Proliferating touchpoints and the meteoric rise of online-only merchants have forced the retail industry into a race to the bottom. But the 2018 Kibo Consumer Trends Survey suggests that the tide is turning, and retailers and branded manufacturers can differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace by showcasing their most unique assets.
As we’ve discussed previously, competition has been fierce to offer the lowest prices, the steepest discounts, and the fastest free shipping — often to the detriment of small- to mid-sized merchants whose lower order volume can’t make up losses in margins. Furthermore, the dominance of mass merchants has steepened the challenge when it comes to attracting shoppers in the first place: when asked what sources they use to research potential purchases, 69% of participants said they turned to search engines — the top pick — while 61% said they used Amazon.com. Visiting a retailer’s Web site trailed the Amazon option by some 10 percentage points, while just 38% of shoppers said they researched on branded manufacturer Web sites.
On the other hand, the survey also suggested that shoppers hunger for experiences richer and more personal than what mass merchants can deliver. Indeed, while 61% of survey participants named price as the top factor influencing purchase decisions, indicating that it’s still their primary consideration, that percentage is down by more than 12.8% year over year.
By contrast, the importance of the shopping experience doubled, and the percentage of participants naming the variety and speed of fulfillment options as deciding factors grew by 1.3x and 3x, respectively. Furthermore, shoppers are less brand-conscious than previously, with the percentage seeking out products and merchants by brand name dropping — a finding that holds out hope to sellers when it comes to winning over new customers.
In short, in a world where sales and discounts are ubiquitous year-round, shoppers are increasingly cognizant of what sets merchants apart — and are willing to explore the possibilities with sellers who are new to them. To win them over:
Branded manufacturers should showcase deep content.
Whether or not they have a specific brand in mind, the Kibo survey found that shoppers primarily turn to retailers, both online and offline, to make purchases. But the availability of deep content, including inventory information, can counteract this tendency and encourage direct connection with branded manufacturers.
Indeed, more than half of survey respondents said they expect extensive content on branded manufacturer Web sites, suggesting that product images, videos, detailed specifications, comparison guides, and other consideration tools are all apt investments. More than 61% said they expect to see product reviews on manufacturer Web sites, a finding that reflects an overall preoccupation with authentic recommendations and ratings from shoppers, which a whopping 91% of survey participants have consulted in the past six months.
Another type of product information is also key for branded manufacturers: where and how to order products, and how many are available. Inventory access and availability are crucial: more than half of survey participants said they expect a manufacturer to have items in-stock, while 45% believe they’ll find a greater variety of products available, and 40% believe manufacturers will have more items than retailers. Similarly, a third of respondents said that a greater array of potential fulfillment options is a reason to seek out a branded manufacturer Web sites — suggesting that manufacturers need to implement accurate inventory visibility for items not only within their own direct-shipping operations, but for partner retail outlets as well.
Retailers should view stores as valuable assets — not relics.
The recent news about Toys “R” Us notwithstanding, headlines about the end of stores couldn’t be further from the truth. The Kibo survey found that shoppers increasingly recognize and value physical outlets not only as fulfillment depots that can offer a viable alternative to free home delivery, but also as valuable resources offering one-to-one assistance.
Buy Online, Pickup In-Store (BOPIS) is now considered a mainstream offering, with 67% of survey participants having used it in the past six months. Furthermore, shoppers widely recognize that BOPIS offers not only free order fulfillment, but also a degree of flexibility and control not available via home delivery.
Indeed, the ability to inspect items in the store before taking them home was the BOPIS benefit whose importance grew the most year over year — suggesting that stores’ tactile experiences are important brand assets. Substantiating this finding is shoppers’ increasing willingness to engage store associates for assistance finding items; 57% of survey respondents said they’ve done so, an 18.75% increase from 2017. More than two-thirds of respondents said they expected those associates to have access to their order histories, suggesting expectations are high for knowledgeable interactions that draw on shoppers’ past interactions across touchpoints.
On the other end of the spectrum, stores also hold appeal for high-efficiency shoppers. Not only is a dedicated BOPIS pickup counter perceived as a potential time saver, but curbside service is increasingly popular, with 13% of respondents reporting having used it — a jump of nearly 86% compared with last year. Similarly, half of survey participants have taken advantage of store associates’ “line busting” capabilities via mobile point-of-sale — and the percentage doubled of those who’d used the service more than seven times in six months, suggesting its appeal and adoption are growing.
Download the complete survey for many more data points on topics ranging from personalization to loyalty discounts to live chat usage. How are you maximizing your unique assets to survive and thrive in 2018?