There’s no argument that COVID has changed how consumers shop. While omnichannel retail was a buzzword well before the pandemic hit in 2020, the sudden need to stay put moved consumers from shopping in-store to the comfort of shopping online rapidly. Younger consumers were already on the digital shopping path more and more; however, COVID drove consumers of all ages to adopt new practices including those digital purchases, curbside pickup and delivery.
While in-store continues to be the way the majority of consumers prefer to shop, online shopping has cemented its place in the hierarchy and is expected to continue to grow. For retailers, it is important to have a robust digital presence, in tune with the shopping experience consumers have come to expect in their stores.
According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, retail sales predict consumer spending trends, which then predict economic growth. Global retail sales are expected to top $30 trillion by 2023, compared with $17 trillion worldwide in 2017. Much of that growth is being driven by digital retail. Online retail sales reached nearly $5 trillion globally in 2021, almost double its numbers in 2018. And while the majority of consumers in all generations say they prefer to make purchases in a physical store, the shopping experience is starting online more often, and the lines are blurring between the channels.
The BEA continues that 87 percent of consumers polled said they started their shopping journey digitally. However, today 62 percent of Baby Boomers still prefer making a final purchase in store, and 58 percent of Gen Zers say the same. This could explain why such digital retailers as Wayfair and Amazon have dabbled in brick-and-mortar or pop-up stores during peak shopping seasons.
Today, 62 percent of consumers overall prefer to shop in stores so they can see, touch, feel and try out the products they are considering. That number is likely even higher for home furnishings retail, where furniture needs to be “sit-tested” and consumers benefit from the education they receive in home furnishings and lighting showrooms.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t referring to their digital platforms during that in-store shopping experience. According to Google, 82 percent of consumers consult information on their phones while shopping in-store. Having a strong online presence is essential for today’s retailers to ensure when consumers consult their phones, they show up. Consumers want options when it comes to shopping and convenience is key.
Three out of five consumers report that a retailer’s investment in technology, such as automated payments, in-store navigation and augmented reality, create a better shopping experience, according to the National Retail Federation. Sixty-three percent, for example, say they are satisfied with self-checkout experiences, and 69 percent appreciate mobile payment options. More than half of consumers, too, are interested in technology that lets them know if an item is in stock.
Many of these retail changes were adopted pre-Covid but after, if not done already, retailers need to fast-track their digital presence and the tools that make it easier for consumers to have a smooth, effective and secure shopping experience.
With so much of the buying journey happening online now, too, there are several areas where consumers have expressed a need for extra attention from retailers. Consumers are asking that retailers step up their information privacy practices. Securing personal data will give consumers more confidence. Sharing information on how you are keeping your customers’ information safe dovetails with another request from consumers. They want transparency. Are products in stock? If not, are there definitive arrival dates and times?
Shoppers also want to get their purchasing done quickly. They don’t want to wait in long lines or dealing with shipping delays.
A digital presence gives retailers an added opportunity to use content to engage with their customers. Digital newsletters sharing behind-the-scenes operations, new deliveries, sales and more can help personalize your store for your customers and give them a convenient avenue for learning more about your selection and store.
If honing your retail digital presence is something you’ve been putting on the back burner, now is a good time to assess how your customers find you, how they shop and what tools you should put in place to give them that seamless online/in-store experience.