A guest column from Richard Dutton, new business director, Lime and Arc UK
Physical retailers who are coming up against exclusively online competitors can take some solace from our research that shows that shopping on the high street is still preferred to online for most UK shoppers. Specifically the study reveals that over half of shoppers (59%) rate their experiences in physical stores as either dramatically (20%) or somewhat better (39%) than online.
The study, with 2000 participants, is the largest of its kind in the UK. It explores the needs and expectations of the modern shopper, and examines the role of the physical retail store in a world where consumers no longer need to go into a shop to make a purchase.
Experience is the watchword because that is physical retail’s big advantage. It always was the case – try before you buy is market shopping’s great tradition and online lacks flavour, texture and scent – and the ‘human touch’. Another advantage of physical retail is that it functions well in terms of product engagement, speed of purchase and speed of returns.
Despite these strengths, our evidence suggests that many physical retailers are failing to make the most of these advantages. Only one in three shoppers surveyed said that physical stores provide a more stimulating and engaging experience than online. Less than half (42%) of shoppers believe stores are delivering prompt service and only 30% of respondents said that shops have staff who can help them decide what to buy. Range of prices and range of products are also areas where the shoppers we surveyed indicate that physical retailers are falling short of expectation.
The survey also indicates that even in the current climate price isn’t the only factor for shoppers. It shows that 60% of shoppers are unwilling to sacrifice the quality of their shopping experience for a lower price.
Physical stores were once the place where conversations started with shoppers about products and services. If they can get back to that whilst bringing in the engagement techniques used by experiential marketers then they can continue to deliver advantages to the shopper.
The best stores will go beyond re-establishing the essential ‘human touch’ and deliver interaction and engagement instore that syncs online and offline together at the point of purchase. There are an increasingly large number of shoppers who want to blend their on and offline information and purchasing. For instance, over half (59%) of smartphone users said they value the ability to use their device to scan bar codes on products for information. A further 55% would value being able to use their device more broadly, such as accessing store maps to find the location of products.
Experiential and shopper marketing methods can help move the physical store from product-centric to shopper-centric retailing. Stores that meet and match the expectations of their shoppers will have a much stronger chance of making a lasting and successful impression.