Why British shoppers still prefer the high street
Shopping on the high street still beats online shopping for most British consumers, despite the proliferation of online channels and weakened consumer spending in stores, according to research by Arc UK, part of the Leo Burnett Group.
The study found that physical retail stores' ability to surprise and delight shoppers still gives them the edge over the digital marketplace, with more than half of shoppers surveyed (59%) rating their experiences in physical stores as either dramatically better (20%) or somewhat better (39%) than online. However, the research also warned that store-based retailers still have a lot of work to do to keep their edge as shoppers increasingly demand better service and in-store entertainment.
The survey noted that, in the eyes of shoppers, the physical store has the distinct advantage of providing the 'human touch'. It is also felt to be better at delivering on the functional aspects of shopping such as providing true product engagement, speed of purchase, and returns. Despite this, shoppers feel dissatisfied with many aspects of their in-store experience. For example, only one in three shoppers surveyed said that physical stores provide a more stimulating and engaging experience than online.
Among the key findings of the survey:
- Shoppers are largely unimpressed with in-store service. Less than half (42%) of shoppers believe stores are delivering prompt service and only 30% of respondents said that shops have staff who can help them decide what to buy;
- Too often shoppers are not happy with price ranges, as 55% of shoppers believe stores offer too limited a range of price;
- Price competition alone is not enough to keep the demanding post-recession shopper interested and loyal, as 60% are unwilling to sacrifice the quality of their shopping experience for a lower price;
- Some 62% of shoppers believe having a great selection of products is the most important attribute of a store.
According to Dr Alan Treadgold, global head of retail strategy for Leo Burnett, "The UK retail sector has taken an unprecedented hit and continues to struggle as the UK economy emerges from the shadow of recession. Yet this research shows that the physical store still has an important role to play in daily life and can have a promising future. Consumers increasingly want an engaging and entertaining shopping experience, and they also want to be able to move seamlessly between online and offline. Retailers that take heed of this and truly integrate their physical stores with the web in exciting ways will be rewarded with improved customer loyalty in the long-term."
The company suggests that retailers are missing a key opportunity to use technology to enhance in-store experiences and to integrate this with the online retail experience. Mobile devices (e.g. smartphones and iPads) emerged strongly as the most promising platform for this, as their popularity continues to soar in the UK. More than half (59%) of smartphone users said they value the ability to use their device to scan bar codes on products for information. A further 55% said they would value being able to use their device more broadly (e.g. for accessing store maps to find the location of products).
However, the study also identified a distinct gap between shoppers' intentions and retailers' strategies. Treadgold concluded: "Shoppers don't just group stores according to the product they want to buy; they group them according to the experiences they expect to have. It's critical that retailers understand which competitors they are being compared with, to keep up with rising service expectations and to truly stand out. Ultimately, the key is having a shopper-centric perspective, rather than merely having a product focus."