Today’s consumers are a different breed of shopper. They expect a seamless, zero hassle shopping experience and nothing less. Struggling retailers like Macy’s, Sears, J.C. Penny and more, which have fallen victim to increased competition and online sales, have served as an ominous warning to the industry at large.
Countless surveys and studies show that more and more consumers expect retailers to provide an omnichannel shopping experience that drives online and in-store shopping. Retailers that put off incorporating these options (buy online, pick up in-store; order ahead; and out-of-stock shipping options) are virtually guaranteeing that their customers will eventually turn to another retailer that offers a faster, more modern shopping experience. In addition, according to our data, shoppers have added an extra layer of pressure: they have come to expect the big-box experiences even at small to midsized retailers, which are struggling to deliver.
Yet just because the big-box retailers have made strides in adapting to these shifts in shopping behaviors first, it’s wrong to assume that these experiences — and the tech enabling them — are out of the question for small to midsized retailers. Here are ways SMB retailers can stay competitive in today’s retail environment.
Meet Today’s Consumers Where They Are
E-commerce has drastically changed the way consumers shop. Of the nearly 100 percent of Americans with internet access, about 80 percent have shopped online in the past month alone (and of the more than 154 million consumers who shopped over Thanksgiving weekend this year, 44 percent went online). As the retail industry continues to shift and brands battle to stay in business, providing access to online shopping in addition to brick-and-mortar is no longer just a suggestion, it’s table stakes, regardless of whether you’re operating a large or small business. Our research, which compared shopper expectations and retailer offerings, suggests that three-quarters of shoppers expect a retailer to have both in-store and online shopping available. However, less than half of retailers offer the capability to do so today.
Go the Extra Mile
Providing the option to shop online and in-store is a great first step, but consumers expect more. They want to shop online and return in-store, buy online and pick up in-store, purchase out-of-stock items in-store and have them delivered to their home, and much more. Add the threat of stiff competition from big-box retailers and e-commerce giants like Amazon.com, and smaller retailers have little choice but to listen to their customers or risk lost sales and loyal customers.
We’ve found that small to midsized retailers have an opportunity to capitalize on offering omnichannel options beyond just shopping online and in-store. Fifty-seven percent of shoppers find it very important that stores have a “buy online, return in-store” option, but only 20 percent of retailers offer this capability. While adding an option like this doesn't happen overnight, the apparent disconnect between shopper preference and retailer offerings should be a wake-up call to retailers looking for ways to improve their shoppers’ experiences.
The retail industry has never been more in flux, but small to midsized retailers can compete by meeting shoppers’ needs and desires. While the holiday shopping season brings an increased level of pressure on its own, the promise of 2018 presents opportunities for retailers to tap into their customers’ expectations and offer an omnichannel shopping experience that will inspire loyalty, customer satisfaction and continued success.
Henry Helgeson is the president of Cayan, a provider of payment technologies and merchant services.