Why British customers have an attitude problem when it comes to retail

30th Mar 2017

In her 2009 book, Watching the English, anthropologist, Kate Fox describes the culture of shopping in England (and indeed across the UK) as beset by inhibitive, behavioural quirks.      

“Apart from the very rich and the very young, most people’s day-to-day experience of shopping bears little resemblance to [the marketing] image of mindless hedonism.   

“When you have indisputably paid full price for something undeniably expensive you should ideally just keep quiet about it. Failing that, you have two options, both very English: either apologise or moan. You can apologise for your embarrassing extravagance…or you can moan and grumble about the extortionate cost of things.”  

This necessity to balance perception extends, in turn, to how the British identify with the experience they’ve had with the retailers themselves.

A recent study from Manhattan Associates states that Brits feel an ongoing frustration when it comes to bricks-and-mortar shopping.

Two-thirds of shoppers say they expect a consistent cross-channel shopping experience, yet just 22% claim to enjoy such an experience.   

68% state they expect their online experience to be replicated in store, and 70% say they feel they “know more about the products and services in store than the store associate”.

This disconnect between online and physical experience should be of most concern for retails. Kate Fox says the British are naturally reserved and reclusive by nature – and indeed – the rapid proliferation of online shopping and home delivery in the UK is grounded by this characteristic.

Statistics from RetailMeNot in 2015 stated the average UK resident was spending £1,174 online during the year, a total of £52.25bn and over £150 more than the average spend of residents of its next nearest European counterpart, Germany. The UK is the leading nation across the globe when it comes to spending online as a percentage of total spending.

Retail ecommerce percentage
Source: Invesp


Paradoxically, Brits still seemingly want to visit bricks-and-mortar shops, and the fact that the UK leads Europe when it comes to click-and-collect shopping suggests the quality of the retail experience is increasingly decided by the consistency a retailer offers a consumer as they move from on- to offline channels, and vice versa.

“Consumers clearly have an expectation of what a retail experience should look like in today’s digital world and are willing to offer their loyalty in exchange for retailers able to meet that expectation,” says Henri Seroux, senior vice president EMEA at Manhattan Associates.

“Now is the time for retailers to invest in technologies that keep them ahead of the curve and take the appropriate steps required to close the gap between customer expectation and today’s reality. Those that do will be the ones that will thrive.”

Technology gap

Despite this, in-store, many retailers are focusing their technological efforts on the front-end experience, with shifts towards more novel innovations such as augmented and virtual reality permeating across the sector, thanks to innovations from non-traditonal retailers including Amazon and Google.

Yet, Manhattan Associates’ survey suggests UK consumers want consistency and convenience across channels over in-store gadgetry:  

• 39% of respondents stated “being able to check stock availability” as the most important role of the store associate yet only 6% of retailers say they have an accurate inventory overview across all channels.
• 41% of consumers believe “fast delivery” is the most important reason to stay loyal to a retailer.
• “Ship from store” seems to be increasing in popularity, with 56% of retailers already doing it and 36% planning to offer it as part of their future strategy.

A study from Zeta Global in March drove home just how hard it is for retailers to satisfy their customers’ expectations. Only 40% of UK shoppers think their favourite retailers provide a good or great customer experience, whilst nearly half (48%) of respondents considered their retail experience to be merely ‘average’.

“Clearly, retailers continue to face challenges in being able to acknowledge their customers and understand how they interact with the brand – online, in a physical location, or when they interact through social media,” says Jill Brittlebank, senior director – strategy and analytics, Zeta Global.

“Retailers need to be able to spot these interactions and acknowledge quickly, or there is a real risk that time-pressured and demanding UK shoppers will take their customer to retailers that can.”      

Given Kate Fox’s observations, it may be an innate characteristic of the British that hinders the capacity to ever truly revel in the experience had with retailers.

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