Why retailers in every sector need to be agile

The phrase ‘the customer is king’ has been around for ages, but today, it’s never been more relevant. Shoppers are demanding better services and experiences, and putting retailers under immense pressure to respond.

But which demands come first? Speed, choice, convenience, value for money – consumers want it all, so where should investment be prioritised?

To get a better understanding of what a great retail customer experience looks like, Black Pepper Software surveyed 1,000 consumers. The results we got back underlined just how much their expectations vary; 54% admitted their behaviours change based on the type of purchase they are making.

Let’s look at some of our key findings surrounding some of the most frequently-purchased items…

Sector-specific channel demands

As a retailer, it’s critical to appreciate the differences in demand across buying channels. Even though a relatively small purchase like a new dress or drill might seem straightforward to the consumer, they exhibit distinctly different behaviours depending on what they are buying.

For instance, when it comes to grocery shopping, consumers generally (51%) use the store. Fashion buyers also tend to prefer to shop through single channels; 29% in-store and 24% solely online.

However, other sectors exhibit greater cross-channel activity. A fifth of us (21%) tend to research electrical appliances online before buying in-store. In DIY, 26% will research online before heading to their local store. Online clearly has a strong influence over in-store behaviour – particularly when it comes to small purchases.

In every sector, retailers should have the framework in place to provide a consistent offering, acknowledging the fact that today’s in-store shopper journeys are often informed by digital activity.

In-store interaction

Our survey also revealed some interesting findings around customer service.

A third of those shopping for fashion purchases prefer not to ask for help, and a fifth don’t find salespeople very helpful at all. In grocery, shoppers are more inclined to seek digital assistance; 28% of the people we spoke to would rather look up product information online or via a digital kiosk than ask for help.

However, a good number of DIY (17%) and electronics (13%) shoppers do appreciate personal assistance prior to purchase; presumably because such products often benefit from some explanation.

Taking these stats into account, it’s clear that retailers in all sectors need to offer a combination of both salesperson service and technologies that enable self-guided purchasing journeys. The challenge is introducing them so that they complement one another, and deliver the omnichannel consistency I mentioned earlier.

Getting personal

Another finding our study also showed is that although there is clear demand for more personalised service, retailers still have work to do in this area. 44% of consumers want stores to get better at recognising their online value, while 42% want to be acknowledged as a regular store customer when they shop online.

Sharing and using operational data enables retailers to deliver greater personalisation; empowered by technology, store associates can deliver better service, in line with individual customer demand.

With detailed product and customer information at their disposal, retailers are well placed to better secure sales, increase order value and build customer loyalty, based on the individual profile of each shopper.

Making progress in retail

Overall, our survey found that some retail sectors are providing a stronger customer experience than others at present. For example, 19% of consumers believe supermarkets are meeting their needs better than other forms of retailer, but only 8% feel the same way about fashion stores.

Regardless of sector, at the very least, consumers want an experience that offers consistency, transparency of availability and value, and equal rewards. To paraphrase Burger King’s old slogan, they want it their way. And if retailers can’t give it to them, they’ll go elsewhere.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, as our research shows; meeting the demands of the omnichannel customer is a complex task. However, there is clearly a need to bring digital interactions into physical settings, and therefore retailers need to think hard about which technologies they require – and which partners they need to work with – to make their business agile enough to meet every shopper’s expectation.

Download our report, Fit for the future: Is your business agile enough to keep up with the connected consumer?, to find out more.

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