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Shoppers missing sales assistants as most challenging products to buy online revealed

In-store screens are what shoppers want (Image: Argos)

UK shoppers are increasingly finding it hard to buy what they want online without guidance and expert in-store advice – with clothing, groceries and cars revealed as the most challenging products to purchase online.

A study by Ve Global, an ecommerce technology company, finds that lack of help usually garnered from shop assistants is slowly making the online shopping experience more challenging – and retailers need to take heed if they are to compete online as stores open up.

As part of the research, consumers ranked products they have started buying online in the last 12 months to uncover the most challenging product categories to purchase, with clothing (27%), groceries (21%), vehicles (20%) and home & garden furniture (16%) coming out top. The research also highlights the reasons why these products are difficult to buy online, compared to in-store, revealing that British consumers are missing aspects of the in-person shopping experience. 

Top reasons include difficulty browsing for products online (25%), confusing product specifications (21%) and not being able to ask a sales assistant for guidance or advice (21%). Consumers missed getting help from sales assistants most when shopping online for white goods (37%), consumer electronics (37%), vehicles (29%) and beauty products (26%), which are typically considered high value purchases and/or long term investments.

Other common reasons included not being able to touch or test products (61%), or gauge the size of products (45%).

The research shows that consumers are missing the same tailored in-store experience when shopping online, as they seek out the necessary guidance to find products and complete their purchase. A quarter (25%) of consumers said being able to ask questions and get advice live on the site would make them more likely to buy products that are challenging to buy online. Consumers also said detailed product details (31%), the ability to tailor research results to their needs (21%) and the ability to discover relevant products more easily (20%) would make them more likely to complete their purchase.

“With the return of in-store shopping, and the personal service it brings, consumers looking for products that they find difficult to buy online will be the first to ditch the laptop for the high street,” explains Jack Wearne, CEO at Ve Global. “So having a website alone isn’t enough for online retailers to compete for considered purchases. Adaptable brands are experimenting with technology to make online shopping even more convenient. Brands that can reimagine the in-store sales assistant online will enable customers to get the guidance they need to discover and choose products, and importantly get the same premium experience they’re used to getting in-store.”

The research also finds that age is also a factor, with half (52%) of 25-34 year olds and 47% of 18-24 year olds wanting to browse or research products in-store before going online to make their purchase, suggesting retailers must prioritise a seamless multichannel experience. This compared to 35% of people on average. Younger shoppers were also most likely to shop online more than in-store even once the pandemic is over, with 53% of 18-24 year olds and 51% of 25-34 year olds saying that was the case. 

The age gap is more apparent for older shoppers when it comes to buying clothes online. A third (30%) of consumers said they started buying clothing, shoes and accessories online in the last 12 months. However, almost half (47%) of 45-54 year olds and (46%) 66-74 year olds said they found these items difficult to buy online compared to in-store. Top reasons included not being able to try items on (71%), touch and feel products (67%), gauge the size of products (62%), and difficulty browsing products (23%).

Though buying cars online became the norm in the pandemic, perhaps unsurprisingly 20% of consumers said they have less confidence buying a car online compared to in-store. A quarter (24%) of consumers said confusing product specifications made it challenging, with 30% saying more comprehensive product details would make the shopping experience easier. 

Consumers also say that the rely on expert advice when buying white goods, with more than a third (37%) saying that they find white goods challenging to buy online because they can’t ask a sales assistant for guidance or advice, with roughly the same amount (36%) feeling that the ability to ask questions and obtain advice on site would improve their online experience.

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