Retail loyalty subject to cross-channel strategy
Almost one third of consumers feel that a negative experience with an online retailer's web site leaves them with an overall negative impression of the retailer, according to a study by Sterling Commerce and Demandware.
But apart from potential damage to the retailer's brand, half of consumers said they would avoid the retailer for one or more visits after attempting to purchase something that was out of stock.
The survey of 3,600 US consumers revisited several questions from a 2007 survey of consumer expectations surrounding the cross-channel shopping experience, and found that the majority of consumers (85%) expect seamless integration across all channels.
In fact, compared with 2007's survey results, consumers' expectations have increased in all areas of the purchasing lifecycle:
- 87% expect to track an order from any channel (up from 56%);
- 74% expect to modify an order from any channel (up from 65%);
- 61% expect to complete an order from any channel (up from 55%).
The survey also confirms the growth of the web as a primary shopping channel, highlighting the web as an important entry-point for retailers' cross-channel shopping strategies. For example:
- 62% of consumers say they start their shopping experience online at least 50% of the time before venturing in-store;
- 49% of respondents feel that their online shopping experience has a "strong impact" on their overall perception of a retailer's brand.
"These results suggest that a lack of consistency across channels is actually affecting current and future purchasing behaviour," said Jamus Driscoll, vice president of marketing for Demandware. "It's not enough to simply have different channels integrated from a technology standpoint, but the experiences need to line up and consumers need access to the same information, prices and products whether online, in-store or on mobile devices. If the brand experiences don't align, the competition is only a click away."
The survey also noted that consumer expectations for a seamless cross-channel experience demonstrate a growing desire for retailers to simplify the shopping experience. For example, more than 60% believe that being able to use their mobile phone while shopping to verify product availability at a particular store is either important or very important.
Among its findings, the survey also highlighted that:
- 53% of respondents consider it "important" or "very important" for a retailer to be able to maintain a cross-channel order history of a customer's purchases.
- 91% of consumers would use an "order online, pick-up in store" option if it were available. Despite this preference, 30% of consumers said they have never used this option previously.
- 83% of consumers believe in-store return of an online purchase is "important" or "very important".
"Today's consumer has expectations that blur channel distinctions, merge touchpoints into a continuous interaction, and demands more choice at every step," concluded Jim Bengier, global retail industry executive for Sterling Commerce.
And finally, with many retailers paring down their inventory to help control costs, out-of-stocks are becoming more prevalent and, as the survey suggests, this can negatively affect consumer loyalty. In fact, nearly half (49%) said they would make fewer trips to the retailer and 31% would start shopping online for those items they find are often out-of-stock at the retailer's bricks-and-mortar store.