Online shopping: Enhancing the experience, but is it problem-free?

Published on: May 31st, 2018

Whether you’re embracing online shopping, or you’re seeing your colleagues, family and friends receiving packages every other day, you will have noticed that it is growing at a rapid pace.

According to Australia Post, last year online shopping in Australia grew 19.2% year on year and we spent $21.3b online on physical goods. With more retailers moving online and retail giants like Amazon setting up on our shores we are being presented with more choice and more competition. Retailers are also embracing new technology, like augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance the online shopping experience.

AI and AR are changing online purchasing

Developments in AI are helping us to find items online to purchase even when we are not sure of what we are looking for. A good example of this technology is the Pinterest Lens, it does visual searches based on items in the everyday world. Just point your camera at a piece of furniture or item of clothing and Lens can help you find it online.

One of the main barriers for online shopping has been the lack of sensory elements. When shopping online you can’t touch an item, feel the material, see how it works, or try it on.

AR attempts to blend reality with the virtual by giving you an experience as close to being in store as possible. You can see how clothes will look on you and even determine if furniture will fit in your home. Ikea’s augmented reality app allows its customers to visually see whether furniture will fit in a space and how it will look their home using their smartphones.

Converse also does this well, offering customers the ability to “try on” shoes using their smartphone. You simply point your phone at your shoes and you’ll see what different pairs look like on your feet.

Drones for speed and convenience

The convenience of online shopping is improving every day with retailers understanding the importance of fast delivery. More and more retailers are getting products out the door in lightning speed. For example fashion brand Cue, has introduced a three-hour delivery model that’s fulfilled from its network of 89 stores nationwide.

Although drone delivery isn’t predicted to become mainstream in retail for another decade, it seems closer to reality for some retailers. Domino’s Pizza in New Zealand has already dropped off an order to a customer 25kms north of Auckland. Amazon, in the US, is looking at delivering customers’ orders within 30 minutes using its Prime Air Delivery program using drones.

Are these technology improvements making online purchasing problem-free?

With the technology changes being introduced making purchasing online easier, we could be tricked into thinking that online is problem-free. A survey from the NSW Department of Fair Trading found that 39% of Australians still found problems when purchasing online. The main issues cited were late deliveries, damaged items or the order never arriving.

With anything you do online, from a financial perspective it pays to use your head and approach it with a level of caution. There’s plenty of information around focusing on how to stay safe online.

For example, make sure you’re dealing with a reputable online retailer. If it doesn’t look legitimate, chances are it isn’t. Australian Consumer Law (ACL) applies to Australian based online retailers but remember that these consumer protections don’t extend to overseas websites.

It’s also worth thinking about how you pay for an online purchase. PayPal and credit cards are your best bet, however be sure to pay cards off by the due date to avoid excessive interest charges. I would avoid direct transfers and the modern equivalents of lay-by such as AfterPay. Also be careful and read the fine print on areas such as warranties, returns policies, and additional fees and charges around currency conversion and shipping.

According to research firm Open Up, online shoppers have a good grasp of how long they are spending online shopping, but they underestimate the amount of money they are spending significantly. In fact, they spent twice as much online as they thought they did. It’s worth thinking about your budget and sticking to it.

All these technology improvements to online shopping don’t just enhance the experience; they are making it easier for you to part with your money. That compounded with online sales like Click Frenzy and Black Friday and you can end up spending more than you should or purchasing items you don’t really need.

Like most areas where your money is concerned, make sure you think the decision through and be prepared to research what you’re purchasing. A little bit of work upfront can save you money in the online world.