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Shops still central to multichannel: report

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Some 45% of consumers ‘will always love going to the shops’ and 87% used them at some point in the past month, according to a new study that seems to put the bricks and mortar store firmly at the centre of the customer experience.

Shopping in a Multichannel World, a report from shopper behaviour research company Shoppercentric, found that 42% of 1,001 consumers quizzed said they had used a desktop computer at some point during their purchase journeys in the past month, with 55% using a laptop or netbook, 23% using catalogues, 13% using smartphones and 7% using a tablet computer. Nine per cent used a landline phone, 8% used an in-store touchscreen and 2% used internet TV.

Asked what they liked about stores, 70% said they were good when they wanted to talk to someone, 73% said they allowed them to experience items before buying them, while 69% said shops were a secure way of buying. Bricks and mortar also has an edge when it comes to customer service – 81% said they expected good customer service, compared to 42% from retail websites – and returns, where 66% said they expected a good returns policy from a shop and only 54% said the same for a retail website.

Shops were the most trusted channel for expert advice (68%), where brand websites scored 52%. While 62% of the younger generation, aged between 18 and 24, are in favour of new technology, 46% of this group also likes the social experience of going shopping. Those aged 34 to 45 are the most likely to prefer shopping online to going to the shops – 42% of this group also saw shopping as a chore, a sentiment shared by 49% of the over-65s.

Stores’ downsides, however, include being too crowded (79%), high prices (50%) and the time needed to go shopping (50%).

Online from any touchpoint was thought more convenient but lacked the security and ability to experience a product offered by a store. Desktops and laptops specifically make the shopping journey easier (81%), are useful way to research and find information (79%) and save time (77%). However, downsides included the inability to experience a product (59%), delivery charges (59%) and not being in for deliveries (54%). Some 53% cited the lack of a human face to the company, while only 58% thought it a secure way to shop.

Just under half (45%) of respondents said they owned a smartphone, which were most popular with the 18 to 24-year-old age group (64%), followed by 25 to 32-year-old shoppers (62%). Men (52%) were more likely to own one than women (39%). Some 74% of smartphone owners liked using them when on the move, while 64% appreciated their anytime, anywhere access and 61% said they were useful when finding a store. However 51% found the inability to experience products a downside. Other disadvantages were poor network coverage (46%) and slow connections (41%), while just 29% thought it a secure way to shop.

Tablets were owned by 14% of shoppers, with their owners more likely to be men (16%) than women (11%), and to be aged between 24 and 34 (21%), followed by 18 to 24-year-olds and 35 to 44-year-olds (both 17%). Users appreciated the easy access they offer to information (58%), using them to browse (58%), the way they fit into their lives (55%) and research (55%). Downsides included the inability to experience products (46%), the lack of a human face (43%), while only 47% thought it was secure to buy over a tablet.

Five per cent of shoppers said they had used a QR code, while 9% had used a retailer app and 5% an app from a brand. Some 7% said they had used social media during the course of a purchase.

“New technology channels are changing the way we shop,” said Danielle Pinnington, managing director of Shoppercentric. “The flexibility they provide gives shoppers almost universal choice and access. Despite this, our research says 45 percent of shoppers will ‘always love going to the shops, no matter what new technologies are available’. The key point is that shoppers are becoming very adept at picking and choosing the channel that suits them under particular circumstances.

“Yet retailers and brands have tended to compartmentalise – thinking of shoppers who shop versus shoppers who go online. They’ve even structured themselves so that the shops are managed by one team and the online by another – very few have successfully merged the two.

“Our data shows that a huge amount of overlap between channels exists - shoppers don’t assign individual roles to individual channels. Despite each channel having different core strengths and weaknesses, going online isn’t just about researching a product or buying (cheaply), and likewise visiting the stores isn’t just about browsing.

“The trick is to deliver a seamless, but tailored experience, to understand that channels have multiple roles for shoppers; they aren’t just where shoppers buy products, they are where they go for inspiration, information, advice, range, prices, offers, and product experience in order to make a purchase.

“Marketers should be excited about the prospect of being able to make an impact on the purchasing journey in many more ways than before. The opportunity to change shopper behaviour is better than it has ever been. The retailer or brand that is able to use all the channels at its disposal to meet shoppers’ needs is the business that will reap the rewards.”

Our view: It’s easy to perceive the growth of online commerce as taking away from the role of the store in our everyday transactions. Yet, as Danielle Pinnington points out, the truth is more complicated than that. Many, many of us are consulting a variety of different information points along the path to buying even quite small items, and ultimately part with our cash at the point that is most convenient to us at that moment in time. This research suggests local shops remain firmly part of the equation, even in times of austerity.

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