a plan B here, which unfortunately usually involves more expense.
In the last 10 years, 5 years in particular, Royal Mail has become increasingly unreliable. If I have a choice, then I deliberately choose not to go with Royal Mail, as they have lost nearly half a dozen packages addressed to me in the last 2 years. Unfortunately Amazon only really has 2 proper delievery options - First Class Mail (couple of quid) or ’Priority’ at £9.99. I partly blame Amazon for relying on Royal Mail, and not offering a cost-effective intermediate delievery service at around £5 - this is what my main online music retailer - Juno charges for delivery (£5.10 in fact) - quite reasonable.
Upon further consideration, I might even start my Christmas shopping earlier next year. Extreme winter weather always has a habit of grinding everything to a halt in the UK - and the best way to avoid inclement weather side-effects is to engage in the process well in advance ...
The Perfect Online Experience
Based on my various recent experiences, and extrapolated from over a decade’s worth of online shopping, I am able to make the following best practice guidelines for online retail:
For various reasons, I ended up buying 65% of my Christmas presents online. On the Sunday in particular I frequently departed from a store when I saw the length of the queues for the tills. John Lewis was like a cattle market really, and when I asked for directions to a specific item, I was told that different products within related ranges were stocked at 3 different locations on the shop floor - this is something you never have to deal with online. At other times, the exact item I was looking for in-store was not available in the particularl configuration I wanted, or at the correct price point. Like I said, High Street shopping is a necessary part of the process for me, particularly when I am not 100% sure of what to buy for certain individuals - something might just catch my eye, and even though I might not buy that exact thing, It will certainly shape my online retail experience.
In some ways, and if I could, I would really want to buy everything in store - as I could then immediately tick it off my list and be reassured that everything had been organised and sorted. Buying online gets rid of the transport hassles and queues, but it does bring its own problems. Many products are very nicely presented online, and their various defects cleverly concealed - even if you have sampled certain wares in-store, the variation you buy might be made differently - using different materials, and the colour references can be all over the place. The biggest issue with online though is real availability and delivery. Many products are said to be in stock, and then are not; and once you make a purchase it can be as much as two weeks for delivery - which leaves you a lot of time to worry. I ordered all the Amazon stuff on the Sunday Night, some of it had arrived by mid week of the first following week, some of it not until the end of the following week. Amazon presents additional difficulties by way of its ’Marketplace’ - which means that several products you may buy from Amazon are actually coming from a 3rd party retailer, and their service can be fairly variable. Some of Amazon’s Markeplace retailers are actually more expedient with their deliveries than Amazon is, some are not!
When buying online, you can buy cleverer and cheaper, but you have to put a lot of research into your process to ensure that you’re not ripped off or left disappointed for one reason or another. Because of the range, price and ’anytime’ convenience of online shopping, I see online retailers getting a bigger and bigger slice of the action, but it’s no way near over for the Hight Street retailers - there’s a place and a purpose for everyone! In some ways it’s even a catch 22, as High Street shops sell out of items sooner - so that if you leave your shopping too late, you need to go online, but if you leave it way too late, you cannot rely on timely delieveries - so you are back to the shops, buying something at a higher price range than you intended ...