A few nights ago I was horrified to see a hideous attempt at a TV commercial by an online retailer selling (a few years ago you’d never believe it) underwear. Yes, bras and undies, at bargain basement prices, from an online retailer. Now for every woman out there who has ever bought a bra, it’s almost impossible to buy one without trying it on, or with a professional fitting, but nevertheless, this online bra warehouse is obviously succeeding.
Despite cringing at the fact that women are now prepared to purchase underwear online, I went to explore this website to see what it was all about. Maternity bras, sports bras, lacy, plain, frilled – you name it and they were all there, at ridiculously cheap prices. Underwear is such an intimate purchase experience, yet this completely detached online business, probably operating out of someone’s dodgy back shed, is selling mountains of the stuff.
After experiencing this, I’m starting to wonder about the future of retail as we know it. Many, many retail stores base a lot of their offering on their in-store service environment, and we’ve written countless marketing recommendations around this fact: keep people in your store longer, delight them, wow them, offer a service they come back for and so on. Buying a bra is (or was) like this – a professional fits you properly, provides a recommendation of size, type, material etc, you buy it, and then continue to come back because of that service. But apparently not.
Apparently buying online at crazy cheap prices means you are willing to take the risk the product won’t fit or it will fall apart after 2 washes, and, worse still, you probably don’t care about the brand and its values. And it’s absolutely true – I do it myself (although there’s only some things I’m prepared to do this for, and underwear is definitely not one of them). I wonder how many other industries can go down this same track. Grocery shopping and electrical goods have already gone there, what’s next?
Is the rise and rise of online retail making us all so price sensitive; so desensitised to quality standards, that we are forgetting about the experience of shopping? Is online retail turning us all into transactors? Push-button shoppers who get cranky when the girl learning at the checkout takes ten minutes to find the code for bananas, when we take about the same amount of time working out why the weight detector at the DIY-checkout keeps beeping at us to ‘remove bag’?
I’m scared for the future generations who all wear online-bought underwear – may you never be comfortable again!