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Shoppers still prefer physical stores – study

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By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

Despite the popularity of online shopping, physical stores aren’t going anywhere. As long as retailers keep the experience easy and seamless, consumers will keep shopping in-store.

This was highlighted in a new study conducted by Oracle NetSuite in partnership with Wakefield Research and The Retail Doctor, a retail consulting firm created by expert consultant and business mentor Bob Phibbs, which also showed a huge disconnect between shopper demands and what retailers in areas spanning the overall retail environment, social media, personalization and the use of advanced technologies such as chatbots, artificial intelligence (AI), and virtual reality (VR). The global study involved1,200 consumers and 400 retail executives.

Nearly all (97 percent) of consumers agree there is a need to go into a physical store to purchase items and the majority (70 percent) believe the most appealing retail stores have features that simplify and streamline the shopping experience.
The top features attracting consumers to physical stores are options consistent with online (36 percent), simpler store layouts (35 percent), staff orders on a mobile device (29 percent) and in-store kiosks that allow consumers to purchase products that are unavailable in-store (23 percent).

The top technology advancements that consumers want to utilize when shopping in-store or online are self-checkout kiosks (38 percent), VR try-on (23 percent) and mobile payments (15 percent). Only 5 percent of consumers selected robots and chatbots as the technologies they most want to utilize.

“Consumer expectations are not only rapidly changing, but exactly what expectations look like vary from person to person and moment to moment. This makes it incredibly hard for retailers to keep up,” said Matthew Rhodus, director of retail, Oracle NetSuite. “The results of this survey show that while the retail industry is often considered to be at the forefront of consumer experience innovation, there’s still a long way to go to meet shopper expectations. What this means is the opportunity for retailers to improve the relationship with consumers is tremendous.”

This mindset correlates with another finding in the study which showed that while retailers are aware that they don’t have the tools and information needed to meet rapidly changing customer expectations, the study found that hyped technologies such as AI and VR are not yet the answer.

Nearly all (90 percent) retail executives are not confident the use of advanced technologies to customize the shopping experience is meeting consumers’ needs.

79 percent of retailer executives believe having AI (artificial intelligence) and VR (virtual reality) in stores will increase sales; only 14 percent of consumers believe the technologies will have a significant impact on their purchase decisions.

Almost all (98 percent) retail executives believe AI and VR will increase foot traffic; 48 percent of consumers do not think VR or AI would have any impact on how likely they are to go into a store.

Boosting this retailer attitude is the fact that consumers also do not want to speak with robots while shopping in-store or online.

“These findings point to a clear and urgent need for better customer service,” said Bob Phibbs, CEO, The Retail Doctor. “No retailer wants their customers to be confused or anxious, yet more than half of respondents have felt that way while shopping. Customers will feel confident when they develop an emotional connection to the brand. This happens when retailers foster positive, helpful in-store interactions; contrary to popular belief, millennials want store employees to help them. With nearly every respondent reporting that they value brick-and-mortar stores, now is the time to craft every in-store interaction to keep shoppers coming back.”

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