The age of the Unfaithful Consumer

30th Jun 2016

With last-minute bids struggling to save Austin Reed, it’s a turbulent time for the retail community as we mourn the loss of yet another high street name. It seems inevitable that more shops will fall into administration in coming years, and many will blame the exponential rise of online shopping as the villain in all this. But with retail analysts Conlumino suggesting that Austin Reed’s downfall was because of poor quality products, it’s clear to me that the lure of online isn’t the only reason why consumers are losing interest.  Recent research by Webloyalty indicates there are other factors at play.

Our study found that a third of consumers find shopping more frustrating than five years ago. Considering this is against a backdrop of huge digital innovation designed to make the shopping experience easier, this is worrying news for the retail world. The main reason behind this is customer service; with 53% of those surveyed dissatisfied with the service they receive from retailers.

Don't neglect customer service

I find it astounding that customer service is still such a big problem in retail. Rudeness isn’t just a minor inconvenience; our research estimates that brands that don’t maintain loyalty risk losing more than £120bn of purchases as consumers jump ship to other retailers.

The ease of e-commerce means that customers can quite easily live their lives without stepping foot in a shop. Retailers need to give customers a reason to leave their living rooms and visit their stores. I’d argue the most important way to do this is by paying attention to the experience they offer consumers.

Our research found that 81% of consumers will browse in-store for products and then look online for the best price. Retailers only have a finite window to make a good impression, so making the customer remember you for the right reasons is crucial.

Empower employees to provide a great customer experience

With the number of retail jobs set to sharply decline in the next decade, retailers will need less staff – but better trained ones. Retailers will need to ensure they are investing in skilled employees who can enhance the customer experience and encourage loyalty.

There is a reason why Apple stores are used as the benchmark for great customer experience. The employees on the shop floor live and breathe the brand. You know you’re in safe hands when you walk in to the store. I wholeheartedly believe that retailers across all sectors should be using iPads, tablets (or any other sort of device) to enhance the customer experience. What shop floor employees can offer that a website can’t is a personal, human service combined with digital expertise to provide a great customer experience.

However, the recent revelation that ASOS may be using robots behind their Facebook page has led to a debate about how far customer service can (or should) be digitised. This can be seen on the high street, too, with MyCustomer recently reporting that 39% of us would like to see self-serve checkouts replaced for manned tills in stores. Retailers need to strike the right balance between offering a human service and using digital innovation to enhance engagement with their consumers.

Is too much choice a bad thing?

Another factor that’s contributing to consumers’ ambivalence about shopping is the amount of choice available. It goes without saying that the number of products available has rapidly increased compared to previous generations. As an example, our research found that in 1970, there were 49 home lamps available. In 2015, there were 9,865 options available. That’s a lot of lamps.  

But it seems that the choice available isn’t necessarily welcomed by customers. Consumers have become jaded, and, as a result, less loyal to one particular brand or retailer. Consumers seek excitement, inspiration and experience from our shopping destinations – and aren’t afraid to jump ship from one retailer to another to find it.

Convenience for the consumer is key

Despite the consumer mind-set evolving over the past decade, what hasn’t changed is the demand for convenience. Our research found that over 50% of consumers rate convenience as the most important factor in everyday shopping. Expectations have increased, fuelled by the rise of online shopping.

Free delivery has become an unquestioned expectation of consumers. A recent report revealed that 63% of women return clothes they’ve bought online. The ease and convenience of bulk buying has made consumers’ lives easier, but led to a big headache for retailers as they struggle to maintain fulfilment costs in a cost-effective way.

It is very clear that the future success of retailers, particularly those that originated on the high street, depends on how well they can adapt to the customers’ needs and expectations. Consumers are more empowered and savvy than ever before. Retailers have to strive even harder to satisfy their needs both on and offline. Consumers want a positive overall experience with a retailer and a reason to return. If retailers can focus on delivering this, and use digital innovation to better understand their customers’ needs, then their future will undoubtedly be brighter.

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