What do shoppers really want? Do retailers have a clue?

Discussion
Image: Getty Images
Jan 28, 2019
Bob Phibbs

When customers shop at your store, do they feel confident, secure, and supported? According to a survey I conducted in partnership with Oracle NetSuite and Wakefield, they don’t. In fact, the survey found that more than half of the 1,200 surveyed customers felt anxious, stressed or alone the last time they walked into a brick-and-mortar store.

So, what’s the solution? Many retailers think that tech is the silver bullet to keep shoppers – especially young ones – coming into the store as opposed to buying online. This is where we saw the most significant disconnect. While nearly every retailer of the 400 we surveyed thinks tech will increase foot traffic, only one in three customers would be enticed by stores that feature things like virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

What customers really want is a simple, streamlined layout that facilitates a smooth shopping experience. They also want employee help – more than half of surveyed Millennials would feel more welcomed by in-store interactions with employees.

Tech only works if you have good employees using it so that it enhances customer service, instead of replacing it. While 43 percent of respondents asked for a personal experience, only 11 percent of retailers felt they had the tools and data needed to make that happen. Retailers can use tech in a smart way that reflects an understanding of their customers while still prioritizing human interactions. This can be tech that makes often annoying processes, like checking out or finding items, easier for the customer. Think about what’s most important to or frustrating for your customers and consider how a well-trained employee armed with supportive tech can make a difference.

Here are some key findings:

  • Eighty percent of consumers do not feel they are provided with a personalized shopping experience both in-store and online.
  • More than half (58 percent) of consumers are uncomfortable with the way stores use technology to improve personalization in their shopping experience and almost half (45 percent) reported negative emotions when they receive personalized offers online.
  • The majority of consumers (53 percent) felt negative emotions the last time they visited a store; only 39 percent feel confident in retail stores today.

All hope is not lost – the survey revealed nearly every respondent saw a reason to buy something at a brick-and-mortar store. When customers have an emotional connection to the brand, they feel more confident buying and that can’t be created by just putting a robot in your store; you need a branded shopping experience. Help your shoppers feel great at all stages of their in-store experience and keep them coming back by using your tech to support great customer service.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How effectively, in general, do you find that retailers connect with shoppers in their stores? How can they improve their performance in this respect?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Self checkouts, better signage, digital displays, knowledgeable associates to guide shoppers – all this can definitely help."
"They of course have a clue, any good research will give them whatever ammunition that they need to be fully informed. The bigger question is do they care?"
"Get out on the floor, my fellow store owners, and don’t be afraid to talk with the customers, as they will not get this special touch from the larger stores."

Join the Discussion!

31 Comments on "What do shoppers really want? Do retailers have a clue?"


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Min-Jee Hwang
Guest

Not many retailers are great at connecting with shoppers in stores. In many cases, it’s a lonely time walking the aisles looking for items with few associates around. I think more retailers can improve this experience by helping shoppers find items and speeding up the checkout process, which are two big areas of frustration. Self checkouts, better signage, digital displays, knowledgeable associates to guide shoppers — all this can definitely help.

Charles Dimov
BrainTrust

In many cases you are either immediately asked about how an associate can help you (good), or you spend time walking aisles looking for a service rep. My personal experiences lean toward the latter, so I identify with the 80 percent of shoppers in the study.

To resolve this a recent HBR article pointed out that improving performance in stores often comes down to training the top and middle performers, and sometimes adding staff to high volume stores. Each case is different, of course. However this is something to think about – for certain.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

In a broad sense, brick-and-mortar shoppers would be well served by higher levels of customer service. But as the BrainTrust discussed last week, customer service means different things to different people.

As Min-Jee points out, a mass merchant can exceed expectations by making merchandise easier to find and by speeding the checkout process. Meanwhile, a “high touch” store like Nordstrom needs a different kind of service standard. Either way, over-reliance on tech solutions instead of human ones isn’t the answer.

David Katz
BrainTrust

In-store experience must be RELEVANT to the consumer, and must offer one or more of these attributes: choice, convenience, or cost (the best assortment, the best curation, the best prices, and/or the best service). Poorly-conceived experiences, however, will continue to proliferate at retailers who just can’t see the goal line.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Confidence is a big opportunity in retail. Customers want to feel good about who they do business with. My loyalty formula is this: Customer Service + Confidence = (potential) Loyalty. How can stores improve confidence? Here are three ideas:

  1. Make sure inventory is never an issue;
  2. Have friendly and helpful employees;
  3. Have knowledgeable employees – and let me expand on this. Knowledge of product is important. Knowledge of the customer is even more so. There are two ways that knowledge of the customer is obtained. First is using information about the customer from prior interactions. Second is asking the right questions to ascertain the knowledge needed to make the right suggestions. Knowing the customer is a powerful personalization strategy.
Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

The effectiveness of retailers in connecting with customers varies enormously.

Some, like the department stores are dreadful. Staff are thin on the ground and the customer experience is not aided by a confusing layout overcrowded with stock. The shopper has to do a lot of work themselves to find what they want – the exact opposite of a pleasurable and enjoyable experience.

Technology will not improve this. It requires the encodement of basic retail disciplines and investment in customer service.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Exactly … basic retail disciplines. Starting with product alignment with Brand Promise. I see two buckets. 1 = product. 2 = path-to-purchase. 2 is not a solution to a problematic 1. There are tons of solutions available in 2, both human and tech. Get 1 right and then assemble the human/tech solution in 2 that makes the most sense for the individual business.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust
The challenge has been for legacy brick-and-mortar retailers to bridge the gap between online customer interactions and ensuring a “seamless” transition of the same customer in the store. The digital divide exists for the customer as the perception is that most retailers, despite all the technological innovations, do not truly know their customers. This digital divide is even more challenging for the store associates, as most of the legacy stores do not have the solutions in place to empower, inform and educate them to provide the best customer experience. All is not lost, as retail will always represent the theater that is our lives. Nike, Restoration Hardware, Sephora, Away, Warby Parker, and many other retailers — digital native brands who have opened showrooms, as well as manufacturers going DTC — have a digital-first mindset, where the customer is at the center of the universe. They drive the right blend of personalized interactions both offline and in-store. Their stores serve as a place of media where retailers connect, enthuse, entertain and satisfy their customers, regardless of… Read more »
Anne Howe
BrainTrust

Perhaps it’s time for mass retailers to get rid of the long row of checkout registers and put retail associates out in the aisles with a mobile scanner and a station to bag purchases. And of course, a helpful attitude and the ability to walk the shopper around to what they’re looking for.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

When you speak with 1,200 shoppers that frequent retail stores, the findings of opinions are hard to challenge. Most retailers rarely try to discover unmet needs. A number of years ago, my partner Georganne Bender and I started encouraging hundreds of retailers and their staff to start asking customers in the store one question: “What one thing could we do to make your shopping experience more satisfying?” The answers were surprising to the retailers. We requested that everyone was to ask this question of 200 customers a year (come on now, that’s only four per week) and write down the answers to be reviewed weekly by management. It was amazing how many customers brought up the same things. Those issues were put into motion and the stores ended up letting the customers create and define the experiences that thrilled them. Like the old expression: hearing it right from the horse’s mouth.

Jennifer McDermott
Guest

I think one of the major problems is the disconnect between the teams working on tech innovation and customer experience. Too often they operate in silos, creating inconsistencies. Better communication and collaboration is needed to ensure offerings online are aligned to in-store and vice versa.

Dave Nixon
BrainTrust
“Eighty percent of consumers do not feel they are provided with a personalized shopping experience both in-store and online. More than half (58 percent) of consumers are uncomfortable with the way stores use technology to improve personalization in their shopping experience and almost half (45 percent) reported negative emotions when they receive personalized offers online.” You can’t have both. You either allow retailers to gather, analyze and predict behaviors/preferences for personalization or you go back to an anonymous shopping experience. Pick one. Brands CAN do a better job of personalizing and optimizing the store experience and they will HAVE to, to survive. But we poured all of our efforts into digital and e-commerce and now we have to apply the same transformation to physical. NFC, Captive Networks, and AI can augment the in-store experience but it needs to be tied back to digital shopper profiles that become richer and smarter as time goes on. Then personalization can get better for in-store experiences when data becomes the “connective tissue” between online and offline. But only then.… Read more »
Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I walked Magazine Street in New Orleans last week, visiting a variety of both indie and chain retailers. The stores were interesting, quirky and well-merchandised. And while the customer service at the pop up PL Mirror House was a stand out, service at the rest of the retailers ranged from okay to non-existent. How hard is it to stop whatever you are doing to say hello to the customers who walk in your door?

Tech doesn’t solve anything when the employees are not engaged, it merely makes the store a vending machine. Bob’s survey said it all: “Tech only works if you have good employees using it so that it enhances customer service, instead of replacing it.”

Sometimes I think that those of us pushing in-store technology do not understand this. What generation we belong to doesn’t matter when we need/want help on the sales floor.

Ray Riley
BrainTrust

Agreed Bob. Customers visit stores to connect with people that are ideally experts in the products and services being rendered. Help me in an efficient manner, with accurate information, and assist me in getting on with my day. Retailers need to remove all obstacles (merchandising, inventory work, excessive scheduling work, package delivery cadences etc.) so that in-store teams can best assist the customer with revenue-generating activity. And to avoid confusion, I mean adopt technology that can make those previously mentioned laborious processes streamlined and more efficient. The focus has to be customers.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Retailers are well aware of shoppers’ needs. The challenge has always been and most likely will continue to be effective store-level and online execution. Simple. Just not easy.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

The customer is the key — but many retailers fail to understand, genuinely care for, or provide services (or products) that help the customer achieve the customer’s goals. The effectiveness of the retailer to connect is tied to knowledge, empathy, and relevant action (to reinforce David Katz’s thoughts). Most retailers don’t know why their customers picked up the box of cereal, and usually they know little more than that they purchased it from their t-logs. Even knowing that can give a retailer an edge e.g., making sure the product remains in stock more frequently.

Retailers must know their customers and stores like department stores or other mass merchandisers have the inherent challenge of catering to many audiences-which is hard to scale. Starting point for retailers to improve: Data.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

The short answer as to how effectively do retailers connect with shoppers in their store is — not very! For years, retailers have presented their wares in a sea of shelves and racks. What they lost is even trying to care on a human and emotional level. We’ve been trying to replace that void through with technology. While there are many technologies that can mitigate human oversight, ambivalence, and error — the new shopping experience must be grounded in emotional connection, storytelling, and immersive participation. We, shoppers, want to shop and buy from brands and people who care. While there are products we simply want to get at the shelf (and won’t forgive the retailer if it’s out of stock!) there are many situations where we simply expect people to care — it’s not asking that much.

Ken Wyker
Guest

Connecting with customers is an emotional concept, not a technological one. The problem for most retailers is that they think personalizing the experience means adapting to the all of the data points available. And now with Big Data we have more data points than ever. This results in customers feeling more like they are under surveillance than being helped.

The key value of good employees is that they bring the human element and opportunity for emotional connection with customers. Employees can often sense if a customer wants help or doesn’t want to be bothered. The tech solution picks up a data point and starts recommending and when they fail to hit the mark, it backfires.

Technology is awesome when used to deliver a personalized experience that the customer can choose to access and that makes their lives easier. When it feels impersonal or replaces human interaction, it often fails.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust
I didn’t know whether to put this comment here or into the other conversation about AI and the cloud. Since I’m a Phibbs fan and know he calls it like it is, here I go. First, is it just me or do you feel the whole world is becoming “disconnected?” This is WAY deeper than either retailer behavior or AI! It’s actually a moral and a morale issue. Technology will not create a more perfect union between retailer and consumer. The problem starts with the mechanics of it all. Software guru Capers Jones once noted that software is the worst quality man-made product since the beginning of time. There are as many faults in the software that runs our consumer experience technology as there are in any salesperson’s behavior and attitude. Technology will, however, enable mistakes and disconnection to happen much faster. The foundational determining factor in customer experience is whether or not someone cares. It really is that simple. Whether in a restaurant or a store, when we run into staff who truly care… Read more »
Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Excellent points as always, Ian. Where does feeling cared about start and what does it take to be first to show it?

Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust

Reading the responses thus far, there’s nothing here that we all haven’t been saying for years now. In my mind, what’s missing are the kind of retail leaders that make the RIGHT decisions for the customer’s shopping experience, not THEIR decisions biased by personal views or short-sighted operational efficiencies/spending spreadsheets. It’s not hard.

They of course have a clue, any good research will give them whatever ammunition that they need to be fully informed. The bigger question is do they care? I’m a huge proponent of “actions speak louder than words.” When a retailer truly cares, it shows — and we all know who those great brands are. When they don’t, it shows as well — and we’re seeing them in the news every week.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

Laura, thank you. You stir up a thought I wish had come to me when submitting my own coment. And that is this: All the data in the world – i.e. being fully informed – doesn’t make one care. Maybe this is the great myth of retail in this “modern” age. This “caring” factor several of our colleagues have mentioned has little or nothing to do with technology.

Phil Rubin
BrainTrust
4 months 21 days ago
Great stuff Bob and I agree with most of the panelists here. It’s a terribly low bar in retail these days with a few exceptions. In our research we’ve found remarkably similar insights to the study Bob did with Oracle and Wakefield. Bottom line is that customers want a better experience, which is a function of five factors or forces: Recognition: Customers expect to be recognized. This can be as basic as a greeting when they walk into a store or on to a floor or interacting with a sales associate who actually remembers a customer and what she likes/bought last time/is likely looking for. Or it can be as sophisticated as can be via a clientelling app. Education: Customers want to be informed about what a merchant offers and why (it’s helpful if you’re not selling commodities but that’s a merchandising question and not a trivial one), how to get it, where and how to optimize their experience with the store. Financial: Yes, retail is now overly promotional and that’s not changing for most… Read more »
Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Great summation Phil!

Phil Rubin
BrainTrust
4 months 20 days ago

Thanks Bob!

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

I think it’s newness more than anything. That goes for brands as well. All Birds vs Foot Locker, Everlane vs Banana Republic, The Real Real vs Gap. If I were a developer, that’s how I’d think; like a customer would: what are the new hot brands? vs just bringing in the same old same old. And if I’m one of the same old same old, I’ve got to be thinking “how can I bring ‘new’ to our customer,” and not just from a product POV (although entirely new categories should be explored), but the entire experience from live to mobile to shop.

The days of counting on a product delivery of new jeans or flannel shirts or lace bras or whatever to save you from your crappy YOY sales are over. It’s time to flip the apple cart, man, and get to “new” across the board as soon as possible.

Tony Orlando
BrainTrust
OK, it is time to give my perspective on this. There is no substitute for the human experience, and there never will be. The problem lies in the “perception of value,” and for many small retailers, it is critical that the employees provide outstanding service, or they will perish, as they are not even considered by most consumers as the first place to go and get a great price on what they need. Yes price matters greatly, or you wouldn’t have 2K Walmarts, 5K dollar stores, and 1K club stores, so if you want to keep your stores going, the service, and specialty items you carry must be presented to your customers properly, to the point where they will go nowhere else, as they love your service and the deal. Just this morning I saw a young couple in my closeout wine section, and engaged in a conversation about all of our different types of wine. By the end of the conversation, they are coming back for an appointment with me, to help them pick… Read more »
Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Bob’s study reinforces one very important fact about retail — you have to know your customer and what they want. Of course, this isn’t easy, or every retailer would be an expert at it. Retail relationships between brand and customer are just that — human relationships and interactions. No amount of technology will replace that — it can only enhance or hurt the overall relationship. You can’t ignore the human part of the equation!

As Bob himself has pointed out repeatedly over the years, it all starts with a well-trained staff in the store. That’s the foundation for any technology having a chance of improving the customer experience. Of course, tech can be deployed in good ways and bad ways, so while the human part of the equation is extremely important, you can’t stop there. How you implement technology will also have a significant impact on how customers perceive the relationship.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
BrainTrust

Retailers would be well-served to focus on technologies (and training) to support their store associates.

Robert Koff
Guest
4 months 20 days ago
Very few retailers have been able to come up with permanent solutions to help them connect with shoppers. The truth is that a flat, one sided approach will not work. The consumers have many choices and if they don’t get it right, customers will find another source for whatever they are selling. Here are a few ideas to change companies into preferred shopping destinations. 1. Customer Service — customer service needs to start from the top so it can work its way down. In order to have good customer service the employees need to feel as part of the team. The employees should be paid a decent salary and benefits for the job they do. So many retailers will say that the employees are their most important asset. Companies must treat their employees as they are an important asset instead of a liability. Make sure that there are enough employees to handle customer service throughout the store. Do not let the bean counters run your store. Good customer service should be considered an investment in… Read more »
David Naumann
BrainTrust

Some retailers are much better than others. Nordstrom is a good role model. The key is proper training and equipping sales associates with the right tools. It is disappointing when a customer has more information on products and inventory visibility on their phones than most sales associates.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Self checkouts, better signage, digital displays, knowledgeable associates to guide shoppers – all this can definitely help."
"They of course have a clue, any good research will give them whatever ammunition that they need to be fully informed. The bigger question is do they care?"
"Get out on the floor, my fellow store owners, and don’t be afraid to talk with the customers, as they will not get this special touch from the larger stores."

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