Shoppers flocked to the sales in Britain yesterday in the hope of getting a bargain. Today, more retailers open their doors to a predicted stampede of bargain-hunters. What’s going on? Have people suddenly got loads of money in their pockets in spite of the worst financial year on record? Are the shoppers going back to credit? Is the impending VAT rise really a worry to them?

Happy shoppers enjoy a day out together

Happy shoppers enjoy a day out together

It’s potentially all of these, but probably something much simpler. Every year people rush to the shops after the Christmas break; this is nothing new. The real reason is we want to engage with the world again. Christmas shuts us away; people are only really engaging with close family, pigging out on turkey and chocolate. Going shopping provides a break. An interviewer on BBC Radio this morning asked bargain-hunters why they were hitting the sales – “it’s a day out,” said a happy shopper.

And therein lies the problem for Internet marketers and its an issue that many online businesses have yet to grapple with. Our desire to be with other people, to experience the physical world with them and share our time with them means that the notion of people doing everything online is simply false. The UK Government, for instance, revealed in its latest Pre-Budget Report that it intends to drive more public services online in a bid to save money. In principle that sounds fine, but in reality the real reason why many people visit the passport office, or the local DVLA centre, or to pay their council tax directly to their local authority is because it is an excuse for a “day out”. Doctors will tell you that their surgeries are full of people who have nothing much wrong with them, but they go to their GP because it is a social outing.

The Boxing Day sales are just another example of this; we love being with other people – physically. Plus, when it comes to buying things we love to touch them.

The idea that people will be happy with the convenience of doing all their shopping online, or that they will love being able to complete forms online to save a visit to their local council, for instance, is a false notion. People like being with other people and anything that provides them with a reason – or an excuse – for doing this will be exploited by them. Many “shoppers” will have visited the sales in the past two days and returned home with empty bags, but saying they had a lovely time. They didn’t go shopping – they just wanted a break from being cooped up.

So, what opportunities does your online business provide your customers with to physically engage with your business or with each other? How much “real world” interaction is there in your business? If you believe that you only need an online presence and that the “real world” is somewhat old-hat, you could be facing a future of limited income. The really successful online businesses are those which combine the online with the physical and provide their audience with an opportunity for “a day out”.

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