We Still Shop at the Mall for a Bunch of Reasons

With record breaking Cyber Week numbers and the reported death of malls, it looks like Internet shopping is moving ever-closer to replacing the physical experience of going to stores. But brick-and-mortar stores still have some reasons to exist.

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With record breaking Cyber Week numbers and the reported death of malls, it looks like Internet shopping is moving ever-closer to replacing the physical experience of going to stores. But brick-and-mortar stores still have some reasons to exist. For the following reasons, the Internet still hasn't turned us into full-on cyber-consumerists. Of course, this doesn't mean stores shouldn't worry.

Free Shipping Isn't Forever

While Cyber Week sales broke records, with Monday-Wednesday ranking as three of the four heaviest online spending days in history, according to data from comScore, the numbers don't tell the full story. Black Friday, Cyber Monday's analog counterpart, also had big numbers, up 6.6 percent from last year at $11.4 billion. That's twice as much as the $6 billion spent during all of Cyber Week. Part of the lure to this season's online shopping frenzy had to do with the proliferation of free shipping, which the majority of shoppers rank as "very" or "somewhat" important in the Internet shopping realm.

Q: “When making a purchase online this holiday season, which of the following statements best describes how important free shipping is to you?”
November 29-December 1, 2011, n=1,013
Total U.S. – Home & Work Locations
Source: comScore 2011 Holiday Survey
Response Percentage of Respondents
Very important – I will not make a purchase without it 36%
Somewhat important – I actively seek out free shipping deals 42%
Neither important nor unimportant – I would like to find it, but do not require it 12%
Somewhat unimportant – free shipping has very little effect on my purchase decision 1%
Very unimportant – I will make my purchase regardless of shipping costs 2%
Don’t know/not sure 6%

Without free shipping, which many retailers don't offer year round, it might make financial sense to skip the $5.99 fee and visit the mall.

Tablet Shopping Still Isn't Ideal

Tablet shopping seems like the future, with app stores making it so easy to buy, as we've noted before. And numbers for iPad shopping are indeed up, notes TechCrunch's Sarah Perez, with a high of 6,475,354 iPad pageviews on Black Friday alone. But the benefit only really comes with digital content. Other than magazine, movie, TV, or music related content, the iPad and its competitors haven't exactly evolved. Of the 30 top retailers, not one has an iPad optimized site and only about half have an iPad app. Not even Apple has an app on its own iPad, which means buying Love Actually is easy on the iPad, buying a new Macbook is not.

People Still Like the In-Store Experience

As with most things digital, critics have said that Internet buying lacks a certain, important physicality, like touching fabrics and trying on clothing. And those skeptics aren't alone. People really do still like going into a store -- even if they shop online. A recent survey found that 24 percent of people who had purchased books from an Internet store had gone to a physical store to check it out first, reports The New York Times's Julie Bosman. Of course that's bad news for booksellers, since after touching the books, people are buying them for less on the Internet. But some retailers find that their small stores help guilt potential non-shoppers into just buying there. "Valerie Koehler, the owner of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, said she had occasionally spotted customers who appeared to be typing titles into their phones instead of buying the books," writes Bosman. "But she also suspects that the small size of her store helps her in this regard, because it has an intimacy that discourages offenders."

Get Ready for Sales Tax

Saving sales tax also softens purchasing blows for online shoppers, luring them online. But with Amazon behind the Internet sales tax push, that dream's about to end.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.