Consumer behaviour in the omni-channel age

In his latest blog examining the future of European retailing, Epson's Adrian Clark considers the importance of omni-channel shopping

Consumer behaviour in the omni-channel age

New consumer behaviours in the omni-channel age

Over the last two weeks, I have been examining the findings of our ‘State of European Retailing’ research, where we asked more than 5,000 consumers from across Europe about some of the core trends, challenges and technology developments confronting Europe’s retail sector.

Previously, we looked at the importance customers placed on completing a purchase quickly without having to suffer long queues and the effectiveness of discount offers and incentives. In my third blog, I’m going to discuss the importance of omni-channel shopping.

It’s the big question of the modern retail age. Which is more important: In-store or online?

According to our research, they’re as important as each other. An equally good on and offline experience is cited as critical for positively influencing perception of a retail brand by 54 per cent of European consumers.

Only knowledgeable sales staff, fast payment and reduced queues are considered to matter more to a brand.

How online drives footfall

The study reveals a clear link between the online experience of a brand and the likelihood of a customer going to the physical store. One in four European consumers says it ‘definitely’ influences them to visit. More than half (55 per cent) says it will ‘to some degree’.

Furthermore, 45 per cent of European consumers say a well-integrated omni-channel shopping experience has a major impact on a retail brand. In Italy, that rises to 66 per cent and in Spain 64 per cent.

When asked about online buying, 52 per cent say ‘efficient purchase and delivery to your door’ has the biggest impact on their perception of a brand and drives additional loyalty to it. Another 30 per cent cite the ‘opportunity to research online and buy in-store’ and 18 per cent a ‘good click and collect experience’.

The responses differ markedly country by country:

  • An efficient ‘buy online and deliver to your door’ service is more important for brand perception in the UK (62 per cent) and least important in Germany (39 per cent).
  • Researching online and buying in-store has more impact in Germany (48 per cent) than in any other of the countries surveyed (23 per cent to 29 per cent).
  • French consumers (26 per cent) are most likely to regard a ‘good click and collect’ experience as having the biggest brand impact. But only 13 per cent of German consumers have the same opinion.

Where most buying happens

The survey also provides a clear marker in the debate about online versus in-store sales. While half of European consumers undertake their retail purchasing research online, only 38 per cent of actual purchasing happens online with 62 per cent still being undertaken in-store.

UK consumers have a higher preference for buying online (45 per cent) whereas in Spain, Italy, France and Germany, online research is common but buying in-store still dominates (58-67 per cent).

Many European consumers (26 per cent) always or often research a product online by smartphone while they are in a store. This provides a challenge to the retailer to close the sale then and there. However, the survey reveals that many shops fail to do so and the business goes to another retailer online.

Almost one in five consumers admit to making a purchase online while looking at the product in a different retailer’s store. Again there is a country by country difference with UK consumers (12 per cent) least likely to make a purchase in this way and Spanish consumers most likely (21 per cent).

Overall it suggests that retailers are losing sales from a significant proportion of their own footfall to rival brands with a better omni-channel presence or offer.

However, the most common trend among European consumers is researching online, then researching in-store and then buying the same product online. Driven by younger consumers, 27 per cent of European consumers shop this way – a further challenge to retailers to persuade people to spend in-store and to strengthen their omni-channel solutions.

Motivations for shopping online

What makes people want to shop or research online? According to the survey, it is seen as entertaining or fun by 89 per cent of European consumers. Price is the next most important driver (77 per cent) followed by ability to make brand comparisons quickly (67 per cent), convenience (67 per cent), ease of use (62 per cent) access to greater choice of products (61 per cent) and speed of making a purchase (54 per cent).

Those consumers with lower disposable income will be more likely to use online because of the speed of purchase and accessibility to a wider choice of products.

The most important reason why consumers still research and buy in-store is to do with ability to see and touch products (80 per cent). Immediate availability of products (66 per cent) comes next, followed by tradition (48 per cent), personalised in-store experience (46 per cent), sales staff knowledge and advice (43 per cent), the social aspect of shopping in-store (34 per cent) and fear of buying online (23 per cent).

But with 69 per cent of Europe’s consumers expecting to be buying more online for home delivery over the next two years, clearly Europe’s retailers still have challenges to face in tailoring their omni-channel presence to shifting demand.

Next week: The in-store technology revolution and traditional retail values

If you missed my first two blogs, you can read my thoughts about the impact of long queues here and the value of promotions here.

For more information about Epson’s retail solutions, click here.