When asked if they shop online or at a physical location, most consumers would have to answer with "both". As mobile devices make it easier for people to access the internet at any time, many consumers switch back and forth between online and in-store shopping channels. The best way for business owners to take advantage of this trend is to create a shopping experience that seamlessly transitions between shopping channels. A recent survey of U.S. consumers revealed what consumers want in an omni channel experience.

BRP Consulting, a retail management consulting firm, recently released the 2018 Customer Experience/Unified Commerce Survey, which combines research on customer expectations with survey findings on retailers' current capabilities and future plans to highlight areas of opportunities for retailers.

"While most consumers expect the ability to shop seamlessly across channels, only 7% of retailers currently provide a complete unified commerce experience by allowing a customer to 'start the sale anywhere, finish the sale anywhere,' with another 50% planning to implement it in three years," said Perry Kramer, senior vice president and practice lead at BRP. "With customer expectations continuing to rise, it is promising to see how many retailers are focused on adding new capabilities to enhance the shopping experience."

There are many ways to use online assets to boost in-store revenue. One of the reasons consumers use the mobile devices while shopping in-store is for education. According to the BRP study, many customers start the purchasing process by researching the brand and products. Three in five (62 percent) consumers surveyed said they check reviews/ratings before visiting a store. Given how many customers are looking for product reviews, every business should do it, but just 61 percent of retailers offer consumer product reviews for research.

There are a lot of concerns about the ways businesses use and manage the data they get from consumers. These are certainly valid concerns, but research suggests that many consumers have expectations that require businesses to use data and records to provide a more satisfying experience. For example, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of consumers are fine with retailers saving purchase history and/or personal preferences if more personalization is offered. The BRP report suggests that 61 percent of retailers use in-store and online shopping history to tailor the customer experience.

When trying to provide an omni channel shopping experience, it's important to provide as much tracking information to the consumer as possible. According to the BRP study, nearly three out of four (73 percent) of consumers want the ability to track orders across all points of interaction. This means going beyond simply offering an estimated delivery date. It's comforting and helpful to customers to know when their order is being prepared, the date is was shipped from the warehouse to the store, etc. Consumers, legitimately, worry about things being lost in transit, so providing a high-level of tracking can help a retailers stand out from the competition.

On the other end of the spectrum, customers also like it when the returns process is automated. The report revealed that 68 percent of consumers are more likely to choose a store offering an automated returns process. This makes sense because a store with an automated return process is likely to have a more consumer-friendly return policy. And the policy is likely to go faster when returns are automated. And since just 17 percent of retailers have automated returns, adding this feature would definitely set a business apart from their competitors.

It's worth it to make the effort to improve the omni channel shopping experience for a retailer. The majority (51 percent) of consumers will stop shopping at a retailer after 1-2 poor in-store shopping trips. Be sure to read the rest of the BRP report for more advice on creating a seamless omni channel shopping experience.

For more research that can help online and in-store marketers, read this article on the benefits of having a strong online for healthcare professionals.

Published on: May 28, 2018