Paul Skeldon, InternetRetailing’s Mobile Editor, investigates whether there’s a disconnect between what consumers say they want from mobile technology and what retailers are offering.
There is no denying that the Amazon Go idea has shaken up in-store retail. Without it pushing ahead with its high-tech solution to the perennial bugbear of having to queue up to pay, we are unlikely to have seen Tesco, Sainsbury’s Co-op and Budgens press ahead with their own ‘scan and go’ technologies.
However, what mobile retail means today – both digitally and in-store – has evolved from simply using the device in the shop to get either a web-like experience or to make life more simple. Yes, these are important drivers, but they are now just part of a complex pattern of how shoppers shop.
According to the Holiday Retail Outlook Report by Conversant, Epsilon and LoyaltyOne, while mobile shopping and new tech are on the rise, traditional stores do still have their place – especially at Christmas. The study reveals that 88% of consumers still make in-store purchases during the Christmas period – but retailers shouldn’t consider these in-store experiences separate from online shopping activities.
According to the research, 46% of consumers start their shopping in store and then purchase online, while more than half (58%) first browse online and buy their Christmas shopping in-store. For those retailers wishing to target younger shoppers, the vast majority (78%) were revealed to shop both in-store and online.
“Today, the omnichannel consumer experience is key,” says Elliott Clayton, SVP Media UK, Conversant. “It’s getting rarer and rarer for shoppers to research and buy in one single environment, be it in store, on their laptop, their mobile phone or tablet.
Instead, it’s far more common for consumers to shop across these channels – research the product on their laptop for instance, then popping into a store to see a product in person, before finally making a purchase on their mobile phone. Making this multi-environment experience as seamless as possible is key to ensuring the consumer stays loyal to your brand.”
This muddled up approach to shopping is going to be the theme of retail across this year’s peak season and on into 2019. Shoppers want the convenience of the web, they want the immediacy of mobile, but they also want the experience of the store and ability to touch and try the goods. They also like the ‘element of surprise’ of visiting stores – seeing things that they didn’t know that they wanted.
This hybrid of online and in-store shopping is controlled by mobile – it is the online element of both sofa commerce and in-store shopping – and it is leading to a rise in a variety of new ways of shopping.
Click and collect has remained bafflingly popular despite the growth of internet shopping and this trend is growing, driven by the hybrid nature of modern technology. the Omni-2000 Research: Global research from OrderDynamics, which has talked to 2,000 retailers around the world and found that omnichannel retailing is increasingly becoming the de facto way that retailers think, with mobile becoming increasingly important as part of a shift towards more click and collect.
For the second year in a row, the UK is the leading country in click and collect, with 64% of retailers offering the service, the study finds. This is driven by shoppers increasingly picking up their phone – or even talking to their voice device – while slumped on the sofa to buy goods, but wanting to go and collect them when near the shops at work or at the weekend.
On the flip-side of this click and collect phenomenon is another mobile and voice-driven in-store opportunity for retailers: Boris.
Buy online, return in store (Boris) is becoming a thing. The Omni-2000 Research suggests that 72.6% of omnichannel retailers offer Boris, as it is really popular with shoppers.
This builds on other growing trends in retail, such as Buy now, Pay Later – rolled out by ASOS earlier this year and recently also adopted by Prime Wardrobe in the US and UK by Amazon. These are the services that shoppers want – and stand against what many retailers are actually investing in.
Research by Klarna at this year’s London Fashion Week of what technology fashion retailers were looking to roll out and, conversely, what technologies consumers wanted to see in use in-store found an interesting dichotomy appearing. While fashion retailers want to invest in high tech features such as AR and VR, some 80% of shoppers say they wouldn’t be interested in using it.
Fashion retailers seem to be dazzled by the latest tech trends, while they still find the fundamentals a challenge.
A fifth of these retailers admit they are still struggling to get the basics right when it comes to digitisation, and a further 42% agree they’re so focused on getting online right that in-store technology isn’t a priority.
This is in stark contrast to what consumers say they actually want, with almost three quarters (73%) stating they value shopping in store, as it offers a human experience that can’t be recreated online. In short, retailers shouldn’t be writing off the value that a good in-store experience can bring to their business.
Instead, consumers want technology that takes measurements, so consumers can be sure items fit before buying (42%), and access to the same level of discounts in-store as they can access online (49%) were both top of the wish-list for consumers. In addition, a third (31%) of shoppers wanted to be able to pay later after they’ve left the store or pay after delivery, without their card.
However, despite clear direction from consumers on what the future of ‘fashtech’ should look like, retailers are prioritising other less functional features. Online personas & avatars (38%) came top when retailers were asked what they would like to integrate in the future, while shoppers’ top request was better variety of clothes (28%).
In addition, retailers wanted to create virtual stores to be viewed online (32%) despite the fact that only 10% of consumers said they’d like to see the same.
Howard Saunders, a self-declared ‘Retail Futurologist’ believes that: “The advance of technology is inevitable, and it’s clear that customers are undecided as to what the advantages of some of the latest technology is. What this research shows us is that retailers may enthuse and embrace technology as a means of reviving sales, but unless customers can see the benefits personally, it could be a wasted investment.
A muted response to technology like drone delivery, smart fabrics and virtual store assistants shows that removing the personal element from fashion retail could be a mistake. The future is coming at us fast, but it’s worth remembering we’ll still be human when it arrives.”
The lesson is that people don’t want just technology, nor do they just want ‘old fashioned retail’. Instead consumers inevitably want the perfect balance of the two: technology to add convenience, people to answer those more tricky questions. Getting this balance right is the real challenge that retailers face – what tech to invest in and where to deploy it and how that is going to play off on-going investment in staff.
Having the wrong mobile technology in store isn’t just a problem for customers, it is also having an impact on staff. Many shop workers are young and they are, in their normal, non-working, lives, highly digital – they use their phones and tablets to achieve all the things the rest of us do. When they come to work, they have to park that genius bit of kit and work in an increasingly arcane technology environment. And they hate it.
According to a survey of more than 500 retail workers by IT consultancy and technology firm REPL Group, almost half (44%) of UK retail staff say the biggest frustration in the industry is using outdated technology and a lack of training – and they are leaving the industry as a result of stores being ‘too rigid’.
Some 46% of those surveyed believe that stores managing their workforce more efficiently would improve their job satisfaction, while 70% feel more flexibility on pricing to match online competitors and more accurate forecasting would result in higher levels of in-store engagement.
According to 18% of respondents, their job satisfaction would be enhanced by having access to a customer’s purchase history when they walk into the store.
“We are finding that a large number of retailers are being held back by their existing digital set-up,” says Mike Callender, Executive Chairman, REPL Group. “These retailers must invest in new technology to address the concerns expressed by retail workers and avoid being left behind. By deploying up-to-date, in-store technology including POS upgrades, retailers will be able to overcome customer service frustrations by allowing its employees to easily place orders and check stock from the shop floor.”
Callender continues: “It is vital that retailers address these shortfalls in workforce management and forecasting by upgrading their current systems. By adopting new AI technology, retailers can gain access to more granular insights and simplify calculating forecasts and demand.”
The study also found that more than three-quarters (76%) of retail workers say that their store has been left unprepared for spikes in demand of certain products, particularly in the lead up to major games during this summer’s World Cup and periods of extremely hot weather.
“From the poll, we can also see that the majority of retail workers believe the high street is currently too rigid and lacks the flexibility in pricing offered by online shopping. Sadly, this could be the high street’s downfall, unless store owners act on the observations of those working on the shop floor and provide them with the correct tools to overcome these issues, perform their roles effectively and offer a better level of customer service,” adds Callender.