U.S. retailers must move quickly to improve their operational capabilities in order to deliver a “seamless retail” experience to customers who say their expectations are not being met, according to new research by Accenture (NYSE:ACN).
For the second consecutive year, two studies of “seamless retailing” indicate a number of gaps between consumer expectations related to product offerings and pricing and the ability of retailers to deliver what customers want, as they shop across a growing number of channels.
“Physical and digital commerce are converging at an incredible pace”
A survey of 750 U.S. consumers and a separate analysis of how U.S. retailers operate across multiple sales channels indicate that, in order to win consumer loyalty and achieve growth across all channels, retailers must enhance their mobile commerce offerings and improve the in-store shopping experience. Only 42 percent of shoppers found it easy to complete a purchase using a mobile device, and when asked which aspect of the shopping experience is most in need of an upgrade, 39 percent ranked the physical store first, showing that retailers have not made much progress in these categories since last year’s survey.
The research also found that a number of mobile capabilities that can enhance seamless retailing for customers remain underdeveloped. For example, while all of the U.S. retailers assessed as part of Accenture’s benchmarking analysis have mobile optimized websites, only 53 percent have optimized their websites for tablets.
According to the consumer survey, respondents said they would like to access services via their mobile phones while shopping in-store. More than a third (39 percent) said that they would take advantage of the opportunity to earn loyalty points and save money on their purchases through in-store mobile phone offers, and 45 percent would like to receive real-time promotions sent to their phones or tablet. Yet, only 28 percent of retailers currently have the capability to deliver that service.
This gap between consumers’ desire for mobility services and the current levels of provision from retailers is further reinforced by the 32 percent of respondents who said the second biggest improvement retailers need to make in the consumer shopping experience is to enable the use of all three sales channels – physical store, online and mobile – in an integrated way. However, tablet and mobile phone users are able to start shopping on their devices and complete the cycle in-store with only 22 and 19 percent of retailers, respectively.
When asked specifically about the improvements that are needed to enhance the in-store experience, survey respondents cited easy ordering of out-of-stock merchandise (19 percent) and free Wi-Fi (15 percent). In addition, more than one-third (36 percent) said they would order out-of-stock items via their mobile phone while in-store if they had that option.
“Physical and digital commerce are converging at an incredible pace,” said Dave Richards, global managing director of Accenture’s Retail practice. “The fact that many consumers use their mobile devices to check inventory availability while on their way to a store and are looking for real-time promotions to be sent to their phones means retailers have an opportunity to capitalize on the power of these devices. By investing in mobile applications and frictionless digital payment tools that incorporate loyalty, coupons and rewards in-store, retailers can provide a seamless bridge between customers’ online and offline experiences. All sales channels must be equally desirable to the consumer, so that the path to purchase is not chosen based on satisfaction in one channel over another, but simply on what is most convenient at that time.”
Consumers demand transparency, consistency and convenience across channels
The surveys also found growing consumer expectations for transparency and consistency in pricing. An overwhelming majority (82 percent) of survey respondents expect a retailer’s prices to be the same in-store and online, a significant increase on the 69 percent last year. However, Accenture’s benchmarking analysis of retailers indicated that only one-third (34 percent) had the same pricing in-store and online for more than 80 percent of the items assessed.
Furthermore, the survey indicated that retailers who don’t have the right online presence and pricing are at risk of losing sales once a physical store closes for the day. If access to a physical site is not possible, 15 percent of consumers indicated they would shop around online for the best price, rather than buy from the original retailer online or wait to go back to the store, an increase from nine percent over last year’s survey.