By Paula Courtney

What motivates the consumer of today and what will motivate them tomorrow? This is the eternal question that, in retail, we must be continuously mindful of.

In partnership with the Retail Council of Canada and Google, WisePlum recently launched our second annual study: Understanding the Canadian Consumer, an exploration into what consumers truly want and need. The goal was to gain a better understanding of the attitudes and experiences of Canadian consumers across the entire shopping journey, regardless of channel. The study, consisting of an online survey, analyzed data from the responses of over 5,000 consumers in fall 2018. Needless to say, some of the results surprised us.

Takeaway #1: Omnichannel shoppers are all shoppers
Just because someone is fond of the bricks-and-mortar (B&M) experience, it doesn’t mean that they make their purchases wholly in-store. Findings from the study support the need for this shift in thinking. Retailers need to view consumers as omnichannel consumers, because in today’s marketplace, that’s exactly what they are:
61% of shoppers did at least one online activity prior to an in-store purchase;
65% of shoppers did at least one offline activity prior to an online purchase, and
On average, shoppers engaged in more than two cross-channel activities before making a purchase.

Before a consumer even steps foot in a store, or opens a web site to make a purchase, there are many forces at work. Consumers compare prices, browse products and online flyers, check out reviews and ask friends and family for input. Retailers must meet their customers in their desired channels throughout the purchase journey, particularly during the research phase as 80% of those surveyed had already decided which retailer they were going to use before making the decision to purchase.

Takeaway #2: Customer friction abounds throughout the retail experience
Retailers should be worried. Why? Because despite the large investments that most of them have made in improving the customer experience, consumers continue to experience friction during their purchase journey. We found that half of all consumers surveyed reported experiencing problems at some point during their last purchases. And it’s not a single isolated issue. Those surveyed reported having, on average, 3.4 problems during their last shopping trip.

There is a stark contrast between purchase channels. Those who made their purchases online were more likely to report problems than those who made their purchase in-store: 67% to 41% respectively. This is the second year in a row where we found that the online experience resulted in more friction than the B&M experience.

For online purchases, it’s not the slow-loading photos or the lack of inventory that’s the problem: it’s the finish line. 55% of those who made a purchase online reported issues, with being “forced to login/sign-up to complete purchase” being the top complaint.

Why should retailers care? Our findings show that when consumers experience a problem they become less loyal. But we were surprised to learn that the degree of loyalty suppression varies by purchase channel.

When in-store shoppers don’t experience friction, 51% will definitely recommend that retailer to a friend or colleague. But when friction occurs only 44% will definitely recommend that retailer: a difference of seven percentage points.

We see more extreme results for online shoppers: 59% of those without friction compared to 41% of those with friction will definitely recommend that retailer to a friend of colleague, which is a difference of 18 percentage points. The upside is greater when retailers deliver great online experiences, but unfortunately when friction exists, so is the downside.

Takeaway #3: Customers want improvements that make shopping easier
The shopping experience doesn’t necessarily have to be personalized, but it must be easy. Sure, there’s a lot of focus on the use of technology to jazz up the shopping experience. But at the end of the day, today’s shopper still cares about the basics: faster check-out and improved product availability and assortment, regardless of whether it’s an in-store or an online purchase. These types of improvements save consumers time and make it easy for them to find the products they want, how they want it.

An area for improvement that we were surprised to learn is low on a consumer’s list pertained to sustainability. We explored consumer opinions on the topic of packaging with online purchases. We were shocked by what we discovered. When asked to describe the packaging used for shipping, a vast majority of consumers, 81% to be exact, said they found it to be just the right amount.

Perhaps we would see a different insight if we cross-referenced this question with frequency of online orders. Someone who shops online once a week certainly won’t have as much packaging to toss away as the person who shops every day

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Despite a lack of consumer concern, consolidated packaging may be the future of online ordering. Amazon lets their customers pick if they want their packages shipped as quickly or in as few boxes as possible. Will other brands quickly follow in their footsteps and consolidate their own shipments? Time will tell.

Tomorrow’s retail leaders must recognize that consumers can no longer be discretely classified as online or in-store. With this in mind, tomorrow’s retail leaders will excel at making things easier and minimizing friction across all touchpoint in the purchase journey.

These key insights, sound bites and nuggets of information can be found in our online report at WisePlum.com. It all comes down to delivering against basic human needs. We don’t want fancy things, we want it fast and easy.

Paula Courtney is product founder of WisePlum (www.wiseplum.com) and president and CEO, The Verde Group. WisePlum, a collaboration between LoyaltyOne and The Verde Group, is a customer experience insights tool. The Verde Group specializes in helping companies measure the cost of customer dissatisfaction, prioritize the issues based on return on investment and quickly fix them for improved retention and profitability.

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