The pandemic has certainly redefined today’s consumer into a hybrid shopper who makes the best use of both online and physical stores—creating new challenges for both types of purchasing venues. New research from CX solutions firm Uberall reveals that while most buying journeys start online, consumers prefer to do business with brands and retailers that have real-world locations.
“The pandemic increased the number of people who were using the internet for e-commerce, out of necessity,” said Nick Hedges, chief strategy officer & EVP North America at Uberall, in a news release. “But that hasn’t changed the value and importance of a local presence; having both online and offline capabilities is now critical to meet the channel-agnostic needs of consumers today.”
The new study of customer expectations and behaviors in the post-COVID era found that a large majority of consumers (88 percent) think it’s important to trust the businesses they transact with. And 67 percent say they trust local businesses more than online-only companies. It’s also worth noting that two-thirds of consumers also include the nearby locations of national chains in their definition of “local business.”
“With online consumer trust declining, buyers are reassured by a local presence,” said Greg Sterling, VP of market insights at Uberall, in the release. “People want to buy as their convenience dictates; nearby locations provide convenience as well as additional confidence to buy online, with the knowledge they can pick up or return products locally.”
The survey data confirms that consumers are using a mix of online and offline resources to make buying decisions as part of an increasingly hybrid customer journey.
The buyer journey starts online, often with local intent
- The vast majority of consumers (96 percent) reported they start their research online regardless of where they ultimately decide to buy.
- Google is a primary consumer research tool; and nearly 70 percent said that more than half their search activity has a local intent, meaning it’s focused on businesses, services and activities in their area. Local intent as a percentage of overall search volume was even more pronounced among Millennials and Gen Z.
Consumers trust local businesses but also expect more
- 67 percent of consumers trust local businesses more than online-only companies. That’s especially true for older people: more than 75 percent of baby boomers agreed with this sentiment, compared to 57 percent of Gen Z or 64 percent of millennials.
- 55 percent of consumers feel more “emotionally connected” to a business in their area. This beat out other drivers of emotional connection, including ‘exceeding product/service expectations,’ ‘getting to know staff’ and ‘business is aligned with my values.’
- With greater trust come higher expectations: respondents said they expect the most of independent local businesses (41 percent), compared with national chains (38 percent) and e-commerce providers (20 percent). This reveals that local stores and national chains are held to a higher customer experience standard than online-only brands.
- The pandemic appears to have boosted loyalty in some cases, with 58 percent of respondents saying it has made them more loyal to local businesses.
- Loyal customers can become advocates: 63 percent of respondents said they would refer friends and family; 41 percent said they would write positive online reviews.
- Failing to satisfy customer expectations could result in switching to a competitor (49 percent), negative word of mouth (43 percent) and negative reviews (24 percent).
What’s next—connected local customer experiences
In this new hybrid environment brands and retailers must utilize online and offline assets together in an integrated way. The blurring of online and offline channels creates a unique opportunity for brick-and-mortar businesses to leverage a significant convenience and trust advantage, reflected in the survey results.
Whether an independent business or a national chain, all businesses need to get found, be chosen and drive loyalty.
To better understand consumer expectations, trust, and loyalty, Uberall conducted a survey in September 2021 among 3,857 adults ages 18 and older in the UK, US, Germany, and France. The survey represented a diverse sample of ages and genders.