CHICAGO — Consumers are using multiple touchpoints when they shop, including online browsing, mobile smartphones, in-store visits and, increasingly, voice-activated devices, driving the need for retailers to meet them at each of these touchpoints with a full, frictionless experience, according to Walker Sands' The Future of Retail 2018 report, the results of which were discussed during a Wednesday session at IRCE.
About 1,600 consumers were asked about the top reasons they shop across multiple channels: 29% said they shop online to browse for items, 25% said they shop on mobile to browse, 42% said they shop in-store to purchase, and 10% said they shop via voice to conduct research.
Also, about 64% of those surveyed who own voice-controlled devices said they now use those devices at least once a week, and 50% said they have used them within the past year to make purchases. However, 35% also list a lack of visual capabilities on voice-controlled devices as an impediment to using them to make purchases.
The push toward omnichannel strategies for retailers reflects the reality that very few shopping journeys these days involve only one touchpoint, whether it's the physical store, computer, mobile smartphone, or a voice-controlled device. We have seen evidence that consumers may research online and buy in-store, or the other way around, but the current reality of shopping is more complex than that.
Well, complex if you are a retailer, but actually quite simple if you are the shopper. "Shopping is becoming a more intent-driven way of life," said Erin Jordan, senior account director at Walker Sands Communications, as she outlined the results of this report during a session at IRCE Wednesday.
She added that the shopping experience may begin with a need that the shopper wants to satisfy sooner rather than later, and they turn to whatever touchpoint is most convenient. Jordan told a personal anecdote about wanting to order facewash before her overseas flight back home to the U.S. took off so that it would be delivered soon after she arrived home. In that case, she turned to her smartphone, and ended up ordering a shopping cart load of other items as well. But, part of the point of the anecdote was that shoppers can load their carts wherever they happen to be.
And, increasingly, that "wherever" could translate to mean any room in their own homes, or even in their cars. That is part of the promise of voice-controlled speaker and assistant devices, and the flexibility they offer. Jordan noted that her firm's research found that 57% of owners of these voice-activated devices have them in their living rooms, and 33% have them in their kitchens but 14% claim to have one in every bedroom, and another 14% say they have one in the bathroom.
It's no wonder, then, that owners of such devices want to see more models with visual capabilities. They clearly want to do more with these devices, and be able to see items they are thinking about purchasing and in the case of apparel perhaps even virtually try them on.
However, other data from Walker Sands shows that voice-controlled devices have not converted everyone. About 45% of those surveyed said they were most concerned about security, and 42% mentioned data privacy. (Regarding the latter, Jordan mentioned recent news stories about Amazon's Alexa overhearing its owners, and making unwanted purchases.)
Ultimately, Jordan said retailers need to think about the reality of how shoppers are using multiple touchpoints while shopping, and everything implied by these interactions. For example, "data privacy is going to be a really important future issue, and they need to think about how they are going to protect their customers," she said.
Also, creating a lifestyle image around brands that reflects the ability to shop from anywhere, anytime will help retailers build stronger relationships with customers. In the meantime, retailers may not have to worry so much about the imminent closure of their brick-and-mortar locations if they are ready and willing to see them as just another touchpoint for connected shoppers. "Don't ditch the physical presence," she said. "Just change it."