Shops are still central to customers’ shopping habits; but there needs to be a shift in the role and function of the store, based on changing consumer lifestyles and new paths to purchase in order to take full advantage. In the build up to InternetRetailing Expo, Lucia Ruiz, head of marketing, InternetRetailing Events, explains that the trends we will see as retailers seek to make this transition.
The way customers buy is changing fast; and this is in no small part down to the growing use of mobile devices. Smartphones enable us to connect to the high street like never before – and the evidence suggests that we’re taking full advantage.
According to recent research from KBH On-Train Media, 26% of those use their morning train journey to buy online. It’s not just grocery orders that are being updated: the study found that 15% of those who did buy on the move shopped for holidays, while 9% were on the hunt for cars or car-related products.
Retailers are seeing peaks at different times of the day, as shoppers update their online supermarket shopping trolleys or browse for a wide variety of items on their way to and from work.
Changing customer behaviour also sees shoppers buying well into the evening, with purchases taking place from dual-screening customers watching TV, or even from bed. So, just how do retailers best cater for the needs of the modern customer, and how does the traditional brick-and-mortar offering fit into the equation, if at all?
Moving to mobile
The move to mobile is being driven mostly by the simplicity of the experience. It’s easier to buy from a smartphone, as web pages are simpler to fit the smaller screen. Added to that, a fast checkout experience is more likely to be rewarded with a successful sale.
Alongside the mobile web-browsing experience is, of course, the mobile app. Apps can make life easier for on-the go shoppers, with customers able to update and save their baskets even when their mobile signal is interrupted, and then place the order when they are back online. They’re also good for engagement: fashion retailer Asos says its customers who have downloaded its app spend an average of 80 minutes a month in it. In total, 80% of its UK traffic, and 70% of its UK orders, are from mobile.
The shift to mobile has not gone unnoticed by large retailers. High-street stalwart House of Fraser was among the first to move to mobile-first design for its website back in 2014, but since then many others have followed.
What’s in store for in-store?
The move to mobile is a symptom of a combination of the technology available and the increasingly busy life of the modern consumer. What’s key here is that, just because an order starts online, it doesn’t mean that it ends with the delivery of a product to the doorstep. Customers increasingly want to be able to get their shopping done without breaking stride or waiting for delivery, and forward-thinking retailers are already shifting their offerings to accommodate.
More and more retailers now offer online customers the ability to pick up their purchases in the store. Some 62% of IRUK Top500 retailers do that in 2018, up from 57% a year earlier.
Among them is Argos: 56% of its sales start online, but 63% of online sales are collected from a store, according to parent company Sainsbury’s half-year results to September 2017. Supermarket Asda has focused on making the service one that’s easy and convenient to use: it enables shoppers to pick up – and return – their orders from a wide range of online retailers through its Asda toyou service, which brings people into its own stores in the process.
For those who may not pass a store on their way home, Argos opened a digital format store on London Underground, John Lewis opened a click-and-commute store at London St Pancras Station – and Amazon put its delivery lockers into Birmingham Airport.
Shopping as an experience
However, we’re not seeing physical stores reduced to mere warehouses. Shops remain central to retail: just 18% of sales took place online in December 2017, according to the UK’s Office for National Statistics.
Stores remain important for shoppers who want to see, touch, and feel products for themselves before buying, which is why brands from feelunique.com to boohoo.com and Boden have opened either their own stores or department store concessions. Other retailers are leaning into the experience of shopping, creating extra services and experiences to lure shoppers in.
John Lewis and Halfords are among the retailers that have emphasised in-store service. John Lewis introduced a hotel-style concierge to its Oxford store when it opened in 2017 offering personal shopping services alongside restaurant reservations and even tours of the store. Meanwhile, Halfords has said that in the half-year to September 2017, sales related to in-store services, that include car light bulb and windscreen wiper replacements, rose by 19.3%.
The customer is a many splendored thing
What this all boils down to is that, although customer behaviour, powered by new technology, is changing, the death of the high street is increasingly proving itself a myth. Previously, online-only retailers are opening physical stores, family-friendly high street mainstays are pushing reliable, but impersonal, click-and-collect services alongside lavish shopping experiences.
The store is here to stay; but how it interacts with online, and the ‘have it all ways’ expectations of the modern consumer, will move it in many different directions.