Innovations like voice-controlled devices are on the rise, making technology a more integral part of consumers’ everyday lives. Nearly one in five consumers (19 percent) have made a voice purchase through an Amazon Echo or other voice-controlled device in the past year, and another 33 percent plan to do so in the next year, according to the 2017 Future of Retail study from Chicago-based PR firm Walker Sands Communications.
With nearly half of consumers (46 percent) reporting they prefer to shop online rather than in store, retailers face pressure to offer intuitive, responsive and personalized customer experiences, or risk missing out on sales. The introduction of channels such as mobile and voice commerce have created a tipping point, and more than three-quarters of shoppers (77 percent) now think the online customer experience will eventually surpass the brick-and-mortar customer experience.
The fourth annual retail technology study explores the transformation of customer behavior—and where commerce is headed as technology evolves.
“In the age of the connected consumer, e-commerce has become about much more than online shopping or the point of sale,” said Dave Parro, partner and vice president at Walker Sands, in a news release. “The proliferation of technology such as connected home devices, voice ordering and drones have dramatically shifted consumer expectations of retail. Our findings suggest that the in-store experience is not going away, but rather there is a demand for a holistic commerce experience that is consistent, transparent and multi-channel.”
Drivers of the new retail experience:
The connected consumer
Connected devices are an integral part of the consumer lifestyle, providing an endless variety of products and services available at the click of a button or with a simple voice command. While smartphone penetration has reached an all-time high (78 percent), emerging device adoption is also on the rise. Twenty-seven percent of consumers now own some kind of in-home smart device, 24 percent own a voice-controlled device such as an Amazon Echo or Google Home, and 18 percent own wearable fitness trackers. Thirteen percent own a virtual headset and 9 percent own a personal drone.
Increased comfort with digital shopping has pushed e-commerce to new levels, and technologies like voice-driven commerce introduce a new layer of complexity for brands and retailers. Nearly a third of consumers (29 percent) shop online at least weekly, a number that jumps to 37 percent for Millennials. Sixty-six percent of consumers have made a purchase through a mobile app in the past year and one in four consumers report they always or often shop via mobile app; 38 percent shop regularly on mobile websites.
The changing customer experience
The “always-on” nature of Amazon has created a culture driven by speed and price. Free (80 percent) and fast shipping (54 percent) remain the top incentives for consumers to purchase more online. Still, in-store shopping remains an important part of the experience for the youngest generation of shoppers (ages 18-25), the majority of which (58 percent) prefer to shop in a physical store (compared to less than half of 26-45-year-old consumers).
“As consumers become even more connected, they will continue to demand a more transparent and continuous commerce experience from brands and retailers,” said Erin Jordan, account director and lead of the retail technology team at Walker Sands, in the release. “The walls between channels will continue to fall as voice-controlled and connected home devices reach widespread adoption and the commerce experience becomes fluid. Brands and retailers need to understand the always-on nature of consumers and identify the best way to add value through a consistent experience.”
The Walker Sands Future of Retail 2017 study surveyed 1,622 consumers across the United States on their shopping habits, preferences and views on emerging retail technology. The survey was conducted online in late March 2017, and has a 2.44 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level.