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Going digital: A new retail reality

By Retail Technology | Thursday July 11 2013

Retail communications expert Jon Stine examines why retailers cannot afford to ignore the impact of a consumer-driven digital revolution

The last decade has increasingly seen self-service shopping becoming the norm. Jon Stine, retail industry director at the Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group, said changing customer expectations and demands have undoubtedly left retailers rethinking the ways in which customers engage with retailers and brands. 

"It is simply no longer enough to be able to browse products and try our purchases before we buy," he commented. "This growth in automated shopping is married with our increased use of smartphones and devices; a move which is transforming the way consumers shop." 

Cisco’s recent global retail Customer Experience Report surveyed 1,511 consumers across 10 countries about their desired shopping experience. UK results showed that nearly half (42%) of customers said they made their last purchase instore. But a quarter said they last bought instore based on what they saw online. 

"This reliance on online resources is supported by the fact 28% of shoppers said they made their last purchase online – cutting out the store altogether," Stine added. "Consumer interest in a more interactive shopping experience is undoubtedly on the rise and is reinforced by a desire for a self-service, omnichannel buying experience." This apparent growth of omnichannel retail is just one example of how instrumental technology has become in augmenting the shopping process for consumers.

Desire for self-directed control

Stine pointed out there is in an increased desire for self-directed control among contemporary shoppers, equitable with not wanting to wait. This is represented in the fact that over half (62%) of those in the UK surveyed said they were willing to shop at a fully automated store. "What becomes apparent is that there’s a generation of shoppers who are used to ‘doing it for themselves’," he said. And almost half (45%) of the UK respondents preferred using self-service supermarket checkouts. 

"The key here for retailers is being able to also provide the relevant opportunities for digital engagement," he advised. "No matter how you prefer to shop, the ability to control your own experience is now the norm and many retailers are currently trying to take advantage of this by tapping into consumer’s online and digital shopping preferences."
The popularity of apps on smartphones and tablets is also important when considering the shopper’s engagement with retail brands. Touchscreen devices have revolutionised our lives and this includes our retail habits. But many consumers have proved slow to adopt retailer specific apps, despite 46% of those surveyed saying they used shopping mobile apps. 

"Part of this contradiction may come down to a miscalculation by the retailer; it’s not enough to produce an app without careful consideration into how the customer will engage with it," Stine responded. "Many of us have up to a hundred apps on our device but the truth is that only a small fraction of our downloaded apps are actively used. 

"Will a customer consciously open the app for the store they’re in? Is it easier to simply use a browser than flip through all the apps? Would they rather use one universal shopping app providing geolocation personalised offers? In short, the personal importance of the shopper in the proliferation of apps is crucial."

Capitalising on smartphone access

Stine argued smartphones can become the remote control for a shopper in a store; and the key for retailers is to make digital engagement as easy, and automated, as possible: "The aim should always be to create an integrated experience, which allows customers to move across touchpoints in a store without even knowing it. The proliferation of mobile devices has created a mass of consumer data."

Obtaining real insight from this kind of data represents a significant opportunity for retailers and consumers have become increasingly savvy regarding the trade-off of their personal data in return for savings and customisation. Over half of UK consumers (56%) surveyed were willing to share personal information in return for offers and products that are more customised to their needs. 

Underpinning these results is the fact that the retail world is changing – and it’s a change largely being driven by technological developments both in and out of store. "There is a wealth of consumer interest in a more automated and self-directed shopping experience which will deliver the personalisation and convenience that customers are craving," said Stine. 

"What is made clear through this survey is that the physical and virtual worlds are merging to create a new retail reality, which must be approached in a considered and strategic manner in order to retain competitive advantage and satisfy changing customer demands."

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