Understanding the consumer will drive retailers’ future success

Whether traversing a local bus route or negotiating a packed commuter train, a quick glance at fellow travellers highlights how dramatically consumer behaviour has changed in just a few short years. Window gazing and cumbersome newspaper handling have been significantly side lined by mobile phone scanning and tablet browsing.

In fact, a new Retail Week report, published in association with BT, based on a survey of 2,000 shoppers and in-depth exclusive interviews with a nationally representative sample of UK consumers, has revealed that 31.2% of people surveyed say online shopping has changed their experience more than anything else. Meanwhile, according to The Consumer 2014 report, 50.9% say that improving online services is retailers’ opportunity to enhance their shopping experience.

The good news for retail is that it is firmly at the heart of this ongoing digital revolution. It’s a healthy position that has been driven by consumer demand and ever expanding expectations for a shopping experience that meets individual needs.

Promotions sent to smartphones based on consumers’ locality to stores; birthday emails complete with personalised offers; goods ordered on a Saturday arriving at front doors on Sunday; touchscreens used to try on clothes; sales assistants armed with tablets revealing store and warehouse inventories – the level of technical innovation being adopted by UK retailers is phenomenal, whether those businesses are online, offline or multichannel.

As the boundless opportunities continue to present themselves to retailers, the gap between those that embrace this digital transformation and those that shy away from an occasionally overwhelming wave of change is becoming increasingly pronounced.

Although the change in consumer behaviour is undoubtedly driven by people’s ability to shop online, the much forewarned death of the high street could not be further from the reality of today’s retail scene. In fact, despite a raft of shopping options that can be accessed from the comfort of people’s sofas, 52.3% of consumers still start their shopping journey in store, and 41.5% describe their shopping behaviour as mainly in store.

In store, the most important customer expectation is price, with 85.2% of people surveyed placing it in their top five. Other services people value in store include loyalty cards, product range, store locations and customer service.

When it comes to expectations online, price wins out with the most mentions once again, with 70.8% of those asked, listing it in their top five, and 32.4% placing it first or second. Online, convenience counts too, with ‘making it easy to find what they want’ and ‘easy to complete an order’ also proving popular choices.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, convenience is now a key driver for how consumers choose to shop both on and offline, 40.7% say convenience keeps them loyal to a retailer.

Although customer journeys have become more complicated than ever before, the fundamentals remain - generally speaking - the same, with shoppers looking for fair prices, convenience and consistently high levels of customer service. Understanding how customer attitudes are changing and what they want both online and offline will help retailers stride confidently into the future.

The report can be downloaded now

Posted by Kate Doherty, deputy commercial editor at Retail Week

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