Deborah Atkinson-Jones, owner of Deborah Jane Bridal in Morecambe asks: is online shopping really a one-stop shop and does one size actually fit all?

We’re still surrounded by adverts for 'January sales', yet this annual seasonal discounting now starts well before Christmas. It’s another (neon) sign of how much the traditional High Street is struggling to survive.

The National Office for Statistics reveals one in every five pounds spent in UK shops is now online, compared to one in ten just five years ago. Online sales rose a staggering 35 per cent in the first half of 2018 alone.

I know times are tough and we’re all looking to save money. Yet, outside any moral and altruistic urges to save the High Street, is online shopping actually a false economy?

This may seem a ludicrous question; we assume online retailers pass on the vast sums they save on rent and rates, fittings and utilities, and economies of scale.

I am talking about the customer experience. Some standard items are clearly convenient to click to buy. Online grocery shopping has become a boon for elderly and disabled people. But what about things you really need to touch, feel, fit, try?

You’d think bridal ware would be the last bastion of the 'in person, in shop' experience. Picture the iconic scene; swanning out of the changing room in 'The Dress' to admiring gasps. You won’t get that online!

So many brides have a 'dream dress' since childhood, which 'in the flesh' simply doesn’t suit. Similarly, they’ll leave the shop looking absolutely stunning in a style they would never have normally considered.

Personal service and face-to-face shopping in bridal also means you meet experts in fitting, corsetry, adjustments and accessories; all services you just can’t get online.

Yet more and more people are emailing me, texting me or messaging me through Facebook, rather than coming into the shop. This happens 24/7. They’ll be demands at 2am asking why I don’t think the size 6 dress they’ve seen pictured will suit a size 22. Brides are asking me to send them photographs of my range instead of coming in to see what’s on offer.

Search 'online wedding dress disasters' and your screen will fill with thousands of sorry tales. Fortunes spent on designer dresses, only to later receive something unrecognisable: ill fitting, perhaps badly sewn and off colour.

Even if that’s not the case, without trying it on, the chances are you’ll send it back. So why risk it?

It’s not just the bridal industry. This extends to 'everyday' clothing.

British retailers have seen returns rise by 20 per cent in the past two years to an astounding £7 billion annually. This means that half of all online clothing orders are returned, with the main reason being, “it doesn’t fit”. Truly we’ve become a nation of 'buy before you try'.

Aside from stress and inconvenience, what’s the cost? Make no mistake, even if your online retailer doesn’t appear to charge for returns, they do. Thirty per cent of businesses confirmed they increase the price of items to cover the cost of managing and processing returns.

It’s a serious situation, with an ongoing Parliamentary Inquiry into the future of retail, but it doesn’t have to be a one way (High) street.

Apple might be considered the ultimate hi-tech, yet they continue to invest in Apple Stores with incredible staff training, recognising that nothing beats hands-on experience and expert assistance.

So maybe pause before you click 'buy' and think about how much time and money you really invest in returns and reorders. Online shopping disappointments might give you a tale of woe to share, but wouldn’t you rather have a great experience and get it right first time?