How Retailers Can Keep Up with Modern Consumers: A Q&A with Retail Expert Chris Petersen

Shoppers of today are more well-informed and empowered than ever. The rise of ecommerce, social media and mobile devices are putting a ton of information (and options) at your customers’ fingertips and are enabling them to get the knowledge and products they need however and whenever they want. They’re researching, shopping, and buying across multiple channels, and retailers must find ways to keep up.
As part of Vend’s Retail Success Webinar series, Francesca Nicasio caught up with Chris Petersen, CEO of Integrated Marketing Solutions, and asked him to share this thoughts on the changing shopping habits of consumers, and what retailers can do to stay competitive.

How are consumers of today different from those in the past?

What’s changing retail is the changing behavior of consumers. Consumers are now shopping anytime and everywhere, and that changes everything from a retailer’s perspective because the consumer is basically shopping all of the time.
And what’s key here is not only have consumers changed how they shop and where they shop, but they’ve also changed their expectations. They’re expecting that they can get a wider choice online and they’re expecting that they can benchmark prices. What that means for brick-and-mortar stores is that consumers have much higher expectations when they go into a shop–they’re now expecting higher levels of service and they want experiences that they can’t find online.
There’s also the fact that consumers these days are quite comfortable using smartphones. For most of the world, the smartphone is the screen of choice; it’s highly mobile, which enables showrooming and all of those concepts around that.
But what’s interesting is statistics have shown that more people webroom than showroom. There’s still a very high percentage of people buying products in store when it’s a considered purchase.
However, people aren’t going to stores to gather the fundamentals. When they walk into the store, they’ve likely already researched the features, recommendations and price comparisons of what they want to buy, but they’re going down there to have an experience with the product.

That’s a great overview of what’s changed. Now could you tell us about consumer habits or expectations that have stayed the same?

I think there’s still a habit of shopping being social. People don’t get that on the web. We sometimes forget that it’s not just a quest for a product or a price—there’s a social dimension of shopping. We still see people in the Mall of America and the big stores where there’s a social component that’s enjoyable and is part of the purchase decision. I think that part of shopping has stayed the same.
And there’s still the expectation that a store would have associates that people can talk to. Shoppers still go to stores because there are people there. However, while that’s still the same, the expectation of what that person does in the store is now heightened or increased, in terms of the consumer perception of value.
I also think there’s the perception of personalization. Consumers still go to stores because of the personal experience. You can get a personal custom fit, a personal recommendation, a personal experience through physical retail. You can’t really get that online.

What are the things retailers can do to cater to modern consumers?

It depends if the retailer is pure ecommerce, if they’re store-only or if they’re omnichannel. In general though, I think retailers need to have more touchpoints.
Shopping now is a journey, not an event. In a sense, shopping is a process. Maybe not when you’re buying chewing gum or something simple, but if you’re buying a dress, or shoes, or something you’re interested in, it’s a journey.
That journey typically starts online. And that doesn’t just mean retail websites. It can mean online guru sites where people talk about products. Mommy bloggers, for example, are a huge source of information that people turn to before heading to ecommerce.
Because of this, retailers need more touchpoints and they also need to engage consumers sooner. That’s the first thing retailers need to do.
The second thing is provide information beyond product features and specs. Most of that is very quick and easy to get when consumers are comparing prices or products, so what consumers are looking for now is use scenarios, how it applies, consumer testimonials—in other words, information beyond the product.
The third thing is assistance everywhere. So if I’m an ecommerce site, I’ll be looking at things like chat boxes or offers of assistance. I’ll look into things things that ecommerce players can do other than just offer an electronic catalog.
I can probably give you six or eight more of these, but the big ones are a) engage early with customers; b) give them more than product features; and c) personalize their shopping journey.

In terms of offline retail, what can retailers do to convert and engage customers in-store?

One of the things retailers have to understand is that online always wins in terms of the breadth of the store. In the past, a lot of retailers focused on stocking more things in the store. In other words, more is better.
But that’s no longer the case. Now, the retailers that seem to be winning are the ones that curate assortments. What that means is carefully selecting the top styles, showing the top models, or offering a showcase of “good, better, best” instead of trying to stock every color or every single SKU.
Another thing is to recognize that the consumer may want to check things online or via mobile while they’re in-store. A good example of this is John Lewis. They’re engaging consumers in the store, and enabling them to use an app, website, or touchscreen. That way, if they have any questions or can’t find what they need, they can look it up, engage with the staff, or engage by themselves.
Another huge component is staffing. Retailers tend to view labor as a cost, not a selling asset. So they end up reducing hours, training, and labor costs, when what they should be doing is to recognize that associates are key to providing compelling in-store experience and adding sales to the basket.

Want more retail insights?

If you’re looking for more insights on the changes surrounding consumers and retailers, Chris will be hosting Vend’s upcoming Retail Success webinar, The Great Retail Disruption — Omnichannel is the New Normal at 1:00pm PDT / 4:00pm EDT on May 20. It’s free for anyone to attend, simply register your interest here.

Chris Petersen, PhD, CEO of Integrated Marketing Solutions, is a strategic consultant who specializes in retail strategy, customer experience, and retail metrics. He has built a legacy working with Fortune 500 companies to achieve measurable results in improving their performance and partnerships.

Photo Credit: Vend POS with permission to use.

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