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e-Commerce UP, in-store sales down, multi-channel frustrates

Is this a reflection of a longitudinal trend or are there mitigating circumstances for this year?  Personally, I think it highlights the shift from in-person shopping to e-commerce and m-commerce in dramatic fashion. However, some mitigating circumstances really added fuel to the online boom.  Warmer weather in the MidWest (it was in the 70’s in Omaha) meant people were getting their last chance to enjoy the outdoors. Additionally, ‘blockbuster’ deals and sales starting in early-mid November incented consumers to miss the crowds and shop sooner.

The ease and convenience of shopping online, particularly when sales start at 5pm on Thanksgiving Day, certainly beat leaving the family to trudge to get the latest deal. However, there is a risk to both the retailer and consumer that the experience will not produce the desired results.  

For example, I was in the market for a 64gb iPad Air 2.  In the run up to Thanksgiving, I was looking at available deals. One large retailer offered a deal online, but not at their store.  However, their online inventory was out, the store would not match the same offer, for their own company! Another large retailer had stock online, and I went to purchase it (a discount of $100 or 16%), had it in my cart then had the fateful warning of “this item is no longer available.”  A quick call to the local store told me that nobody would be answering phone calls until 8AM the next day.  The online inventory check told me the store had 2 left.  What the …?  

Typically I could/can start the process online and then pick up in the store, but this option was not available. I’m guessing due to uncertainty over inventory levels. So a good experience was turned sour by not having my expectations met in three instances.  

I ended up going into the store on the way home from a family party. Luckily the store still had 11 in stock, far different to the 2 I expected.  So I ended up with the product I wanted, but left with a slightly bitter taste in my mouth from the poor multi-channel experience.  A far cry from when retailers offer a true omnichannel experience. That said, I did my part to boost in store sales!

It will be interesting to see how the rest of the holiday shopping season shapes up.  The NRF predicts that overall sales will be up 4% year over year.  When 2014 closes, I will be eager to see the annual results and dive into the data to see how the shift is continuing from the store to online and from the desktop to mobile devices.

Are you multi-channeling this year?

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