With growing numbers of consumers shopping online, retailers must focus on improving the customer experience both online and in-store.
That’s the key finding of the third annual Future of Retail Study from PR and digital marketing firm Walker Sands, which found that almost a third of consumers (31%) now shop online at least once a week, up from 22% in 2015, and nearly three-quarters do so at least once a month.
“The priority for retailers no longer lies in increasing the number of consumers who shop online, but rather improving their experience — whether it be online, in store or across different product categories,” said Dave Parro, partner and vice president at Walker Sands. “Our findings indicate that retailers should be focusing their current efforts on pragmatic strategies to lay the groundwork for future growth.”
The report recommends four areas where retailers should focus their attention this year.
- Supply chain and logistics: Seamless shipping, delivery and returns have become increasingly important to consumers over the past three years. Free shipping remains the top incentive driving more frequent online purchases (88%), followed by one-day shipping (69%), free returns/exchanges (68%), and easier online returns (58%).
- Integrated in-store and online experiences: The study showed that, although most consumers regularly shop online, there is still a clear preference to shop in physical stores for most product categories, and a receptiveness to blending the online and bricks-and-mortar experiences, for example through the use of beacon technology and virtual reality. Walker Sands found that seven in 10 consumers would be willing to opt into in-store tracking and mobile push notifications if retailers offered sufficient incentives.
- Luxury e-commerce: Consumers have become more willing to buy luxury goods online. The number of online shoppers who have purchased a luxury item, such as high-end jewellery, has more than quadrupled since 2014.
- Payment via mobile applications: So far, consumers have been slow to adopt mobile payments because of concerns over security and privacy. But with the continued rollout of Apple Pay and Android Pay, use is on the increase, particularly among Millennials, and confidence in mobile payment is growing.
“Our findings indicate that the future of retail isn’t in pure e-commerce, but rather in omni-channel solutions bringing technology in store,” commented Erin Jordan, account director and lead of the retail technology team at Walker Sands. “The combination of the appropriate use of new and emerging technology, such as virtual reality, beacons and drones, has the opportunity to bridge the online and in-store gap for consumers, while improvements in supply chain and logistics infrastructure will fuel growth for retailers from the back end.”