Why is it that so many consumers in the UK find shopping so deeply frustrating? Despite huge investment in the technology that enables us to shop online, in-store, or on a smartphone, the great majority of us are still unhappy with the experience, whichever way we shop.
It cannot all be blamed on Brexit uncertainty and inflation. Something is amiss in UK retail.
In quarterly research among 1,215 consumers for the fourth Omnico Retail Gap Barometer in August 2017, 72% of consumers said shopping is a frustrating experience regardless of method.
And the bad news is that shopping in a store produces more irritations than online. More than a quarter described their in-store experience as poor and one-in-five was fed up with being unable to see all the stock available (a contrast with online), while another 19% believe that anyone in a store can never be sure they are getting the best deal.
Even satisfaction with click-and-collect fell across the course of the year, while almost every respondent (98%) said retailers still do not know what they like, despite the great investment that has taken place in personalisation algorithms.
These are all threats to the long-term viability of bricks-and-mortar shopping which store operators need to address now. But to do so is far from impossible.
Backend solutions are available that give consumers a full and accurate view of their stock, no matter which method of shopping is being used. This includes smartphones and in-store kiosks so that shoppers can serve themselves. It is no use having customers waiting for staff to assist them. Advances in beacon technology also make it possible for a customer to be recognised by their smartphone as they enter a store and have the items saved on their wish-list picked out on a store layout map so they can go and find them.
Retailers can also use technology to give customers reassurance that they are not missing out on the best price or offer just because they are in-store. Their loyalty points or discounts should follow the customer regardless of channel and be up-to-date, however they shop.
Then we come to one of the most vital aspects – the stock has to be available. Retailers need to be capable of fulfilling orders from the nearest location, rather than wasting time retrieving items from a remote central warehouse. When customers can obtain what they want in a day online, they will not tolerate having to wait several days just because they wanted to buy it in a store.
Returns should also be much easier, as our research shows them to be a consistent source of unhappiness among consumers. More than a third of respondents in the Omnico Barometer said they want to be able to return goods by any method, irrespective of how they were bought.
Amazon’s Prime Wardrobe may signal the direction for other retailers to follow, with customers only paying for what they keep, with free returns within a time limit. To compete retailers need a much more effective omnichannel technology, that enables retailers to monitor stock in greater detail and optimise its handling across any channel.
Retailers must also think seriously about deploying virtual and augmented reality technology in the shape of smart mirrors or applications that overlay furniture and home décor products onto the customer’s room, for example. More than half the respondents (56%) in the Omnico Barometer believe these advances will help shoppers decide what to buy in stores.
Indeed, what becomes apparent from our research is that retailers must not favour one channel over another, but invest substantially in technology that makes the omnichannel shopping experience an everyday reality which is genuinely frictionless. It means having the solutions that permit consistent and accurate stock visibility, availability and personalisation, no matter how the consumer is shopping. This is how we will bring down those worryingly high levels of consumer frustration.
By Mel Taylor, the chief executive officer at Omnico.
Picture credit: undrey (Fotolia)