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eTailers Ponder: Why Consumers Don’t Buy Toilet Paper Online



I bought toilet paper from Staples.com once. It was one of those gazillion roll packs. It was reasonably priced, with free shipping. It arrived the next day and went straight on to the garage shelf for storage. Easy peasy. But I never did it again. Why? Honestly, I’m not sure.

Mostly, I think it’s a learned behavior. Toilet paper and paper towels come out of the grocery budget so I buy them when I go grocery shopping even though they take up too much room in the cart and are annoying to deal with at checkout and in the car.

Shopping for those items online was easier, but it meant making a special trip to the online store in order to complete the purchase.

It’s not just paper products either. Consumer packaged goods of all kinds are slow movers on the internet as compared to media, clothing, and electronics. RetailNet Group conducted a survey asking both manufacturers and sellers what they need in order to increase sales. The result was a definite non-meeting of the minds.

Manufacturers said they needed deeper customer insights from etailers, sharing of best practices, and cross-merchandise recommendations. They also wanted etailers to carry more items and arrange auto delivery on frequently used items such as toilet paper. (Amazon has this option but I’ve yet to try it.)

On the flip side, etailers say manufacturers need to deliver innovative products and web exclusives. They were quite adamant about these two things as you can see from this chart created by eMarketer.

As a consumer, I totally agree with line three. There’s a desperate need for better graphics, product details, and actually matching the product to the picture on the page. If you’re buying a movie on Blu-ray, there’s only one option. If you’re buying toilet paper, there are 10 options covering brand, ply, softness, number of rolls, etc. This is why its often hard to tell if you’re getting a good price.

I’m intrigued by the 57% looking for ecommerce-friendly packaging. Again, DVDs are all about the same size and are easy to pack, but mailing out heavy bottles of detergent, fragile pasta, and bulky toilet paper in one order. . . don’t know how they manage it.

We’ve talked before about how online grocery shopping is all the rage in Europe and Asia but hasn’t taken off in the US. Maybe because here, it’s just too easy to run to the store to buy what you need when you need it. If I run out of toilet paper, there are more than 10 stores within ten minutes of my house where I can buy a pack at a good price. So why buy online?