Digital Society
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Digital Society

From the High Street to Our Screens: How Shopping is Shifting to the Digital World

Image by Mediamodifier/Pixabay

Flicking through Argos catalogues seems like a distant memory now, right? As traditional in store shopping is being replaced with artificial intelligence systems, the speed of the internet makes any other way almost laughable. Internet sales as a percentage of total retail sales have tripled from 10.9% in May 2014 to 32.8% by May 2020. Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic will have catalysed this due to quarantine measures, but it is undeniable that the digital world inevitably continues to become a central base of trade. Fashion retailers in particular have replaced traditional shopping norms with innovative, paperless and technology bound shopping experiences in order to align themselves with the ever-expanding digital world and communities.

Photo by Jamie Lorriman/The Sun

From Impulse Buying to Obsessive Buying

Trigger impulse buying at a checkout is something that I am sure the majority of us can relate to. The power of making a shopper believe that this often novelty or unnecessary purchase is in fact a necessity, is the sorcery of a wise firm. The fun in such items may not be directly mirrored online, but impulse buying has certainly crept into digital territory. Perks such as free shipping can be seen as holding ‘more relative value for online shoppers than the actual cost of shipping’. Imaginably, it can be tough for retailers to come up with innovative ways of remoulding the idea of impulse buying online, but when done correctly, sales can rocket.

Image by Mass Media


Online adverts are simply revolutionised billboards, suggesting that their presence is embodied in the (online) landscape. But, as suggested by Millie Davis, online advertising is ‘relentless’ and poses the risk of opposing its original intentions. Data continues to suggest that people hate adverts, with over 80% of Americans and Europeans wishing that they had the option to block adverts on mobile devices. In effect, people are becoming increasingly suspicious of tailored adverts, and the extent of their invasiveness.

Image by Kyra Hatzikosmidis/Medium

Further investigation into the world of advertising unveils the challenges that come alongside the benefits of e-commerce. The potential listening powers of internet devices, such as Siri and Alexa, are chilling and invasive to say the least. In relation to e-commerce, I imagine that companies are in constant battles with themselves over displaying the ‘correct’ or perfect level of adverts to future and current consumers, without overdoing it or invading privacy. This is touched upon by Chris M in Engagement, as we considered whether anything that we say or do is ever truly offline-for example, is data from face-to-face conversations stored by Alexa?

Tweet by Oh Polly/Twitter

A sleek marketing strategy of many online fashion brands is giveaways. Giving consumers a chance to win an item or product (because who doesn’t love a freebie) is a tactical ploy into enhancing consumer engagement whilst stabilising business growth strategies. In fact, research states that an account’s Instagram followers will grow 70% in 3 months if a giveaway is held. Digital media is the perfect place for accommodating high-profile brands due to the ability to connect with such a vast audience, opening the door to seemingly boundary-free levels of exponential growth.

Image by mohamed_hassan/Pixabay

Creation of a Brand’s Personality

A myriad of the most prevalent fashion brands, such as Oh Polly, rely solely on their online presence-through their website, social media platforms and advertisements through social media influencers. Their ability to survive with no ‘real-life’ occupancy proves the influence of, and trust put into, the digital. One immense opportunity derived from this is the numerous mediums in which an extraordinary online personality can be constructed. A strong emphasis on website and social media design, as well as the portrayal of the companies ethical/moral values has proved effective.

Tweet by Ted Baker/Twitter

Digitally Assisted Stores

The integration of brands into technology isn’t limited to our own personal screens. It has become all-encompassing of our everyday lives in ways that would have seemed a utopian (possibly dystopian to some?!) vision even just a decade ago. Stores have digital assistance everywhere you look, from self-checkout machines to interactive windows. Ted Baker took ‘window shopping’ to a whole new level through their interactive selfie windows that caught the eye of many passers by. Engaging digital formats into everyday activities is a big hit because the people of today are so familiar and comfortable with online formats. Zarakh Iliev notes, ‘retailers creatively integrate new technologies not only into their shops but also in other ways so as to enrich their customers’ experience’.

Photo by Tensator

Virtual assistants are increasingly replacing real humans in shopping centres. Of course, a downfall of this is the loss of jobs in this sector of employment. Will the artificial intelligence and abilities of such assistants match that of a human in this context? If so, how far will they assist with the movement of shopping into a completely digital sector? It will be interesting to see how far the shift from ‘real life’ to completely online shopping goes.

Image by mohamed_hassan/Pixabay

The (Virtual) Reality of Shopping in a Digitally Obsessed Era

Virtual reality simulations of shopping experiences are emerging, combining the ability to wander around a shop floor and the simplicity of shopping in the comfort of your own home. This lends itself to being an impressive method, especially under current circumstances of the pandemic, where retailers have had to focus and rely on their online presence. In my own digisoc1 blog, I noted the significance of people having access to online resources and activities during lockdown. In this case, shopping has had to be accessible online more than ever before. It is true that one day we may well shop through virtual reality headsets and digitally designed stores.

Image by TheDigitalArtist/Pixabay

So, what does the future hold for online and digitally oriented shopping? The use of AI will only further engulf online shopping and the idea of a completely immersive online shopping experience doesn’t seem too far out of reach anymore. The movement away from traditional shopping norms leads me to believe that in years to come, the idea of shopping and retail will be a very immersive and personalised experience. Will shopping in-store become digital to the point of there being no need for shop floor staff? It seems to be heading that way…




Exploring how digital technologies shape society: challenges, themes and implications. Featuring student and staff writers. Views expressed are those of their authors and not necessarily the University of Manchester.

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Sophie Richards

Sophie Richards

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