Now over two years into the pandemic, the apparel retail category is steadily recovering following declines in 2020. With consumers returning to in-person workplaces, schools and social activities, the need for new clothes has been met with changes to the retail landscape and, inevitably, the role of digital vs. in-store shopping.
A new report from Sense360 by Medallia uncovered emerging differences between online and in-store shoppers. Understanding these distinctions can help retailers win over today’s consumers.
Apparel’s recovery has been driven primarily by a sustained shift toward digital shopping, with in-store sales still trending below pre-pandemic levels. Though certain pandemic-induced habits have stuck, including consolidated shopping trips to accomplish more in each visit, in-store transaction volumes are still down compared to 2019 levels. However, the data reveals that consumers are buying more in each purchase, which could be a result of pandemic-induced habits.
Online shoppers have some demographic differences from in-store shoppers and also have a higher degree of concern about COVID-19. Online visits are especially short, with the majority lasting just under 20 minutes, and almost one in five lasting under 10 minutes.
With shorter online sessions, retailers have a smaller window of opportunity to convert browsers into buyers. They can use the following tactics to act more strategically:
- Deals: Online shoppers are especially motivated by deals when it comes to choosing a retailer (37 percent for online vs. 22 percent for in-store). Retailers should promote deals both before and during the online shopper’s visit to maximize conversion.
- Personalization: Retailers stand to benefit from personalizing displayed products to be relevant to the shopper, as many shoppers prioritize stores and products that match their existing style or wardrobe. This is more important in the eyes of consumers than alternative product customization or tailoring services.
- Search engine optimization (SEO): Online retailers can benefit from understanding how shoppers behave before and after visiting. SEO may be a bigger marketing priority than digital ads on websites or social media platforms, considering 52 percent of shoppers cited arriving via a search engine vs. 4 percent via social media and banner ads.
- Smoother returns: The anticipated product return rate is surprisingly lower for online shoppers than in-store (21 percent vs. 14 percent), which is likely a reflection of online shoppers wanting to be “sure” before making a purchase due to often inconvenient processes of returning through mail. Subsequently, the non-buyer rate is higher for online shoppers to begin with. Many conversion opportunities are likely being left on the table by retailers unable to reduce friction points on returns.
What Can Apparel Retailers Do to Better Understand Their Own Online Shoppers?
Service touchpoints and opportunities to collect feedback are more limited for online shopping occasions compared to in-store. However, during the few employee interactions that happen in the online journey, online shoppers are less satisfied with those experiences.
In short, retail shopper journeys have evolved both online and offline, and will continue to do so as new technology, e-commerce, and payment solutions emerge. Maintaining a pulse on the digital customer experience requires tools beyond verbal customer feedback alone. Analyzing digital user sessions, heat maps and bottlenecks in the checkout process is now feasible at scale, with objective scoring metrics through machine learning. These capabilities, plus external research to benchmark market share, frequency and retention, are key to winning the online shopping battle.
Andrew Custage is the head of analytics at Sense360 by Medallia, a consumer behavioral intelligence and benchmarking platform.
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