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Posted Date: 11/4/2013

Five Retail Insights for the Holiday Shopping Season

Shoppers feel that they get a better retail experience online than in-store, including better service, more perks and rewards, and the ability to make smarter purchasing decisions, according to WSL, the leading authority on shopping behavior and retail trends. 

This finding was derived from the company's recently conducted Digital Shopper Focus Group which gathered 11 frequent shoppers of both online retail sites and brick-and-mortar stores for a conversation about how 10+ years of online shopping has changed consumer expectations in-store.

"Shoppers have learned how to find what they want quickly online, searching by category, brand, and style, while accessing product information, comparing features, checking prices, finding coupons, and getting help on the spot," said Wendy Liebmann, CEO of WSL.  "By comparison, traditional retail experiences are no longer good enough. Retailers now have an opportunity, and a challenge, to create a brick-and-mortar environment that cannot be duplicated online."

Candace Corlett, WSL president, continued, "This holiday season, savvy shoppers will be leveraging every channel they can in order to find the best gifts and the best value.  With 60 percent of consumers now shopping online, this season will be a fitness test for retailers – those who are able to provide the best selection, service, information and rewards, as well as best price, in every channel, will win."

What shoppers are saying:

1. "Shopping online is so clean and simple; shopping in-store feels chaotic." Shoppers described online stores as clean, straightforward and easy to navigate – a sharp contrast to most of their in-store retail experiences, particularly around Black Friday and at holiday crunch time. Those who were seeking a specific item or working within a tight timeline say they are frustrated with the experience of traditional stores, having to sort through aisles and racks in hopes of finding what they are looking for. In the age of searching for an item with a single click or keyword, brick-and-mortar stores must rethink their merchandising strategy to be more organized and efficient, if they expect to compete.

2."It's so much easier to click-through check-out than to stand in line." Shoppers noted the ability to by-pass dreaded checkout lines – particularly at holiday time -- by purchasing a product via mobile POS device while in-store as one of many convenience-based improvements brick-and-mortar stores could implement into the shopping experience.  The desire for digital integration also included the ability to search for additional sizes, product information, color options and customer reviews.

3. "Sales associates are either too pushy or nowhere to be found."  Shoppers want knowledgeable sales associates who can offer informed recommendations without being too pushy.  They like to feel that they can be left alone to browse, but that someone will be there to help, if they need it.  Online personal shopper pop-up windows make it easy to ask a question or get a recommendation, and move on.  In the traditional retail world, the educated sales staffs at stores such as Apple, J. Crew and Home Depot were cited as having extensive product knowledge and the best understanding of how to approach customers.

4. "I get better deals, and better rewards shopping online."  Sale-seeking shoppers believe they can find better prices and receive better rewards by shopping online rather than in-store. The added benefits include higher credit card reward points and the freedom to choose perks that are most meaningful to them, such as which free samples they personally most want to try.

5. "I still love to shop in stores that are fun."  While the online world has set the new standard for convenience, efficiency and selection, the offline retail world has the unique opportunity to deliver engaging experiences that cannot be duplicated.  Shoppers shared examples such as Apple and Sephora that create fun, "destination" environments where they are free to touch, try and play with products.  Meeting Santa, listening to Christmas carolers and browsing nostalgic department store window displays are key holiday attractions that draw shoppers to the store year-after-year.

"The ability to create a meaningful in-store experience, especially at holiday, is a key factor that gives brick-and-mortar stores an edge over the internet," added Corlett.  "Creating a retail environment that reflects the magic of the season, in a big way, not just a burst of cheer at the store entrance, gets shoppers in the holiday spirit, a feeling they just can't get online."

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