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Half of the younger generation of shoppers still prefer to checkout traditionally in retail stores, according to research.
A study by cloud service provider Salesforce found 50% of shoppers in the millennial age bracket of 18 to 34 still like to approach a counter and check out with a staff member as opposed to a self-checkout or staff member with a portable device.
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But shoppers are increasingly using the web to research products before they buy them in a shop, and 44% of people think they know more about products than a store associate.
“The research found that retailers no longer dictate the terms of interactions with shoppers,” said the report. “The cloud, mobile, social and artificial intelligence (AI) revolutions have empowered customers to research and shop in new ways, transforming the relationship and putting the shopper in full control.”
Now customers have more information about brands and products, 80% of them research their options before making an online purchase.
Brand websites are the most commonly used tool in this research for all age brackets, but 48% of millennials said they would also use social media as a platform to research what they want to buy.
As technology makes each of a brand’s channels more accessible, customers are beginning to expect more of retailers, putting the power in the customers’ hands.
But there is still a distinct difference in behaviour between younger, digitally native customers and the older, more traditional generation.
“Overall, I believe our hyper-connected age is impacting what all consumers want and expect,” said Gavin Mee, area vice-president for enterprise, UKI, at Salesforce. “When you look at the remarkable differences between the attitudes and preferences for younger, digitally native shoppers and older generations, it becomes very clear.”
A quarter of millennials admitted to using their smartphone to purchase something whilst in a store, something only 2% of people over the age of 55 claimed to have done.
As retailers begin to offer more channels to customers, stores are increasingly becoming more like showrooms for customers to test products and enjoy the shopping experience.
The ability to touch and try merchandise is still the main reason people go to stores, with 66% of customers saying this is the main advantage of physical shopping, and 61% saying having a product immediately was the reason they visit bricks and mortar shops.
A personalised customer experience
An increasing number of customers are expecting a personalised experience when dealing with a brand or retailer, forcing retailers to use customer data to offer a customised service or targeted deals.
Almost 80% of shoppers like it when retailers offer complementary products or promotions based on their purchase history, and 20% have bought a product a retailer has suggested based on previous transactions.
But only two-thirds of customers think retailers are getting better at offering a personalised experience.
More needs to be done to offer customers a seamless experience between channels such as in-store, online or on a smartphone app, as many customers report to have bought a product through one channel only to find it advertised to them through a different channel – sometimes at a cheaper price.
Almost half of consumers claimed to be annoyed by an inconsistent experience between channels, and 43% of customers said they felt “cheated” when they saw a product they had already bought from a retailer offered at a lower price through another channel.
Further blurring the line between channels, 42% of millennials expect in-store colleagues to know what they have researched about a brand online, and 52% of the younger generation would like a better service in-store as a result of a brand having this information.
But the older generation disagree, with 73% of people over 55 saying in-store staff having online research data would not help their experience.
“For retailers, the ability to offer personalised services is critical,” said Salesforce’s Mee. “Millennials are obviously a hugely important demographic. After all, there’s an opportunity to foster relationships that could last for decades. But, in addition to that, I believe we will only see consumer expectations continue to rise in future generations as our world becomes increasingly digital and connected.”
Retail tech disruptors
Retail subscription-based services, such as meal subscriptions Amazon Fresh or Hello Fresh, health subscriptions Birchbox, and clothing rental sites Le Tote or Rent the Runway, are becoming more popular.
Just over 45% of millennials have admitted to using these services, but 95% of people over 55 said they use none of these services, and 84% of those between the ages of 35 and 54 do not use them either.
Robots and AI have been introduced in a number of businesses already, with the aim of using technology automation to reduce staff where tech can offer a better service. Self-driving cars, military drones and AI customer service providers are already in use.
Some are concerned that the UK government is not fully prepared for the impact AI and robotics could have on industries across the UK.
A surprising 28% of people think robots will be able to replace humans in stores in the future, and self-checkouts in stores are the first indicator of the potential for automation in stores.