Mrs MSE’s a Robo-shopper! Research Offline, but Buy Online – for more rights

Are you a Robo-shopper?

My wife is a Robo-shopper, it’s official. Her strategy – which I wholeheartedly approve – is if we need furniture, to go to the store to see it but order from the same company’s website, so we can return it if we don’t like it.

While there may sometimes be a price advantage or online code to use when doing this (though it does stop you haggling), actually there’s one prime reason for doing it…

Buy in-store: 

You have NO right to return goods unless they’re faulty. Some stores will allow you to return items, but that’s their policy rather than any official obligation.

Buy online:

Under the distance selling regulations, you have a seven-day legal right to return goods without any fault for a full refund (including delivery costs – though you may need pay to send the goods back).

Thus, quite simply you’ve more rights buying online than offline, yet that is of course offset by the fact that you can’t touch, sniff, fondle or try on goods that you buy online.

As I was explaining this alongside a chap from Kelkoo yesterday (as part of my weekly slot on the Radio 5 consumer panel) he mentioned the marketing world has an acronym for this behaviour – it’s called “Robo” – Research offline buy online.

It’s especially good for things like furniture, where trying and looking in-store is important, but until you’ve seen it in-situ at home you can’t know 100% that it works, so the no-quibble right of return’s perfect. Of course sometimes there can be a hefty return cost that needs factoring in, though a decent number of companies currently waive it. Even so, by buying online at least you have the choice.

A small but growing number of people (mainly women) also take advantage of it for clothes shopping. After all, if you’re not quite sure which size fits, you can always order two items, try them on and send one back. This is even better if you can take clothes back to the store to return them.

Of course this Robo-shopping technique can’t be looked at in isolation. If everyone does it, it’ll be a further boot in the back of UK high streets.

However, there is a half-way house. As we’ve nearly a complement of bricks and clicks stores (ie, those which have both a high street and online presence), it is at least worth considering buying from the web version of the high street ‘showroom’ that you looked in. I suspect as more people learn their rights this will become the age of the Robo-shopper.