In Retail, The Great Space Race (Across Shelves And Minds)

Customers are familiar with the stores they visit, virtually and in person, across large and small retailers. But is familiarity — knowing what one wants and where to get it — enough? Consumers want more than just efficiency when it comes to shopping, according to the Omni Usage Index via Vantiv and PYMNTS. Sharon Brant, head of Market Insights at Vantiv, tells PYMNTS’ Karen Webster that ease over speed can make all the difference.

Space Race.

No, not Sputnik, Apollo or the great mission to land a man on the moon. But a jockeying for position among retailers for shelf space – the kind that attracts browsing and buying – and space in the consumer’s mind and mobile device, through awareness and apps.

In the recently released Omni Usage Index, powered by Vantiv and PYMNTS, data across four channels – brick-and-mortar businesses, desktop websites, mobile devices and mobile apps – show that retailers large and small have had some victory in capturing share of wallet, with challenges still to tackle.

The data was gathered by surveying more than 2,000 customers, gaining insight as to who shops where, why, when and how.

You can find the report here.

In an interview discussing the results with PYMNTS’ Karen Webster, Sharon Brant, head of market insights at Vantiv, said that among the surprises discovered in the data were the different reasons people chose to shop at a large store versus a small or mid-sized store. “I kind of look at it as efficiency versus experience,” Brant told Webster.

The data revealed that 75 percent of consumers shopping at a larger store knew what they wanted before crossing the premises. A little less than half of those surveyed across smaller locations were more eager to browse the aisles, perhaps setting them up to make ancillary purchases. The overall satisfaction level among omnichannel features stood at 39.9 percent.

Those headline numbers may be counterintuitive, said Brant, as one might assume the wider selection inherent in larger stores would invite more browsing – and omnichannel offerings should guarantee that people can get whatever they want, whenever they want it. But therein lies the rub. The sheer range of choices can prove intimidating, especially among the brick-and-mortar consumers, who comprise 35 percent of all respondents. These are consumers, according to the study, who said they had made no online purchases in the last 30 days and said they buy more in-store than they do online. These users also skew a bit older, with an average age of 43 years old.

“You just want to get in and get out,” Brant said of those who shop in larger retailers.

She noted a second surprising data point: When it comes to omnichannel features, consumers often give smaller stores a pass. They place a higher level of importance on digital capabilities at bigger retailers than smaller, especially with the option to offer product reviews online. This may make sense against a backdrop where 57 percent of purchases at larger companies were made outside the store. The result: lower relative expectations for smaller brick-and-mortar retailers.

How to Raise Consumer Consciousness

Still, those smaller locales could do a better job of raising consumer consciousness. The survey showed that 80 percent of shoppers are aware that larger firms have mobile apps and, of that tally, nearly half use those apps. Notably, consumers assume smaller stores won’t have apps, and, even if they do, would-be users are not aware of them.

In discussion of brick-and-mortar retail, is it any wonder that location would factor into the equation? After all, location benefits larger stores, which tend to be, well, everywhere. That makes the big boys more visible to the 35 percent of shoppers queried in the Vantiv survey who said they frequent the real-world haunts of commerce, and who skew a bit older.

Brant told Webster the in-store experience “should be experiential, much more for … brick-and-mortar [retail] … there should be the ability to talk to somebody” and touch and feel the merchandise.

All this tangible interaction, even among the 16 percent of consumers who would be classified as digital consumers, begs the question: How do you get people familiar with stores? Large or small, brick-and-mortar businesses or eCommerce-driven? After all, one cannot shop where one doesn’t frequent.

Current Customers Lure Future Customers

Here is where word of mouth and some peer prompting can spur retail activity, said Brant.  “People like their friends to recommend a store in which they had a great experience,” said Brant, who added that “your current customers are your best advocates for future customers.” Glowing reviews or anecdotes across social media can pack real and virtual aisles and keep the coffers bulging.

For digitally inclined shoppers, the website experience is crucial, said Brant, and will help determine whether people return. “The people who would use these features exceed the people who can use them right now,” especially at smaller firms, and Brant said this speaks to a gap between what consumers want from an online shopping experience and what retailers offer. The digital consumers tend to have higher earnings, found the study, with average annual incomes of $69,000 versus the aforementioned brick-and-mortar shoppers at $56,000. Any-channel, that is omnichannel, shoppers are bracketed by those two groups at $64,000.

For the mobile, app-driven experience (recall the aforementioned lack of consumer awareness about which retailers have apps and which stores don’t), it can be overwhelming, given the limited screen space on mobile devices and the fact that each consumer already has 25 to 30 apps.

Thus, a few words of advice for retailers: Make it easy, said Brant. Discounts and coupons and the ability to see comparable pricing are all important in the digital shopping world, where, as the executive warned, younger users “can be hard critics … they want online profiles and shipping is important.” In fact, free shipping to first-time shoppers can be an effective incentive for consumers to pull the trigger and commit to a new purchase, said Brant.

An optimal experience in retail, Brant continued, “also depends on the type of retailer you are,” where features like augmented reality (AR) can help smaller merchants across home improvement or beauty verticals.

AR through mobile apps lets people see what a room might look like painted a different color, or how a new lipstick appears in person. The result? A tech-driven way to get more information on what is being bought, and greater consumer certainty on product purchases.

Retail these days “is not quite the Wild West,” said Brant, but stores do have a long way to go before they’re satisfactory on most levels. There’s still a 10 percent gap in overall satisfaction between large stores and small ones as measured by features, in terms of, “Do you have what I want?” and “Make it easy for me,” indicating that some work still needs to be done in order to close that chasm.