Bargain hunting now shifted online

Closing the garage door one day last week, I heard what sounded like a tiny faraway voice proclaim, “Have a happy new year Peter.”

As I turned, peering back at me over the hedge was the top of what might be described as a ‘sensible’ hat, beneath which stood the figure of Mrs Dodds, a decidedly sensible lady of a certain age, hands laden with multi-coloured shopping bags.

After walking across to reciprocate her greeting, I asked whether I could help carry her shopping. “Oh no, dear boy,” she replied, “they’re not heavy.” They certainly looked it.

“Been shopping in the sales?” I asked a little too obviously, glancing down at the massive ‘SALE!’ signs adorning most of the bags.

“Oh yes,” she said, “Had a wonderful time. Shops were packed, but I managed to hunt down some bargains.” She made it sound like a military expedition.

I must have looked incredulous, prompting Mrs D to add, “Actually, I love going shopping at any time, otherwise I get claustrophobic. Bye!” With that she was off.

For the record, Mrs Dodds lives in a house the size of a modest town hall, set in grounds that could comfortably accommodate a nine-hole golf course. Claustrophobic? No, just another example of the wonderful difference between men and women.  

Whereas most females are content to battle through aisles of clothes for hours, ‘hunting for bargains’ to the accompaniment of muzak (or worse) and crying children, the majority of men are not. Blokes cannot understand the concept of ‘retail therapy’, preferring to walk through a shop door, immediately identify their purchase, buy it and get out, pronto. Simple, uncomplicated and unfussy.

Indeed, these prerequisites for successful male shopping account in no small part for internet retailers’ success, as a survey of Christmas shopping, published by one research company revealed today.

According to the survey, almost half of all Christmas-related shopping was conducted online, with people spending an average of £189, considerably more than the previous year. The ubiquitous Amazon was the most popular destination for online shoppers, probably because visitors want to buy specific, ‘no choice’ items. If you’re searching for say, a particular Frank Sinatra CD, or Sir Bradley Wiggins’ autobiography, then price, not the ‘shopping experience’ become the determining factor influencing your purchase.

Exactly the same rule applies whether the purchase is a DVD, iPod, computer game, gadgets or other electrical equipment, the biggest online sellers. Guess who is buying them?

More than a decade after the dotcom bubble burst, does this increasing trend to buy online (throughout the year) create opportunities beyond the obvious for investors? The answer has to be a resounding ‘yes’, provided website owners appreciate that demand for their online products is determined almost exclusively by price.

As internet penetration has continued apace, consumers have grown confident with online brands, happy that goods will be delivered on time and without their bank accounts being charged half a dozen times for the privilege. Moreover, as faster internet connections have become the norm rather than the exception, easily navigable websites attract the largest numbers of users. It follows that apart from established online names, offline giants continue to make their online presence felt this year - and not just in food retailing.

Of course, such developments are unlikely to halt Mrs Dodds’ regular shopping expeditions, but they should at least sustain the share prices of retailers who appreciate the need to offer competitively-priced products online.

posted on 29 December 2012 17:59 byPJS