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From Stores to Subscriptions, Here’s How Consumers Want to Shop

Findings from a survey of 1,000 North American consumers jointly conducted by IT services firm DXC Technology and IDC shows that operating stores is, in fact, good for business.

Though trends like showrooming may have influenced consumer behavior when it first arrived on the scene, the tide has shifted and shoppers now understand the value that stores add along the convoluted path to purchase. No longer are rock-bottom prices the sole purchasing incentive—the factor that often drove people to e-commerce; now, people think twice about just how annoying returning an online buy can be.

This is why 70 percent of people participating in the survey said they favor retailers with a physical footprint, regardless of whether they purchase in store or online. Compare that to the 29 percent that claim to prefer giving their business to online pure-plays. All of the complex and costly omnichannel retail investments making headlines since the beginning of the decade are finally beginning to bear fruit.

The research also contends that contrary to popular belief, showrooming “strengthens brick-and-mortar stores” if you believe the 36 percent of participants who said they make their purchases in a physical store after researching products over the web.

“The important point is that the store plays an important role in myriad customer journeys spanning awareness, exploration, assurance, purchase and service,” Greg Girard, IDC’s program director, worldwide omnichannel retail analytics, told Sourcing Journal in an email. “The store’s role is changing as shoppers adopt new habits and preferences.

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“The great thing about the store is that it’s the best place, for now at least, to experience the convergence of physical and digital,” he added.

For many consumers, shopping in store removes much of the uncertainty from the purchasing equation compared to the risk of buying something online. Nearly half of people in the survey (48 percent) said stores offer the best deals, and another 57 percent described the in-store experience as more “emotionally satisfying” than its online counterpart.

Then there’s the confidence factor: 60 percent of people said they feel more secure in their brick-and-mortar purchases knowing that returns are pretty straightforward and convenient. And despite the mixed feelings many people air about store staff these days, 94 percent of DXC’s survey takers said sales associates actually are instrumental in helping them feel sure they selected the right product for their needs.

Lightning-fast delivery might be all the rage, thanks in large part to Amazon’s endless innovation in logistics, but the survey indicates that these services are a single-digit factor in the whole delivery equation. As it stands, just 9 percent of all shopping is fulfilled via same- or next-day delivery, according to the survey. However, retailers shouldn’t ignore these services, as 33 percent of Gen Xers and 28 percent of millennials gravitate to these near-instant-gratification options.

Click-and-collect also represents a paltry share of retail fulfillment at 9 percent, according to the survey. But again, younger consumers prefer having this option; nearly one quarter (24 percent) of millennials and 13 percent of Gen Z shoppers like picking up their online purchases in a brick-and-mortar store.

“Winning the customer can be daunting so retailers should leverage their advantages and double down on their strengths,” Vijay Iyer, vice president and general manager of Americas Consumer Industries and Retail at DXC Technology, said. “If you are an omnichannel retailer, you need to tenaciously focus on in-store services that deepen and strengthen your engagement with customers. If you are an e-commerce retailer, you need to lead with the convenience factor and use artificial intelligence to predict consumer behavior.”

More than of half of the survey takers credited e-commerce for the “quick” and “simple” convenience it offers. Online shopping, they also said, is great for discovery; web-based retailers tend to have better tools for understanding and monitoring what a shopper likes and then serving up similar options.

People still like shopping in a store but they acknowledge that there’s room for improvement. Fifty-nine percent, perhaps tired of wandering around cavernous big-box footprints, said search and navigation tools would help the in-store experience. Augmented reality wayfinding tools could solve those headlines, according to DXC.

Subscription box services might be one of the cool new ways brands and retailers are trying to drum up business, but actual penetrations remains stubbornly low, according to the survey. Just 24 percent of survey takers said they’d either purchased a meal kit or a subscription box in the past 12 months.