Retailers must ‘unite online experience with in-store environment’, research says

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Retailers must create a channel agnostic customer experience to capitalise on the growing trend for shoppers to research products online while in-store before making purchasing decisions, according to research from customer journey management company Qmatic.

Qmatic managing director Vanessa Walmsley commented: “Retailers must deliver a consistent, seamless experience across all retail channels. With increasing numbers of customers trying items in-store and then purchasing online, retailers must continue to invest resources in improving the customer journey and ensuring the success of brick and mortar stores.”

The research was conducted by market research specialists Vanson Bourne and surveyed 100 retailers with over 501 employees. It found that 70% of retailers frequently see customers researching a product online before coming into a store to purchase it, with an additional quarter of respondents (24%) seeing this happen some of the time. These habits are particularly pronounced among younger consumers, with 100% of retailers finding that those aged between 18-24 researched products online before buying in-store.

This trend is echoed in research conducted by Qmatic this year that surveyed over 2,000 consumers about their shopping habits, which revealed that approximately 80% of consumers looked at a product online before purchasing it.

However, the growth in the online retail channel may pose a challenge to retailers. 87% of retailers who responded to Qmatic’s survey reported frequently seeing customers do the reverse process, trying or researching items in-store before buying them online. This can result in retailers missing out on potential sales and revenue, as customers seek cheaper prices online, Qmatic adds.

However the company believes that the optimum customer journey can be created by bringing the online and physical retail environments together.

Vanessa said: “Our research reveals that physical stores have a vital role to play in the future of retail, enabling consumers to see an item in the flesh, which they may only have seen online, before they buy it. Many customers do not feel comfortable buying a product online without seeing it first, and enjoy the experience and convenience of being able to take the item home with them immediately. However, omnichannel retailers face a real challenge to maintain sales volume when confronted by the convenience of online shopping, as consumers take advantage of the opportunity to research an item in-store, for example trying on clothes, and then order it online at a potentially cheaper price.

“It is essential for retailers to understand the customer journey and bring the online retail experience closer to the in-store environment. Technology can give retailers the tools they need to optimise the customer journey within their stores by providing self-service areas, increasing the number of mobile workers walking the floor and reducing friction in click and collect, returns and check-out areas to encourage more consumers to purchase while they are in-store.”

Vanessa added: “We know that customers are increasingly mobile and online-focused, so it is crucial that retailers adapt to this transformation. Reducing friction in the customer journey and offering consumers the ability to transition seamlessly between the online and physical retail platforms can play a crucial role in retailers maintaining their sales volume in-store and not losing business to online competitors.”

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