Traditional bricks and mortar retail stores have surged in popularity post-pandemic, with Australians preferring to shop in-store across most product categories including apparel, personal care and household goods, new research from Monash University has found

However, Australians rate the online shopping experience better, and return more items purchased in-store than online.

The annual Retail Monitor survey of 1,000 Australian shoppers from the Australian Consumer and Retail Studies (ACRS) unit in the Monash Business School, shows bricks and mortar is back with physical shopping returning to pre-pandemic levels. 

“Prior to the pandemic, there was a clear divide amongst shoppers over physical versus online shopping experiences, with the majority of Australian shoppers preferring to use physical stores as their main channel for non-grocery retail purchases,”  Dr Eloise Zoppos, Principal Research Consultant at the ACRS, said.

“During COVID-19, online became the main non-grocery retail channel out of necessity and the majority of Australian shoppers turned to online methods, a trend which was accelerated by the pandemic. We’re now seeing the return of a preference for physical stores and shoppers are moving between the offline and online worlds more seamlessly than ever before”.

Among the key findings of the ACRS report:

  • Online shopping rates more favourably in key attributes - product availability, product ranges and sales and promotions. 

  • 66 per cent of shoppers have returned an item they bought in-store whereas only 42 per cent returned an item they bought online 

  • Over a third of Australian shoppers (72 per cent) have returned an item they purchased from either physical or online stores.

The survey shows 70 per cent of Australians purchased clothing, footwear and accessories in-store or online in the three months to September 2022, on par with early 2020 (also 70 per cent). 

Personal care was also a popular purchase (49 per cent), with household items decreasing slightly in popularity since early 2020 (42 per cent 2022, compared to 54 per cent 2020).

The report also found that despite their preference for in-store shopping, Aussies rate the in-store shopping experience lower than that of online, particularly on key attributes like product availability, product ranges and sales and promotions. 

For example, the overall physical shopping experience was rated 4 points lower than online, product availability rated 18 points lower, and both product ranges and sales and promotions each rated 11 points lower.

Dr Zoppos said that although Aussie shoppers are revelling in the ability to shop in-store again, their expectations are higher than ever.

“Research shows that the ability to see, touch and trial goods is the most influential factor of purchase decisions, and when it comes to tactile products such as apparel and household goods, factors such as size, fit and quality are paramount, but difficult to judge online”, she says.

Another finding uncovered in the report is the increasing importance and prevalence of retail returns.  

Over half of consumers (58 per cent) said return options are one of the most important factors when making a purchase, only coming in behind price-related factors, and quality and customer service.  And well over a third of Australian shoppers (72 per cent) said they’ve returned an item they purchased from a physical or online store. 

The report found that a far higher proportion of shoppers have returned an item they bought in-store (66 per cent) than those who have returned an item they bought online (42 per cent).

Clothing, footwear and accessories was the top product category for returns across both purchase channels, with 66 per cent of shoppers saying they’ve returned apparel purchased in-store, and 61 per cent saying they’ve returned apparel purchased online. 

“With consumers using online channels more than ever before, it is now increasingly important that retailers provide shoppers with seamless returns experiences to meet their increasing expectations.

“Rather than see returns as a problem, retailers should look at returns as an important stage of the customer journey; one that when done right, can result in customer loyalty, advocacy, and a cycle back to the purchasing stage of the customer retail journey,”  Dr Zoppos said.

Photo: Heidi Fin/Unsplash 

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