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Store wars: retail shopping trends in 2016

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Robbie Johnson, retail manager at Drive Control Corporation (DCC), explores directions and trends for the retail industry
Despite the fact that the digital age has encouraged more people to shop and browse products online, physical stores are still, surprisingly, the number one destination for shoppers, according to the global PwC consumer survey: “Total Retail: Retailers and the Age of Disruption”.
Surveying 19 000 respondents worldwide, the report revealed that the physical store remains the retail touch point with the highest frequency and highlights the need for retailers to create a noteworthy customer experience in order to differentiate their offering in such a competitive space.
Research by TimeTrade echoes the PwC report, indicating that 85% of consumers still prefer to shop in physical stores, despite the wide availability of online alternatives that offer the convenience of paying securely and having the purchase delivered.
Why do people prefer physical stores? Consumers like to touch and feel the products before making a purchase decision. They’re also impatient and don’t like waiting for items to ship, and consumers also like to receive advice on what products they should purchase, from store assistants.
It’s clear that consumers are seeking retail ‘experiences’ rather than simple purchase transactions, which should inspire retailers to put effort into making the store more enjoyable, convenient and memorable as a shopping destination.
Malls and stores, realistically speaking, offer far more choice than an online store. If, for example, someone was looking for a birthday gift for a friend, an online store’s offering would be limited to their selected range, but if that individual went to a mall, they would be able to choose anything from jewellery, to sportswear, confectionary, books and the like. Physical retail offers a plethora of products, versus a selection of trending (and not necessarily top-selling) goods found online.
Shopping in-store also offers the option of getting input on product selection. According to TimeTrade, when looking at specific age groups, 64% of Baby Boomers (born between 1945 and 1964) expect in-store assistants to know the best products for their specific needs and budget, and although Millennials enjoy shopping online, they’re just as likely to buy in-store as the older generations.
When it comes to the concept of “click and collect” in a retail environment, there is still reluctance on the part of retailers to invest too heavily in “product showrooms”, which is what they would become if shoppers were at the last minute to change their mind and purchase from another retailer at a slightly lower price.
While there is a rise in online shopping at key purchasing times (Christmas, back to work and school, Halloween etc.) 92% of consumers responded that they plan to shop in stores as often, or more, as they did in the previous year and despite efforts to integrate mobile into the in-store experience, more than 42% of consumers have not ever made a purchase using their mobile devices. Mobile devices seem to come into play at the point in time where the shopper is doing product research or price comparison.
The best solution for retailers might be to provide both choices to demanding consumers and then use online and mobile media to entice shoppers to make purchases in-store through special sales and promotions.
Retailers that create high value, personalised interactions with their customers will provide a more fulfilling experience, this can only be done by understanding their customers wants and needs; and by using modern technology in stores to empower their sales and support staff.