Shoppers Expect Seamless Cross-Channel Experience

While multichannel retailing has become an everyday part of the shopping experience for consumers, retailers are still struggling to match the quality of their online and in-store service, according to a new study by Sterling Commerce.

After polling more than 5,000 consumers, the company found that while people's expectations about cross-channel selling have increased, and online experiences shape how customers behave when they visit a store, the connection between online and in-store selling environments is far from seamless.

"The cross-channel experience has created today's 'spoiled consumer,' and it raises the bar for every retailer," Sterling says in its release. "Retailers who are able to meet and exceed these needs will maintain a loyal customer base and ensure future purchases." Consumers now experience their favorite stores through a number of channels--in-store, online, catalog/call center, kiosk and mobile, "and they expect a more unified experience regardless of the type of channel," it says.

Sterling, a subsidiary of AT&T, found big gaps between what consumers expect and what most stores currently offer. For example, 57% want to return or exchange items at a store, regardless of how the item was purchased (online, in-store or catalogue), and 65% expect to be able to cancel or modify an order via a store, the store's Web site or a call center, regardless of which channel was used to initially place the order.

Consumers often find that retailers' Web sites outperform their stores: 54% say they can buy products online that are not available in stores, 45% feel they get better product information online, 43% find that sales associates are not able to check availability at the store or at other store locations, and 38% say sales clerks can't even determine whether a given product is in stock.