New Survey: Shoppers’ Expectations for Digital Stores

October 27, 2016

Even as the evolution of digital stores has brought in-store and online shopping experiences closer together, merchants have been slow to adapt. Despite shoppers’ overwhelming preference for retail brand interactions that seamlessly cross touchpoints, most stores offer only superficial connections to digital resources, according to a new study by Kibo, WBR Digital, and Future Stores. But merchants can still catch up by focusing on a handful of techniques that put the emphasis on flexible options and ubiquitous transparency.

By now merchants are well aware of consumers’ desire for consistent, unified shopping experiences. Some 72 percent of U.S. smartphone owners have used their devices to shop while in-stores, and more than a third have used “buy online, pick up in store.”  

Furthermore, shoppers’ expectations are so high that merchants will tap the flow of online information in-stores to improve customer service. When asked what they expect store associates equipped with mobile devices to be able to do,

  • 60 percent expect them to be able to look up product information
  • 59 percent expect them to be able to look up inventory on-site if the shelf is empty, and 55 percent expect them to be able to check inventory at other nearby outlets
  • 47 percent expect them to be able to access product information such as warranties
  • 45 percent expect them to be able to reserve items at another store
  • 37 percent expect them to be able to conduct a checkout

The good news is that merchants are starting to move in the right direction to meet these expectations. More than half of participants in Kibo’s “In-Store Testing and Defining the Future of Omnichannel” survey currently offer “buy online, pick up in-store” services, with another 42 percent saying they plan to invest in the strategy in the next year. And fully 77 percent of participating merchants reported using mobile devices to enhance store shopping experiences.

But a deeper dive into the results suggests that actual usage of those mobile devices has a long way to go. When asked what digital information is available in-store, two-thirds of merchants said they can pull up customer records — but just 56 percent can access basic information such as what promotions are on offer on their own eCommerce websites.

Furthermore, just 48 percent of merchants said they can access product information and potential cross-sell opportunities. Given that the majority of merchants report their marketing efforts are only somewhat targeted and personalized, if at all, it’s clear that store associates are hamstrung when it comes to delivering a digitally-informed, consultative sales experience that can meet expectations, boost order values, and earn loyalty.

For many merchants, the first step toward rectifying the situation is investment in technology. When asked what stopped their store associates from offering “save the sale” opportunities, for example, 54 percent of merchants said their current technology won’t support it.

The message is clear: while it’s daunting to consider overhauling such basic systems as order management, point of sale and the eCommerce platform to fully integrate digital assets and data, merchants must begin such undertakings sooner rather than later if they’re to remain competitive. To prove the potential worth of such investments, merchants should:

  • Maximize visibility of all inventory options everywhere. Merchants who’ve invested in inventory transparency should make the most of it, not just through the fulfillment options they offer from the online product page, but throughout the shopping experience. On-site search results should offer an option to filter by in-store availability; geo-targeted email offers should display items available in stores nearby; and in stores, the option to order “long-tail” SKUs should be highlighted. Kibo merchant Party City uses copious store signage to tout the availability of customized products, more colors, and bulk quantity orders online.
  • Empower store associates with training, incentives, and discounts. Fully 77 percent of merchants in the Kibo study recognized store associates as their more valuable in-store asset. To demonstrate this belief, merchants should invest in thorough digital training for store associates, including periodic updates on new online offerings, as well as incentives that credit associates for sales they earn regardless of fulfillment method. Finally, merchants should empower associates to “save the sale” with free shipping offers with the potential to offset shoppers’ disappointment if the product they seek isn’t immediately available.

To learn more about how to bridge the gap between eCommerce and in-store expectations, we invite you to download the In-Store Meets Online Study.