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Are retailers prepared for the age of the individual?

By Retail Technology | Wednesday May 29 2013

Given the unprecedented pace of change in the global marketplace, retail IT expert Sarah Taylor discusses how retailers need to adapt to individual customer demands to survive

The extraordinary pace of change in the global marketplace today means that many retailers are struggling to adapt to the evolving needs of today’s ultra-informed customer at the necessary speed.

Sarah Taylor, senior director at Oracle Retail, explains that customers are demanding the provision of ‘commerce anywhere,’ and want to reap the benefits of the competitive global marketplace and the latest technologies to enhance their shopping experience.

“This is the age of the individual: the customer that wants every retail interaction to be ‘good for me,’ to be defined and dictated by ‘my’ preferences,” she stated.

Oracle recently conducted research into the shopping habits of consumers in Brazil, China, Germany, Japan, Russia, the UK and US to establish their views on the global marketplace and what this means in terms of meeting their needs. Taylor said that the objective in exploring the evolution of experience retailing was to help retailers define their strategies and enable them to compete more effectively in an increasingly fast-paced and competitive global marketplace.

Consumers dictate pace of change

“Our findings reveal that consumers are as happy to shop online these days as in store, although less comfortable with shopping over mobile and social networking websites,” Taylor said. “The fact that a greater percentage of consumers in UK were shopping online for groceries and fashion than any country (other than China) and speciality goods (other than Brazil), highlights the importance for retailers to enhance brand value by ensuring that all of their channels are aligned to deliver better personalised customer experience.”

She continued: “Unsurprisingly in current times, price remains the priority (76%), followed by choice and convenient store locations. This is followed by 59% of respondents identifying the ability to shop anytime and anywhere as the benefit of online retail. Therefore, although price competitiveness is important, it is also important to align price with product choice and the capability for customers to search, purchase, collect or arrange delivery conveniently.”

Taylor added: “Although British consumers are relatively open to sharing information with retailers, there is an expectation for lower prices and exclusive offers that are ‘good for me,’ in return for engaging in a more collaborative relationship with a retailer.” While respondents said they preferred not to shop on their mobile device, interpretations of personalisation related most strongly to receiving offers and discounts to their mobiles (21%), followed interestingly by a willingness to be identified when shopping online (13%).

“Service remains crucial,” said Taylor, “and 54% of British respondents identified a simple returns policy that is integrated across channels as a key factor in the provision of good service. Equally important are flexible delivery options and product availability at the point of purchase, while speed around the payment process rated highly at 64%.”

Service remains customer service key

British respondents reacted similarly to other countries as regards to service, naming in store associates as the key proponents of bad service, followed by poor fulfilment, but did not react as strongly as many emerging markets to a negative experience. Respondents (63%) said they would expect some form of refund or compensation gift following a poor experience, but scored lower than global averages around taking their business away from, and actively recommending against, that retailer.

The perceived trend is that retailers are under pressure to deliver against service and experience expectations. Furthermore, with 76% of respondents to the survey indicating that the internet offers no barriers to where they can shop, Taylor said this meant that retailers must deliver service and experience seamlessly across all channels.

British consumers have unprecedented options in a highly competitive domestic and global retail economy. With access to vast amounts of product information from multiple sources, consumers can compare retailers in seconds and expect high value, targeted assortments, competitive offers and uninterrupted availability, whenever and wherever they choose to shop. Taylor concluded: “Retailers now must optimise their operations to fulfil on the complex supply chain flows to ensure that home delivery and customer pick up is available. The logistics behind the process matter little to the consumer, they just need to be right to support customer priorities.”

Further information on the Oracle research is available at The Evolution of Experience Retailing.

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