To shop online or to shop in-store? That is the question of the modern day

Closing businesses in central London Photo: Urte Fultinaviciute

By Urte Fultinaviciute

In today’s world where news, food and purchases are delivered in only a few hours, online shopping may seem like a gift from God. But how does it affect businesses in the United Kingdom?

One in every five pounds was spent on online shopping in 2018, according to the Office for National Statistics. Online sales rose by 15.3 per cent in 2017 and made up 18.2 per cent of all retail sales in 2018, according to the Telegraph. Around three shops close down every day in High Street due to high business rates and online retail shops, it says.

Laith Khalaf, senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown told the Telegraph: “There’s really only one winner in the battle between clicks and bricks at the moment, with online sales driving retail growth onwards and upwards.”

Mr Khalaf said that e-commerce’s popularity is growing because of its convenience. “Even if more traditional stores are switching to the online channel, that means they need less physical space to sell stuff from.”

Topshop is closing all of its shops in the US
Photo: Urte Fultinaviciute


Online or in person?

Last year did consumer research exploring the shopping habits of people in the United Kingdom and Spain. The study showed that over half of UK consumers (51%) prefer to shop online rather than go to a department store.

Holly Hall, 25, from Reading, is one of that 51% who prefers to shop online. But she has a greater cause. Ms Hall became vegan last year and has tried to reduce plastic usage to a minimum, better known as a zero-waste lifestyle.

“I shop online because I can choose environmental brands or apps that are eco-friendlier such as Lucy and Yak, Woodlike Ocean Swimwear and Depop,” she said.

“Having said that, I do love a shopping trip with my friends from time to time.”

But not everyone enjoys the new world of online shopping. Itziar Ortiz Gonzalez, 24, an animator from Spain, prefers to go to an actual shop rather than searching online. “You can try it [clothes] on and decide if you really want it and if fits as you thought,” she said.

“I think people like to shop online because it’s cheaper, easier and you can do it any time. You don’t have to wait for a shop to open and waste a couple of hours while searching for something.

“I don’t think that department shops will disappear although they can be reduced, especially in the central areas.”

Computers make change

So how did everything started to change? The first WWW (World Wide Web) server was created in 1989 by Tim Berners – Lee and after two years it was opened for commercial use. In 1994 the first online pizza shop by Pizza Hut opened, allowing costumers to order meals through their computer.

A year later, two online retail giants, eBay and Amazon, were launched. They gave consumers the freedom to browse from home, and helped to save travel time. In 2005, Amazon introduced an innovative and fast two-day free delivery for Amazon Prime Members. This service was introduced to London in 2015.

Small and medium business owners had to face the inevitable closure – or keep coming up with something interesting to sell.

Camden Town: home of independent retailers

Hundreds of different, diverse and interesting shops are located in Camden Market, one of the most popular tourist destinations in London. You can find anything here, from baby clothes to Himalayan salt.

“You need to show high quality and a completely different thing in order to interest the customer,” says Justine Olkowicz, owner of Dressupbaby shop. Olkowicz started her online baby clothes shop in 2017 and a few months later opened her first stall at Camden Market. Last year she opened her first actual shop and few other stalls in markets around London.

Half of the products are produced in Poland and half of them are made in the United Kingdom. Dressupbaby offers up-to-date fashion items for the little ones and hand-made crocheted toys.

Olkowicz said that because she is selling baby clothes the quality of the material is really important, which means customers prefer to come to the shop and see them in real life. “It is easier for people to remember my brand and my products rather than seeing a picture of them online,” she added.

After two years of owning the business, Olkowicz started noticing that online sales are picking up – but are still not as frequent as in-store purchases. “Camden is a really touristic place but still people buy here to avoid the postage charge,” she said. “Larger companies can afford free postage and free returns and it works for them, but small businesses do struggle.”


Inspiration from Nepal

Matthew Sutton, the owner of Nepali Pure, said that he is always being compared with bigger beauty brands by his customers. “I had many people say to me that I have similar products as Lush. It is a competition and it is natural. You need to offer the customer something original and something they have not seen before.”

Sutton opened his business last year. He got the idea to start it after he worked with a charity for several months in Nepal. The family that Sutton lived with worked in salt mines and kept the contact with them after he left Nepal. He sources the Pink Himalayan salt from them and makes his beauty products such as bath salts, scrubs and masks in the United Kingdom.

Sutton explained that his customers prefer to try the products there and then rather than simply purchase them online. “People want to try out my beauty products on the spot, learn about them and take them home immediately,” he said.

“I am developing an online shop for my business in the hope that it will be my success in years to come. Online shopping is taking over and taking over people jobs. But realistically is the way to move forward. It costs less for the business owners as they don’t have to pay so much rent or require a lot of staff members.”


Pink Himalayan Face Mask and a Body Scrub – best selling products of Nepali Pure. Photo: Urte Fultinaviciute


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