Retailers Must Unify In-Store, Online Customer Experiences
The ways consumers engage with brands continue to change rapidly, from making your purchases at brick-and-mortar locations to now completing the same transactions in the palm of your hand. Toluna’s How Do You Shop? survey polled over 500 respondents to see how in-store shopping vs. e-commerce is playing out across the country. Ninety-one percent reported shopping in-store, with 73 percent shopping in-store every week. Ninety percent reported shopping online. Those results mean that customer expectations are evolving beyond the much-talked-about shift toward online and mobile. Consumers now demand shopping experiences that pull from the best of both worlds: digital and brick-and-mortar. Struggling retail brands not only need an online strategy, they need to unify it with what they're doing in-store as well to create omnichannel shopping experiences.
Legacy brands have been forced to adapt to these multichannel challenges, yet recognizable names like J.C. Penney, Toys"R"Us, Sears, Kmart, dressbarn, Payless, and more comprise the nearly 6,000 store closings this year alone. Understanding consumer preference is critical when developing strategies to ensure success in both channels.
Here’s how retailers should implement omnichannel strategies in actionable ways:
Integrate Your Online and Offline Channels
In the past it was necessary to draw a line in the sand to say online is one thing and in-store is another. Yet the 90-to-91 percent survey numbers definitively highlight that retail and digital must coexist to thrive. Clearly, American consumers look at both experiences as extensions of one another with nearly equal levels of importance. Modern shoppers want products in the fastest and simplest ways possible, and understanding consumer demand and remaining agile by having both channels work more closely together can empower retailers to better understand consumers.
Since shoppers value the in-store experience as much as digital, to totally scrap one side of the equation would create an unsustainable imbalance. Retailers like Target have wisely established a unified strategy. You can purchase a whole host of items online, then have them ready for in-store pickup, or buy online and return in-store, in a continuous, complementary process.
Create a Seamless, Dynamic Digital Experience
The brands with the strongest e-commerce strategies do one essential thing best: they obtain customer insights and provide what customers want. According to survey results, 75 percent of consumers say they shop online for ease, while 56 percent cite accessibility. Respondents also choose to shop online to avoid crowds and long lines, and noted that a vast selection of products feature an advantageous price point even if there’s a shipping fee. To leverage this information, retailers must create a dynamic, easy-to-navigate mobile-first website that allows consumers to easily find items and check out. Having an entire warehouse of items at your disposal while sitting with your laptop on your couch requires less effort than gathering everything, getting in your car and navigating your way to a store’s location.
Online giants like Amazon.com enable consumers to select clothes, try them on at home once delivered, and simply return items without being charged. Sephora counterbalances in-store strengths by enhancing digital experiences, including producing content to educate shoppers and using customer data history to encourage smarter purchases. Deeper insights into shopping segments can provide an even more clear path to omnichannel success.
Optimize the In-Store Experience
Consumers continue to visit the thousands of new stores opened by still-thriving brick-and-mortar retailers because in-store environments have evolved alongside the industry to make the experience the point. Seventy-five percent of respondents said they shop in-store for instant access to products, 73 percent for the ability to try things on, and 48 percent to avoiding exorbitant shipping costs. All three factors connect shoppers to brands and products on a more immediate level than what they would find online.
Nordstrom has succeeded in this regard by eschewing department store clichés, from taking a more spatial approach to its fashion displays to even offering VIP dressing rooms. Best Buy has strengthened its in-store strategy by allowing shoppers to purchase items for the same price online as a way to pull in price-sensitive shoppers. This also plays into cross-selling scenarios for the nearly half of all shoppers who opt for in-store pickup that end up making additional purchases when they arrive in-store.
To truly resonate with consumers, online and in-store retail must become an extension of the same experience. Unless brands are willing to adopt an omnichannel, customer-centric strategy that's open to redefining traditionally accepted retail experiences, then the doors to your favorite retail store — online or offline — might not be around in the years to come.
Michele Morelli is senior vice president of global marketing strategy at Toluna, a leading provider of on-demand digital consumer insights.
Related story: Total Retail's 2019 Top 100 Omnichannel Retailers