When 86% of customers are willing to pay more for a superior customer experience and another 67% say a poor experience is the reason for churn, it’s no surprise that the shopping experience is projected to become the leading key differentiator between brands by 2020. To that end, brands are looking to innovate on the shopping experience, and top brands like Amazon and Walmart are already fielding these changes through a combination of convenience and technology.
It’s no secret that the 21st Century is defined by the digital revolution, and retail has evolved in two major ways to combine convenience and technology.
Social media is the conversation that happens outside of the store, both with and about the brand. These conversations establish the brand in consumers’ minds, building awareness and keeping the business at the front of customer consideration. More recently, however, this instantaneous communication has upped the convenience factor by facilitating customer service. Sephora, for example, practices social listening to identify customer complaints and dissatisfaction. This allows the company to solicit feedback for continual improvement, initiate service requests by reaching out to customers, and immediately rectify dissatisfaction through gift cards administered via Twitter. The last is a recent innovation thanks to the utilization of social media accounts to confirm identity; it allows Sephora to send the gift card openly with no fear of unauthorized use.
E-commerce is the ultimate convenience, and as long as it’s been around, it continues to grow. In 2015 alone, there were 205 million digital shoppers in the U.S., a number that’s expected to grow by nearly 20 million more by 2019. Annual retail spending per e-commerce customer was $1,542 in 2015 and is projected to reach $2,109 by 2021. Forrester’s estimates are bolder: it estimates the number of online shoppers in the U.S. to reach 270 million by 2020, and goes so far as to say that it expects to see online sales to grow 56% in the next five years to roughly $523 billion. It also expects most of those purchases to be from mobile devices.
Mobile: Bridging In-Store and Digital Experiences
Forrester also sees mobile as much more than just a motivator for digital purchases: it influenced $1 trillion in both online and offline purchases in 2015, crediting the speed and availability of mobile networks for catalyzing consumers’ ability to research and shop on the go. This is just one example of the way mobile straddles the in-store and digital divide. Mobile apps further entrench this fusion. For example, 7-Eleven’s 7Rewards app tracks member’s purchases to provide free drinks and push other offers based on their history as well as survey customers after a purchase, all while providing franchise owners with actionable local data.
According to Google, 82% of smartphone owners use their mobile device to make a purchase decision, and 93% of those that do so will go on to make a purchase. This research can cover anything from which store is closest and where to find the best price — a study from InReality further revealed that 53% of shoppers prefer to research products in-store — to customer reviews and expanded product information (e.g., health statistics, brand data such as corporate responsibility). However, it’s important to note that this research may be done in store and can even lead to customers changing their mind about a purchase right up to the moment they’re waiting in line to check out. Google found that nearly a quarter of shoppers changed their mind about a purchase in line based on something they discovered through a mobile search.
Another mobile touchpoint that’s building steam is frictionless mobile payments at the POS in-store. It may seem like adoption for this burgeoning technology has been slow, but its convenience and benefits (e.g., increased security) mean that Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay won’t be alone as notable names in the field for long. While some estimates in 2015 pegged the value of these types of payments to grow to more $27 billion in 2016, estimates in mid-2016 pegged that value to hit $75 billion by the end of the year. That number is forecasted to hit $503 billion by 2020. Similarly, the number of users is expected to see a rise of 4% CAGR over five years to hit 150 million by 2020. This only further solidifies the power of digital convenience even within an offline, in-store setting.
Businesses are only just starting to develop ways to leverage the convenience of technology in-store, but as they innovate, it also brings some of the more radical changes in the shopping experience.
Amazon looks to disrupt retail all over again by entering physical shopping spaces. In addition to its bookstore concept, it’s developing Amazon Go, a high-end grocery convenience store will focus entirely on customer convenience in the ultimate frictionless shopping experience. The new concept will do away with the checkout lines entirely by combining existing technologies to track when a customer enters, where they are in store, which items they take or put back via smart shelves, and automate charges through the eponymous app as soon as they walk out the door. So far only one concept store has opened, and it’s only available to employees for its beta run, but even so, it answers growing consumer interest in minimal amounts of interaction to expedite the time spent in-store.
Along a similar theme, click and collect has gained enough traction to capture serious attention from Walmart. The brand is already attempting to go toe to toe with Amazon with its Prime competition (ShippingPass), and Walmart’s Pickup and Fuel stores seem to be an answer to Amazon Fresh physical locations. The Pickup and Fuel stores will offer gas pumps, grab-and-go convenience store options (e.g., fresh coffee, hot and cold sandwiches, milk or eggs), and an easy to access location to receive groceries ordered online. In fact, orders made before 1 p.m. can be picked up same day, balancing the ease of online shopping with a measure of immediate gratification.
Clearly, it’s an understatement to say that technology is changing retail. The combination of technological advances with efforts to enhance convenience means that radical changes to the industry are on the horizon, and major brands like Amazon, Walmart, and even 7-Eleven are proving that they’ll have a positive impact on the shopping experience.