Stores, Stuck In Shame Spiral, Still Overlook In-Store Digital

While Amazon’s plan to snap up Whole Foods Market is just the latest proof that there’s plenty of power in brick-and-mortar stores, a new study from WSL Strategic Retail shows retailers are still bungling their digital offerings.

The study shows that people who use digital tools to help them shop in physical stores really enjoy them, with satisfaction levels of around 80%. And it also proves that they spend more in stores because of that satisfaction. About a third of those who use e-coupons or click-and-collect options say they add more to their basket as a result, as do 39% who use digital subscription services.

Yet, stores are doing relatively little to publicize or promote them, with less than 20% of shoppers using these tools. Just 15% are taking advantage of click-and-collect, for example, even though 40% of those who do say they typically take the time to shop in stores when they go in to retrieve their purchases.



“The real surprise for us in this work is that retailers still tend to have this knee-jerk reaction toward digital, and this sense that it is taking away sales, says Wendy Liebmann, CEO of WSL Strategic Retail. “But these digital innovations actually solve fundamental problems for retailers.”

Customers hate long lines, for example, or not being able to find a sales clerk when they have a question. Digital solutions can ease staffing problems. “Click-and-collect alleviates lines,” she tells Marketing Daily, “and if they can use their smartphones to access a good virtual assistant provided by the retailer, people won’t need to find an associate.”

She says there is still a lingering sense of embarrassment among retailers that digital can make the in-store experience better. “But look at how differently Amazon approaches this in its bookstores. It encourages you to just open your Amazon app to learn more about a book or a product, with no apologies.”

She says the research, based on some 2,700 adults, underscores the need for retailers to stop thinking of digital as disruptive, but rather as enabling and satisfying shoppers.

And that means diving deeply into the way people want to use them. For example, on one field trip, a woman explained that while she had come to the store to retrieve a click-and-collect purchase, she was wandering the aisles on what she called “a silly trip,” Liebmann says. “That’s a new kind of browsing. Digital tools are reshaping the traditional trip thinking—she wasn’t stocking up, filling in or making a quick trip.” Retailers need to think what might appeal to shoppers as they shape expectations around these tools, as well as encourage them to take advantage of them.

“It’s not enough for a store to put up a sign that says ‘We offer buy online, pick up in-store.’ They have to promote it, explain why it’s more convenient and even offer incentives.” Walmart, for example, recently began offering discounts for such items, based on what it saves in shipping fees.

“Rather than saying digital is either the death knell or the savior of physical retail stores,” she says, “it is both. But if it is going to save stores, it has to be done differently, in seamless ways that make life easier for customers.”

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