By Adam Forrest, Director of Product Marketing

Once again, we’re taking a deeper look at the ways retailers can enhance their customers’ experience. Regardless of the channel – whether in-store, online or via mobile device – it’s critical to any retailer’s success that the experience must remain the same.

Here are some of the headlines that caught my eye to help inspire some new thoughts for you this week.

1. Study Finds Shoppers Prefer Brick-And-Mortar Stores to Amazon and EBay

Summary: A key takeaway from the A.T. Kearney Omnichannel Shopping Preferences Study showed that 90% of survey respondents reported they’d prefer to make their purchases in a physical store. Why? According to Mike Moriarty, a partner in the retail practice of A.T. Kearney and co-author of the study, “[People] love going out, shopping with people and touching stuff.”

My thoughts: Consumer buying habits have changed. As mentioned in a previous post on Reinventing the box, the urban and rural physical store (i.e. the “box”) has evolved over the past few years to meet the changing demands of consumers. Traditional large box retailers, such as Staples, Best Buy and Walmart, started testing newly designed, smaller footprint stores with localized product assortments that are catered to the segment of the population that frequents the area. Urban store locations in many cities have been revitalized with the influx of residents, businesses, restaurants and traditional retail. And rural store locations – increasingly referred to as “lifestyle centers” – are seeing healthy growth. There will always be the need to touch, feel and try products, especially items where fit is important, like clothing. Even Etsy is jumping on the physical store bandwagon by introducing Etsy Wholesale. But this doesn’t signal the end of online commerce. In fact, it’s the opposite. It illustrates that the future of retail is about commerce. Not digital, not physical, not mobile; it’s about a seamless shopping experience across every channel. It’s why showrooming and webrooming are not terms to be afraid of, but instead should be embraced. These shopping behaviors present new customer engagement opportunities for retailers.


2. Want those exact shoes? Ask Zappos’ new personal assistant

Summary: Zappos is known for its extreme customer service, and now it’s taking it to a new level. With the introduction of “Ask Zappos,” the online retailer is tapping into social and digital media to further reach their shoppers. According to CNET, “the service provides a digital personal assistant who takes requests in the form of images and finds the exact item, while also providing links to some alternatives.”

My thoughts: People like to shop with others, not just for the social element of it all, but also for opinions on what to buy. Inserting a digital personal assistant gives the shopper that much more confidence in making a purchase, and can also help with reducing returns if the assistant can offer advice on sizing and reviews, among others. And as I mentioned in a previous blog post around social media engagement, Zappos seems to be doing this right – they whisper to their shoppers and offer solutions to challenges their shoppers encounter without forcing the sale.


3. The Most Important M’s In M-Commerce

Summary: There’s a group of consumers who are driving the majority of smartphone use and mobile transactions. According to Phil Carter, an associate at Trinity Ventures, there are three Ms to always keep in mind: moms, millennials and multinationals.

  • When it comes to moms, Edison Research reported that 64% owned smartphones in early 2013 vs. 53% of the general population.
  • As for millennials, ComScore reported 81% of U.S. millennials (defined as 18-34 year olds) owned a smartphone at the end of 2013.
  • And from a multinational perspective, data from Statista ranks the U.S. as 13th in global smartphone penetration. The 4 countries at the top of the list are United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

My thoughts: I’ve talked a lot about the importance of demographics in my last few Top 5 posts, but this article further illustrates the point: know who is accessing your site and through what channels. For moms who are always on the go with no time to sit at a computer, a mobile experience needs to ensure they can easily access information and complete a purchase on the fly before they have to move on to the next activity. For millennials, keep it quick and engaging. They like visuals, so create a mobile experience that caters to them. As for an international reach, remember that geographic regions all come with their unique requirements, something that differs not only as a result of language, but also through cultural preferences and traditions. Be aware of your presence in various regions.


4. Sears’ Big Data Omnichannel Adventure

Summary: Sears is leveraging Big Data to support new initiatives – like “Shop Your Way” – to deliver a quality shopping experience, something of increasing importance to retailers as their customers increasingly complete transactions through multiple channels.

My thoughts: Big Data has been an industry buzzword for a long time – and is probably more overused than omni-channel – but as Ankur Gupta, Sears’ General Manager of Big Data, accurately states: “Data is ultimately the underlying factor for retailers to be able to make better business decisions.” Collecting data from your customers gives clues about their preferences and behaviors; they are giving you the information you need in order to give them the type of shopping experience they’re looking for. Whether it’s delivering targeted offers or giving them the option to explore curbside pickup, retailers just need to figure out how to turn all of that data into actionable insights. Collecting the data is the easy part; the difficult part is putting it into real action. A good rule of thumb: for every Big Data analyst an organization has, they should invest in 2-3 merchandisers that can put those insights into action.


5. The web’s influence on U.S. retail grows

Summary: Reporter Thad Rueter writes that “Forrester says the web will account for or influence 59% of U.S. retail purchases by 2018.” The new Forrester Report – titled “U.S. Cross-Channel Retail Sales Forecast: 2014 to 2018” – also states that consumers are ‘preshopping’ across devices. As a result, this initial behavior is driving the growth in cross-channel shopping.

My thoughts: In an industry so focused on omni-channel, we certainly spend a lot of time talking about web vs. store, or the justification of web for purchasing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to understand how and why shoppers buy the goods they do, but we need to start thinking more about their shopping preferences and behaviors with the customer at the center, not just viewed within a specific channel. The future of retail is all about breaking down traditional silos and bringing together the physical and digital worlds. A number of the articles in today’s Top 5 allude to this future reality – consumers will start shopping in one channel and finish it in another. In fact, our customer SOLSTICE leverages our Digital Store solution to help customers complete their purchase, regardless of where the sale may have originated from (check out this video of a transaction in action).


Some news to watch:

Amazon to launch credit card reader to compete with Square, leaked papers suggest

Though this piece of news didn’t make my official Top 5 list, it’s certainly news to watch. Amazon has been a big player in the retail world for years, always disrupting the way consumers shop. Earlier this summer, it introduced the long awaited Fire phone. With a possible credit card reader that will connect with its Wallet app, it could once again change the way people shop. But one big question that I keep thinking is how will this be different – or better – than the ISIS wallet? That was also a big promise that didn’t seem to go far, though it’s integrated on more phones than the Amazon Wallet. So what kind of mark could this really make?