Shoppers still prefer to buy in-store

April 05, 2018

Australian research has found the allure of bricks and mortar retail will continue in coming years with consumers still keen to enjoy the personalised service, social interaction and product experience that the real-world shopping environment affords.

Commissioned by Salmat and conducted by the Australian Consumer and Retail Services Unit (ACRS) the study looked into the future habits of 500 shoppers, finding the majority of consumers would still prefer to buy in-store in five years’ time.

Shoppers will, however, expect better convenience and online transparency from their bricks and mortar retail outlets in return. Here’s a snapshot of where the study sees Australian retail in five years’ time.

Comparing online

It’s little surprise that in the future the majority of shoppers will use the online tools available to seek out and compare products as they hunt for the best deal. Already this phenomenon is widely accepted practice, and even in-store shoppers use their mobile phones to work out what’s available elsewhere and how much it will cost.

This trend is set to continue, with 59% of survey respondents noting they would search for products online. The majority (54%) will then actively compare products using the internet, while a further 52% will also compare them within bricks and mortar stores.

Still shopping in store

While consumers like to research and compare online, most (48%) would rather purchase from a real-world retailer compared to 45% saying they’re happy to buy online. It’s not a major win for bricks and mortar but does indicate consumers will continue to see real advantages of the physical store environment in the future.

These advantages include the social nature of shopping, the physical experience of touching, feeling and trying on products, and the personalised customer service experience that real-world retail affords.

Technology versus people

The general consensus of future shoppers was that technology definitely has a place in the retail realm, but should not be used at the expense of real people, providing real customer service and solving problems in real time.

The study found:

• 59% of people want to see a balance between interacting with people and technology
• 59% would rather speak to a human is there’s a problem with a product
• 53% won’t be relying on virtual assistants to fulfil their shopping needs

Potential areas for bricks and mortar improvement

Interestingly, shoppers then had a big tip for their bricks and mortar retailers, with 79% indicating real-world retail could improve its customer service by providing real-time, in-store stock status that allowed shoppers to ascertain what was available, where.

They’d also like to see effective product delivery, with 59% of respondents noting they’d like items delivered to their exact location by a real person.

Meanwhile, a whopping 80% of consumers hoped for a transparent returns policy and 59% indicated they’d rather speak to a person than a virtual assistant if there was a problem with their product. This indicates customer service provided by knowledgeable sales associates will remain a critical key to the retail experience.

Finally, when it came to sharing their details, consumers were less than committed to revealing their personal information. Interestingly, 39% indicated they were not willing to share personal information, and 39% would do so providing it equated to personalised offers relevant to their needs and tastes.

Key takeaways

The research offers hope to retailers besieged with a media message that bricks and mortar is on the decline, but it also supports other findings that indicate real-world retail needs to lift its game.

Retailers looking to maximise their future could do so by:

• Creating a seamless omni-channel environment that caters to online searching but also provides the physical experience of shopping in-store
• Encouraging the advantage of real-world retail where shoppers can touch, feel, try on and interact with products
• Offering up-to-the-minute inventory information both online and at the Point of Sale in-store
• Providing better customer service, using real and knowledgeable people to quickly assist with product information and problem resolution
• Providing efficient delivery options that allow consumers to buy online or in-store and gain access to their products quickly
• Carefully handling and gathering consumer data that enables retailers to provide personalised service and market specifically to a consumer’s needs and desires.

Should real-world retailers manage to find this balance between technology and people, customer service and convenience, and online information and accessible products, this report indicates they stand a very real chance of holding their retail ground.

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