Browsing ecommerce is the new (old) thing


Online shopping through lockdown grew exponentially, like the virus. £1 in every £3 was spent online from £1 in every £5 just weeks before lockdown. But shopping online feels less like an enjoyable activity these days….It isn’t shopping really is it? Shopping is social, tangible, human -  talking to people, trying things on, asking someone about an item on a shelf and enjoying a good mooch… that’s what I am missing most. Maybe you are too?

I read an interesting piece about Browsing Ecommerce by Vivek Goyal recently.  Online shopping on sites like Amazon is all about the transaction – the instant and short-lived gratification - the search, find and deliver. There is little discovery in it, little sense of a ‘chance find’. Selection criteria is price mostly in a cluttered environment, like finding something in a bewilderingly large warehouse.

Amazon is answering a call for convenience when you know what you want, and it works. But I want something more because it all feels rather placeless and faceless.

Prior to Covid19, the rushing about, the commuting, the busy lifestyles of separating work and home life was making it increasingly difficult for people to shop local. Opening times on local high streets failed to meet the needs of commuters, and local businesses were not adapting to that need for convenience by aggregating like Amazon and so many of the other giants do. As a result an older demographic was more commonplace in our high streets, and younger people were conspicuously absent. Busy people were ordering online to fit in with their busy lifestyles, not realising what they were missing or what could be lost, leaving the hopes of a sustainable high street looking bleak.

"It struck me as ironic that high streets – that were once the most convenient way to shop, everything in one place and close by,  were now being overtaken by distant warehouses or cloned retail parks requiring a car journey. Especially when 16 % of us live less than 200 metres of our local shops and services."

I created to help drive footfall back to the high street and our markets. I wanted to reflect the one physical place we loved into one digital place we could view 24/7. Four years ago, when it all started, it seemed revolutionary to most people – a crazy idea to some, incomprehensible to others! To some very brave pioneers they could see what I was trying to do. In fact it wasn’t revolutionary, it was just evolutionary. Now that evolution is being sped up. Now more than ever, initiatives that support local are popping up in more places and online is now mission possible.

But our realisation over years has been that people seek a different experience from their high street online, they seek convenience but mostly connection and discovery. Most customers look at each business, rather than searching for products, they explore and browse. It can’t be the same as a real experience –the chance conversation, the feel of a fabric, the smell of coffee beans but it can replicate the serendipity of discovery, of feeling familiar with a place. Browsing can help seekers find the treasure on their doorstep.

"..the soul and beating hearts of our high streets are coming to the fore offering local supply chains that are robust and an ability to deliver too -but with a personal touch."

Over time, has continued to evolve to meet the desires of our customers to use the platform in different ways: to enjoy a good browse, to book something, to make a call, ask a question and to buy. Now as less time is spent in physical stores, we are seeing more intense buying in store and more intense browsing online – not browsing in store and buying online (retail showrooming) as so many businesses complained about on a daily basis pre-Covid19. Of course, the giants are smashing it, breaking new records on orders, but the soul and beating hearts of our high streets are coming to the fore offering local supply chains that are robust and an ability to deliver too -but with a personal touch. We are seeing more collaboration, more linking between commercial and public sector enterprises and most of all more recognition of the real and social value of place -after all you only really miss it, when it’s (nearly) gone.

The pandemic has brought hard times to us all, and hard lessons. We have lost many businesses, many old favourites have disappeared forever. But it has also brought things together in new ways. New businesses are emerging. Customers are joining the dots that #whereyoushopmatters and our users span the age groups too. Older consumers have chosen ShopAppy to stay connected to their friends (their local shopkeepers) at a time when they are feeling most vulnerable. Younger people have joined us, discovering their high streets for the first time in some cases. There is a route to a ‘New Better’ that lets go of the ‘Normal’ we had pre-Covid19.  I hope you will join me and in heading towards it.


Jackie Mulligan 

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