Shopping Channels Converge as Customers Embrace Flexible Technology
Fueled by the pandemic, supply chain challenges and labor shortages over the last two years, market disruption has engaged dramatic changes to the retail sector accelerating a transformation that was already taking place. This has led new retail fulfillment trends that translate into new goals and priorities for retailers seeking to match shopper expectations.
In a rapidly evolving marketplace, retailers must embrace the new ‘normal’ and have the foresight to prepare for what’s next.
Recently, Zebra Technologies revealed the results of its 14th annual Global Shopper Study, titled The Next Wave of Retail Fulfillment. The vision study measured both industry and public perception regarding the changing trends in retail after two years of pandemic conditions and how both consumers and retailers responded. The study polled sales associates, executive decision-makers and customers from 15 different countries in four regions across the world — North and South America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific.
What Do Shopper Expectations Look Like?
The study provides key insights into what shoppers expect with their retail experience, what associates view as the most challenging aspects of the new environment and what decision-makers believe to be the most important areas to focus on moving forward. The findings uncovered that many customers and associates believe the changes and tools instituted over the last two years will remain even after pandemic recedes.
For instance, mobile ordering and online shopping have blossomed during the pandemic and continue to increase in use as shoppers take advantage of services like curbside pickup and BOPIS (buy online, pickup in store). According to the study, 77% of shoppers used m-commerce (mobile) in 2021; That’s an increase of 7% over 2020 and up 15% from 2019. Digitally savvy shoppers and associates expect retailers to employ the latest technology to further enable the use of mobile ordering. Most decision-makers (92%) agree that more shoppers are using more m-commerce solutions, and those expectations cut across Food, Drug, C-Store and Mass Merchant (FDCM) segments.
The Omnichannel Boom
But while mobile use is up, customer preferences aren’t tied to one particular method. Omnichannel shopping has become the preferred model, with most shoppers seeing little difference between retail channels. Shoppers want to shop their way, whether that’s browsing at home online and then going out to pick up the purchase, ordering out of stock items for delivery in person or simply searching for ways to make the experience more convenient. The study found:
A majority of shoppers (67%) said they preferred a blend of online and brick-and-mortar experiences
58% of shoppers believe they find information more efficiently on their smartphone than by asking in-store staff
Half of all shoppers aid they will check for sales, promotions and coupons online while in-store
They also expect better retail fulfillment. The study highlighted the largest gaps between what shoppers and retailers think are related to satisfaction in fulfillment. Operationally, this means retailers need to get the basics right to develop trust and loyalty from their shoppers. By handling the details — product availability, price transparency, safety, contactless store experiences and easy return — organizations can remain on par with customer expectations amid new retail fulfillment trends.
Blended Channels Lead Retail Fulfillment Trends
Retail channels have converged as shoppers today begin their buying journey online, in-stores or as a combination. For example, Millennials (74%) and Gen Xers (73%) have no issue switching channels within a single shopping trip.
But blended channels, or ‘phygital’ experiences, present another challenge to retailers who have traditionally managed e-commerce and brick-and-mortar fulfillment on separate tracks. Retail fulfillment trends such as BOPIS, curbside pickup, same-day home delivery and delivery to other stores add further operational complexity.
So while 64% of shoppers plan to shop in stores more as the pandemic recedes, retailers need to prioritize the fulfillment and expediency of digital shopping in the physical retail space as foot traffic ramps up.
The focus on fulfillment is consistent for shoppers online and off. The top reason consumers gave for shopping where they do was Product Availability — 57% in-store, 59% online. The second most listed reason was Product Selection — 50% in-store, 51% online. However, only 38% of shoppers completely trust retailers to fulfill online orders as promised and 71% reported leaving a store without items they came to buy with about half (49%) of those saying it was due to out-of-stocks.
To meet today’s on-demand consumer expectations, retailers are looking to facilitate the blending of online and in-store operations. Fulfillment-driven solutions are now the top trends decision-makers say will emerge over the next five years. Here’s what they identified as the top five changes driving future store operations:
Providing seamless customer experience between online and brick-and-mortar
Facilitating mobile ordering
Buy/reserve online and pick up in store
Shift to online sales
In-store purchase shipped to home
As shoppers have honed a digital-first mindset, retailers need to mirror that approach. Implementing a digital transformation isn’t easy, but it is a necessity in a world moving at an incredibly fast pace. Streamlined workflows, more inventory transparency, and an empowered workforce — all enabled by technology — combine to create a better customer experience, whether online or in-store.
Technology Solutions are Key
Technology improvements for retailers unlock ways to deliver better customer experiences on any platform and empower sales associates to deliver the best service possible.
From a sales associates perspective, the study found that using mobile devices and technology not only helps their day-to-day experience with work but also enables them to deliver enhanced customer service and increases their view of an employer in a positive light. Retailers are realizing the value of the right mobile devices and applications and how they help elevate associates’ work, improve the customer experience and unlock efficiencies from the warehouse to the shop floor.
According to the study, associates cite three primary benefits of mobile devices in their work: Finding the correct price for an item, finding a specific product and answering a customer’s question. It’s no wonder then that within five years, virtually all decision-makers anticipate they will implement deployment plans for all of the following devices to stay on top of retail fulfillment trends.
Handheld barcode scanners
Mobile point-of-sale devices
Barcode labels or thermal printers
Handheld mobile computers with scanners
Using these technologies will be critical in addressing key shopper concerns raised in the study. Nearly 9 in 10 associates and 90% of decision-makers rate stock availability and ordering as a top area important to improve with technology. Among decision-makers, 87% plan to invest in warehouse fulfillment solutions in the near future with similar mobile technology at the forefront.
Go Deeper with TRG: Download this ebook to learn more on how the retail environment has shifted, along with tips for boosting the in-store experience for customers and associates alike.
TRG is Ready to Tackle Retail Fulfillment Trends
At TRG, we’re committed to “Making Technology Simple” — specifically within enterprise mobility, point of sale and payment processing solutions. With the industry’s most comprehensive suite of lifecycle management services, our complete line of Retail solutions help address shoppers’ desires for better inventory management and added efficiency in ordering and payments. All are designed to improve the customer experience, increase your operational efficiency and accelerate the delivery of goods and services.
When you work with TRG, you gain the services of the one provider with a global reach capable of providing solutions for everything dealing with mobile technology. We’re aligned with qualified suppliers like Zebra — which empowers the front line of business in retail, manufacturing, transportation and logistics, healthcare, and other industries — to give you options no matter the goal or application.
TRG will help you evaluate alternatives, develop project plans and execute technology transformations. Once a solution is decided upon, our single-source deployment solutions will handle staging, kitting and configuration to simplify technology rollouts. After your solution is up and running, TRG will ensure it stays that way with comprehensive managed services for the repair, maintenance and logistical support that eliminate downtime.
Connect with TRG to learn more about retail fulfillment trends and technology solutions that improve operational efficiency and build consumer confidence.