Online shopping isn't just bad for the high street - it may be bad for you too

Online and self-service shopping means we’re making some terrible decisions

Young woman shopping online with credit card

The move to online shopping and self-service tills isn't just destroying the high street and decimating retail jobs. A new study has revealed it's also causing us to make some terrible (and expensive) shopping mistakes.

The study, by Charles Stanley, has revealed that 70% of Brits think the rise of online shopping and self-service options means we're not getting the help we need to make the best decisions.

Too much choice

And while we may be patting ourselves on the back for going online and getting a cheaper option, the researchers have revealed we're actually running the risk of making bad decisions. Part of the problem, they explain, is too much choice.

While having more choice seems like a good thing, having too many options is not. In an experiment with 2000 consumers, where people were asked to select the best value product from a list, there appeared to be a clear tipping point for good decision making. When consumers were offered a choice of three products, 50% were able to choose the best value option. However, once they were faced with ten choices, only 12% chose the option with the best price. The ability to choose the best value product falls by 24% when faced with too much choice.

Lack of help

To make matters worse, because we are choosing self-service, we are missing out on the valuable advice of professionals. The study found that 54% of people had made a mistake because of this - either paying too much for something, or buying the wrong product. They wasted an average of £30 per mistake as a result.

There are some things we're perfectly able to buy without any interaction. When asked what we'd prefer to buy unaided, the most common answers were groceries, toiletries and books. A third of people say they actively choose self-checkout at the supermarket - with a quarter saying they do so in order to avoid having to talk to anyone.

However, in other areas we could really do with the help - particularly with things like buying a house or arranging our personal finances.

The more expensive the item, the more likely we are to want some assistance, because while most people would prefer to make their own mind up about purchases of less than £10, when it comes to spending anything over £474 we refuse to do it without some guidance.

And there are some things we're particularly bad at buying unaided. Almost one in ten people said they'd bought tickets for the wrong date or time when buying online or through a self-service ticket machine.

When asked to name the most annoying automated services in modern life, by far the most common answer was automated sales calls, followed by targeted online advertising and email-only customer service centres.

The full top ten

1. Automated sales calls
2. Targeted online advertising e.g. adverts based on your previous search history
3. Email-only customer service centres
4. Self-service check-outs
5. Contactless card payment
6. Online dating apps
7. Contactless mobile payment e.g. apple pay
8. Automated check in at doctors
9. Self-service petrol pumps
10. Online banking

But what do you think? Do you prefer to be left on your own to make your mind up, or could you do with the help? Let us know in the comments.

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