Are price comparison sites hurting High Street sales?

44 per cent of UK shoppers always compare prices online before buying, says new report.
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Increasing numbers of UK consumers are using the internet to find the lowest priced deals before they buy, often cutting out the High Street altogether.

When asked, “What factors attract you to online shopping?”, 65 per cent of 1,000 surveyed said the ability to compare and contrast retailers’ prices was an important factor.

However, research by business services firm pwc stressed that UK shoppers “haven’t abandoned physical stores, they’re just using them for different things” – acknowledging that people are going online to identify the cheapest High Street price before heading out to buy.

“Internet shopping has gone from rare to routine, which is having a profound impact on the way retailing works, both on the web and on the High Street,” the report said.

When quizzed about researching their purchases, 44 per cent said they exclusively used the internet and 21 per cent said they used a mix of the internet, catalogues and the High Street. Less than a quarter felt it was important to see the product in person at a bricks and mortar store.

28 per cent cut out the middle-man altogether shopping direct at a brand website, attracted to cheaper prices and full product ranges.

90 per cent said they had shopped multi-channel with the same retailer - making both online and offline purchases. The most popular choice was Argos, with 65 per cent buying online as well as in person, praising the catalogue retailer's reserve and collect facility and cheap prices. With 18 per cent, the next best multi-channel option was Tesco.

Nearly 20 per cent of the panel said they spent almost half their disposable income online and 60 per cent believed they would be spending more of their money online over the next three years.

Evolving technology

To account for the rise in e-commerce, the report pointed to the increase in connected devices like Smartphones, wi-fi laptops and tablet computers such as the iPad – all of which allow people to access the web away from the traditional desktop.

The social media boom has also had an impact, with savvy retailers like John Lewis and Asos using newsletters, Twitter and Facebook to promote exclusive deals that encourage impulse purchases.

Perhaps the most crucial development is the increasing awareness of easy-to-use websites like Google Shopper and Moneysupermarket.com, which allow customers to easily compare retailer prices.

With the recession really starting to bite, it seems customers are starting to value the lowest possible price over the High Street's face-to-face customer service.

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