Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

Kali Klena, Director of Shopper Insights, IBM Global Services.

By Kali Klena

At the National Retail Federation conference today, IBM will announce the results of a massive study of 26,000 shoppers from 14 countries – one of the largest surveys of its kind – designed to better understand their attitudes.

Now in its fourth year, the IBM Institute for Business Value survey points to a number of evolving trends from which retailers of all sizes around the globe can learn. For example, while online sales are expected to continue to rise, other aspects of the online experience are taking shape as well. Things like, “showrooming,” in which shoppers visit brick & mortar stores to browse goods, but then return home to purchase them online, is becoming more common.

So-called “showroomers” accounted for only six percent of all shoppers, but their impact on online sales was striking. Nearly half of all online buyers in the retail categories covered by our study were showroomers. Further, 25 percent of these shoppers said they initially planned to buy in store, but were swayed by their online experience – and 65 percent of these showroomers said they planned to buy online for their next purchase.

What’s a retailer to do with this data? For starters, they can better align their physical store and online presence to capture the sale of showroomers. For example, we’re starting to see retailers offer customers free WiFi access in their stores, enabling shoppers to use their mobile devices to research while they shop. The next step could be to take a page out of the hotel industry and brand their WiFi services to drive shoppers to theirwebsites when they access the Web.

The survey also finds that today’s empowered consumers are increasingly comfortable purchasing through multiple retail channels. Over 80 percent of shoppers chose the actual retail store to make their last non-grocery purchase, but only half are committed to returning the next time they have to make a purchase.

Also, the survey shows that shoppers are in a transitional state and broadening the way they research and buy products. Thirty-five percent said they were unsure whether they would next shop at a store or online. (Nine percent said they were ready to commit to shopping online.)

In addition, consumers want a truly integrated shopping experience, according to the study. In response, retailers should provide as much consistency and convenience across every consumer touch point as possible.

For example, to connect to the WiFi network, shoppers typically sign off on terms of use on their smartphones. These terms often disclose that the network will track the Websites customers will visit and the type of devices they use. Stores could potentially use analytics to make sense of this volunteered data and provide shoppers with personalized deals and recommendations.

It’s also clear from the survey that today’s consumer has come to expect a certain level of personalization, mainly thanks to their experiences online. In fact our study found that consumers are willing to help retailers understand what they’re looking for. Eighty-nine percent said they would spend about 20 minutes providing information on their preferences for what they buy, the channels they consider before doing so, and how they want to be reached. But they are only willing to provide this information once. After that, they want the retailer to learn from their activities and promote relevant products and opportunities. Again, analytics is the tool retailers need to deliver on this expectation for personalization by better marketing to shoppers as individuals.

Interestingly, while mobile shopping is on the rise, our study finds that the specialized mobile shopping app is waning. Only three percent of shoppers are using retailers’ mobile apps, according to the survey.

There’s much to be learned from our latest shopping survey. But by blending omni-channel benefits into both physical and online shopping and embracing personalization, retailers can start to improve consumers’ experience which can ultimately lead to greater brand loyalty and repeat sales.

You can join the discussion on twitter with #IBMNRF and #smarterretail.

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