Retail has been the industry that has been most affected by the rise of the Internet. Online shoppers, manufacturers disintermediating their channels to go direct to consumers, social media and search engines have all had their impact.
All of this has created an industry where chasing sales means innovating. Those who have failed to invest in new models have seen market share shrink and, in many cases, have disappeared from the high street.
Avionos has released its latest survey of 1,409 shoppers. The results contain a number of surprises and show how quickly things change in retail.
Google and Amazon the starting point for shoppers
Search engines are now the start point for many shoppers. According to the survey Google (32%) and Amazon (33%) are the start point for shoppers. This will worry retailers who have invested in their own applications. If consumers are not starting with the app they have built and deployed, they need to change how they work. In a recent interview with Jason Cohen, WP Engine he said that if an app isn’t on the home page, it doesn’t get used.
Interestingly not all searches lead to sales. It turns out that many shoppers will research big ticket items online but still prefer to go into store (63%) to buy. For markets such as furniture this makes sense. Items such as a 3-piece suite are expected to colour coordinate with a room. Going into store allows a customer to make sure they get the right colour. In addition, many furniture stores now match their online pricing with their in-store pricing.
This also makes the case for a clear omni-channel experience. Customers want the same engagement across their mobile, desktop and in-store experience. They expect loyalty to work both ways with retailers recognising them and delivering unique deals.
Social media trumps influencers and celebrities
For many aspiring YouTubers and those who have built large Twitter and Facebook followings, this will come as bad news. 60% of those surveyed said they had never purchased a product promoted by a celebrity or social influencer. Without the age data from the respondents and the ability to tie that to this response the impact of this is unclear. There is no question that in the teen market, social influencers and celebrities still have an impact.
However, in the last few weeks the epitome of celebrity retail properties, the Kardashian Dash clothing stores have closed. They are not alone in taking this action. Several other celebrities have either moved away from their brands or sold them off in order to focus on other projects. Is this a long term trend? It’s hard to know but never discount the impact of exposure on sales. It certainly won’t limit the amount of product placement in TV and films.
What is interesting is how that social media influence has changed. 55% of respondents say that they have purchased through a social media channel such as Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest. Facebook is the clear winner with 40% saying they have purchased through it. Success is down to the targeted advertising that these platforms deliver. This means that those seeing ads are more likely to click and potentially buy.
More information is good
When it comes to buying some goods, consumers want data. 54% feel more confident in their purchase if they can access detailed product specifications. This is not just about geeks and techies. 49% say that extra content around a product listing makes them feel more confident when buying. The challenge for many retailers is what that information should include. Is it enough to just post the manufacturers product specs? For electronics it may be. However, links back to trusted review sites will also have an impact on how likely a buyer is to trust this is the right purchase for them.
Other strategies include video of the product and high quality images. Bandwidth is no longer a restriction for online shopping. Provide a customer with a fully immersive experience around the product and they are much more likely to purchase. For example, if selling bedroom suites, walk throughs of different layouts is better than just static images. Allowing the customer to build their own room and then displaying it with the products in place increases time on site. If, when they come to store, they can pull up that walk-through and see the products, it is more likely that they will buy. This ties back to the omni-channel experience mentioned above.
Is AI the future face of retail?
It’s a good question. AI and machine learning have been around the retail industry for some time. The use of AI to improve logistics and reduce cost as well as predicting demand in nothing new. The latter is now filtering through to manufacturing and the supply chain.
Online uses a lot of Augmented as well as Artificial Intelligence approaches. The advertising that is delivered alongside search results or when browsing social media relies on AI engines. Those engines gather large amounts of data about our online lives and use them to target offers and goods. There is much to be done to make these truly effective. Order an unexpected product for another family member and suddenly the offers that appear when shopping online can become wildly inaccurate.
Despite this, 42% of the respondents believe that AI will speed up checkouts.
Personalisation is key but ignore privacy at your peril
Shoppers are willing to provide a lot of personal data if they believe it will improve the shopping experience. Using that data to personalise sales is what the social media and big search engines have become adept at. For retailers, this is just as important as it plays into the omni-channel experience.
However, there is increasing pressure around the need to keep data secure and safe. Retailers who do not protect customers data risk damaging data breaches. This causes reputational damage and in a highly competitive marketplace, there is always somewhere else for a customer to go. In addition, the increase in privacy and compliance legislation means that many retailers risk significant fines if they do not change their systems.
What does this mean
The speed with which things change in the retail market makes it interesting to watch. Technologies are adopted and discarded quickly as retailers look for an edge over the competition. The move away from retailers own websites and apps to search engines is certainly one example of this. A more telling example is the lack of power that celebrities and social influencers wield over some shoppers.
If you are a retailer the key message from this is that change is good even though change comes at a price. There is also a need to reinvest in SEO to ensure that your website ranks high on search engines.