The rise of online shopping seems relentless but, when it comes to a product as substantial as a garden building, should people visit a physical garden centre - or is choosing a shed, greenhouse or pergola in front of a laptop or mobile phone just as satisfactory?
Double figure growth is again predicted this year for online sales and it won't be long before 20% of all purchases are made by customers who aren't interested in traditional shopping.
The question is whether the rapidly increasing minority are really missing out on anything. Buying theatre tickets or holidays online is somewhat different to purchasing garden structures, surely making a decision on the latter demands seeing the product in person.
Reasons why people still visit garden centres vary from avoiding delivery fees to having the item immediately available. As far as garden buildings are concerned, many online retailers offer free delivery while it is unlikely you will fit a 10 x 8 shed in your family hatchback.
Overwhelmingly, the most compelling reason why people are still shopping in the traditional manner is that they like to inspect the goods personally.
How many times have you bought something online subsequently to find that the product that's not quite what you expected? Perhaps a slightly different colour, smaller or larger than you imagined, or not nearly as good quality as the description would have you believe.
Prospective in-store purchases can be seen in the flesh, you can stand inside a shed, inspect the quality of the timber used to build an arbour and check whether the specifications of a greenhouse are exactly as stated.
There's also the sales assistant. Sometimes they are pests who need to be swatted away, but most garden centre staff are well trained and knowledgeable, able to answer questions, explain the differences between similar products and be generally helpful rather than a hindrance.
If you’re unsure on where to shop for such a big purchase, here’s our recommended retailers for when you decide that a new garden building is in order.
- Your nearest local garden centre is always a good place to start.
- Your nearest Notcutts Garden Centre.
- Your local B&Q store.
- Your local Homebase store.
- Amazon - Amazon isn’t just for buying books or DVD’s anymore, it sells virtually everything you could think of, including cabins, sheds and greenhouses.
- GardenSite.co.uk - Boasting 60 years of gardening knowledge and thousands of reviews online, it’s worthwhile browsing their pretty extensive range.
- Tesco Direct - Run of course by Tesco, but offering much more than your weekly groceries.
Of course the number of products in a bricks and mortar establishment is always going to be less than you see online. Whereas anyone can quickly surf through a sea of models and brands on a phone or laptop and, although this can sometimes be overwhelming, with some efficient filtering you will soon arrive at a selection of alternatives to fit your outdoor space.
This is where online and traditional retailing can become symbiotic. Many people will visit a garden centre, check up on a product and then order online. Others will look online, compare products and then visit a physical retailer to make their final decision.
Price also comes into the equation with online perceived as cheaper, but that's certainly not always the case and in a traditional environment you are benefiting from what might be termed as a premium service.
There's no doubt that online retailing will continue to increase but garden buildings are serious purchases, you're not buying sausages, and so with many factors to take into account, a visit to your garden centre will always be worthwhile - even if the purchase is eventually made online.