Retail consumers today are often referred to as “demanding.” In truth, however, the retail industry is as much to blame as customers are. In a study we commissioned of 4,500 shoppers conducted by Forrester Consulting, shoppers told us they want less hassle when it comes to product delivery and greater engagement with retailers.
Convenience and more personalized connection sound eminently reasonable. So why aren’t retailers doing a better job?
Which leads to a second problem: Retailers don’t ask customers enough questions, listen carefully to the answers, and then follow through with solutions. Without information on shoppers’ preferences, retailers can’t know shoppers and make their lives easier.
So in our survey, we asked customers questions. Lots of them, in fact. What they told us can help change your organization.
Make Shoppers’ Lives Easier
For shoppers, convenience transcends all channels. Whatever the channel, they want products to be in stock and easy to find, and delivery and return policies to be hassle-free. Convenience even infiltrates purchase decisions: While price ranks as the top influence on purchases for 26% of survey respondents, a resounding 74% point to convenience-related factors.
Omnichannel’s many moving parts increase the possibility of inconsistent experiences — and sharp-eyed shoppers have taken notice. While two-thirds (67%) have used omnichannel fulfillment options such as buying merchandise in the store or online and having it shipped to their home, only 31% report consistently positive experiences. Their top omnichannel complaints? Lengthy shipping times and operational issues such as long pickup lines.
Stores Rule — For Now
It seems anachronistic in the tap-and-swipe era, but the preferred channel for consumer purchases remains the store. Convenience is the store’s strong suit: It lets shoppers view and touch products, buy them and bring them home. Indeed, 59% of shoppers prefer to see products for themselves and try them out.
That’s all good news for store operators.
Equally helpful are shoppers’ strong opinions about how retailers can improve their in-store experiences and boost convenience. Among the missteps they report are repeated requests for the same information at checkout, long checkout lines and store associates’ lack of product information and knowledge.
So far, shoppers see few results of retailers’ investments to improve stores. Lack of interest in new value-added services is a problem. Six of 10 shoppers (59%) prefer to look up product information on their mobile device rather than use in-store services such as smart tags or digital displays. Another problem is out-of-order services. One out of four respondents report encounters with non-operating in-store technologies.
For many shoppers, store associates are liabilities rather than assets. Half of shoppers (51%) report store associates aren’t knowledgeable about the retailer’s products. A scant 31% depend on them to find the right product to purchase.
No wonder customers prefer to shop independently among the aisles. When asked if they’d like to receive style and product advice from an associate on trends and product innovations, 66% of shoppers said they prefer to go it alone, selecting sizes and styles on their own. Ouch.
Providing associates with technology doesn’t seem to be the answer. While just 30% of shoppers have received aid from an associate using a mobile device, only one quarter of those (28%) would do it again.
Consumers with smartphones have a wealth of helpful resources in the palm of their hands. To compete for their attention, in-store assistance has to pack more convenience. So far, it doesn’t.
Shoppers Are Waiting To Hear From You.
That’s where personalization comes in. Shoppers in our survey indicate a preference for retailers to connect with them one to one, rather than through in-store kiosks and digital signage. Two-thirds of shoppers (66%) report they’re more likely to respond to custom offers. What’s more, personalization can go a long way toward deepening customer relationships: More than half (53%) of shoppers agree they’re likely to spend more time with retailers that they feel understand them, and 54% are more likely to establish loyalty. (For more on customer loyalty programs, read “The New Rules of Engagement for Loyalty Programs.”)
Instead, shoppers tell us many retailers still flood e-mail in-boxes with offers that are too generic and fall short on savings or value.
Convenience and personalization are simple in concept yet difficult to execute.
Here’s how your organization can begin to remove hurdles:
In our research, just four out of 10 (39%) retailers say they gather data by surveying customers. Yet more than half of shoppers (59%) are willing to answer short surveys or questionnaires in exchange for more relevant offers from retailers. What’s more, they’re open to sharing a bonanza of information that’s useful for personalization, including preferences for brands and promotions (71%) and details on hobbies and activities (58%). It’s time for retailers to reach out to customers and ask more questions.
Focus omnichannel efforts on optimizing for customer experience – and on operational excellence.
In transforming to omnichannel, retailers often focus on improving CX while ignoring operations. But operations can be the key to achieving profitability, long-term customer satisfaction and ROI from scaling digital investments. Making sure investments are made on both sides of the equation is key to moving an organization forward.
Address omnichannel challenges in the store environment.
Failing to iron out issues regarding in-store operations and customer experiences can result in low omnichannel adoption rates and even customer attrition. Determine opportunities to not only improve store experiences but also align your strategy regardless of channel. Pilot omnichannel fulfillment options in select locations before rolling them out widely to stores.
Put personalization back on track by revisiting the quality and quantity of your customer data.
Your ability to deliver relevant customer experiences hinges on the quality of customer data. Are your digital touchpoints designed to collect and use data to enrich the customer’s experience as well as your ability to understand customer intent and preference? If no digital touchpoints exist in the store environment, can you build a business case for creating them in order to capture insights?