Participant Perspectives on the Future of Retail
Many of our clients have spent the past year in the throws of prototype testing, in-store trials, beta tests and trend tracking to determine the optimal way to move forward in the ever-advancing landscape of consumer purchasing preferences, eager to plant their flag in the winning bit of future shopping territory.
We have assisted these explorations with guided shop-alongs, digital diaries, impromptu store intercepts, usability studies and in-depth conversations to understand shopper journeys, touch points and opportunities for our clients.
In doing so, we have seen some cross-industry themes come to light through this ongoing work. We have spoken with participants through various research methodologies across many verticals, including grocery, appliances, personal care, fitness, fashion, resale, wearables and online retailers. The following four themes came up time and time again, regardless of industry or product.
1. “Everything’s changing, so please make your changes clear!”
Shoppers notice that their favorite stores, sites and brands are changing quickly to accommodate new tools and techniques in the retail space. However, their priority as customers is to find what they want/need and purchase it quickly and easily. If something has changed about the shopping options or environment, message it loud and clear so they can keep up with your ideas!
“It’s fine that the check-out process has changed, I’m cool with that. Just make the change really obvious to me when I’m in the store so I know where to go and what to do.” – In-store Interview Participant
2. “I’m pre-shopping and informed, so you should be too.”
Shoppers in all categories (especially big ticket items and/or items related to their hobby/passion) do their homework. They check out product specs, read reviews and compare brands before making a purchase. If they end up in a physical store as part of their journey, they expect the associates to be as educated as they are, if not more so. Ensure associates are armed with expertise to keep up with the amount of information available to shoppers through digital outlets.
“Sure I look at hangtags and signage, but I already know a lot of the stats, so I’m there to get extra information and expertise from the guys on the sales floor.” – Digital Diary Participant
3. “If it’s digital, it’d better be personal!”
The tide has turned (especially for Millennial shoppers). Participants we have spoken with embrace targeted digital advertising (if done smoothly and suavely). In fact, they now expect their favorite retailers to ‘know’ them so they can make accurate recommendations and relevant suggestions. Use customer data to give shoppers the customized experience they expect.
“They have all this information about me and what I like, so why don’t their filters recognize me and show me what I like?” – Usability Participant
4. “I can buy things anywhere, so I need to be rewarded for loyalty.”
Home delivery, store pickup and subscriptions are making it easier and easier for participants to shop passively. However, as choices get broader, loyalty recognition becomes all the more important. Participants have told us they are looking for more than points and rewards. They are looking for a retailer who not only makes their experience personal, but who genuinely thanks them for their business. Appreciated rewards can be in the form of benefits like early access to new products/sales events, lifetime guarantees, offering samples/replacements or as simple as allowing associates and call center reps to have enough time to have a real, personal interaction with each customer.
“If an associate actually takes the time to hear my story and see what I need and how they can help me I appreciate that they’ve taken the time to do so.” – Online Community Participant