Despite the spending, the planning and the hand wringing over how to meet the needs of the modern retail customer, there is still a large gap between what retail executives think consumers want and what they actually want, according to research conducted by Oracle NetSuite in partnership with Wakefield Research and Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor.
In particular, the global study of 1,200 consumers and 400 retail executives across the U.S., U.K. and Australia found a huge disconnect between shopper demands and what retailers deliver, notably when it comes to technology.
The research also identifies a way for retailers to bridge the gap and some key areas for optimism moving forward. Efforts to reimagine the in-store experience, provide personalization and improve direct communication are all good starting points, even if they’ve been poorly executed so far, according to survey respondents. Moreover, the research identifies key generational differences that forward-thinking retailers can use to diversify how they reach, and sell to, different consumers.
However, the findings throw a dash of cold water on recent enthusiasm for quick technology fixes. Indeed, the results of the study should prompt some difficult questions about previous retail investments.
All that money spent improving brick and mortar stores? According to the study, while 73 percent of retail executives believe that the overall environment in retail stores has become more inviting in the past five years, only 45 percent of consumers agree. In fact, 19 percent said it has become less inviting. The good news is, stores still matter. Almost all respondents (97 percent) agree there remains a need to go into a physical store to purchase items.
That big chatbot initiative to improve the customer experience while reducing staffing expenses? According to the study, 79 percent of retail executives believe chatbots are meeting consumer needs. Two thirds of consumers (66 percent) disagree, with respondents noting that chatbots are currently more damaging to the shopping experience than helpful.
All those resources invested in social media, to “meet customers where they are?” Almost all (98 percent) retail executives think that engaging with customers on social media is important to building stronger relationships with them, according to the study. Only 12 percent of consumers think it has a significant impact on the way they think or feel about a brand. There is hope for future efforts, however. Not surprisingly, social interactions do matter more for Generation Z and for Millennials.
AI not the Answer
What’s more, consumer confidence does not match that of retail executives when it comes to that next expected wave of spending. According to the study, 79 percent of retail executives believe having VR and AI in stores will increase sales, but only 14 percent of consumers believe the technologies will have a significant impact on their purchase decisions. Similarly, almost all (98 percent) retail executives believe VR and AI will increase foot traffic, yet 48 percent of consumers do not think VR or AI would have any impact on how likely they are to go into a store.
Signs for Optimism
While consumer expectations are shifting faster than ever, there is hope for the future, notably around personalization (if done without being creepy), streamlined shopping experiences and simplicity.
For example, bucking perception, 43 percent of Millennial and Generation Z consumers expect to do more in-store shopping in store in 2019 and 97 percent of all consumers agree that there is still a need to go into a physical store to purchase items. When they get there, technology can help to make interactions faster and simpler. The study found that consumers are willing to pay more for a personalized experience that presents them with what they want without being intrusive. Self-checkout kiosks, virtual reality try on and mobile payment are all technologies consumers said they would want to use while shopping.
For more details on the findings, including breakdowns by region and generation, see the full report The Future of Retail.