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IBM: Less Than Half of Retailers Are Giving Consumers What They Want

It isn’t exactly news that retailers are generally not nailing it when it comes to the shopping experience today’s consumers seek, but a new IBM study highlights just how badly they’re failing.

Only 40 percent of retailers are giving consumers the seamless online and off-line shopping experience they expect, IBM found in its 2016 Customer Experience Index Global Survey.

But one thing is certainly clear, and that’s that, “Innovation and disruption are happening in every region and segment across the globe for both pure-play and bricks-and-clicks retailers,”—improvements are vital for survival.

The biggest problem, it seems, is that retailers are stuck where progress is concerned—they aren’t keeping pace when it comes to innovation, store associates still aren’t excelling and personalized offerings aren’t as ubiquitous as they should be.

IBM sent mystery shoppers to 550 retailers in 23 countries over the 2015 holiday season and learned there’s a lot more brands could be doing to improve customer engagement and offer differentiated shopping experiences.

Here’s what consumers want: consistency across all touchpoints, meaningful content on which to make decisions, flexible interactions and personally relevant dialogue.

To give them those things, retailers need to swap the classic four Ps of marketing—product, price, place and promotion in favor of the four Cs—consistency, content, contextual and convenience.

Providing that offering, however, has proved not so simple.

Consumers surveyed were most pleased with consistency, 49 percent said they were satisfied with it, but the human element in stores and call centers is a big part of what kept that satisfaction score so low. Retailers have been better at providing product availability for e-tail than for physical stores but consumers want both, and only 38 percent of retailers provide store-level product availability in three or more channels. Further, 67 percent of retailers don’t have live chat services for their e-commerce stores, and the last thing consumers want to do is call customer service or go to a store just to find out whether something is in stock.

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When it comes to content, retailers aren’t putting out anything engaging, especially not on mobile, IBM said. Eighty percent of retailers have basic in-store mobile services but many aren’t tapping the opportunity to support customers’ in-store decision making—55 percent don’t offer any additional product information via devices when shoppers are in stores, and 71 percent don’t offer product comparisons on their websites (which is what consumers overwhelmingly seek when searching digital devices while in stores).

Consumers today want everything to be easy, especially shopping. Fifty-five percent of retailers offer buy-online, pick-up-in-store services, but because the overall experience is often poor or takes too long, only 27 percent of retailers got a “good” or “very good” ranking for the service from consumers.

“Even though retailers are gathering more and more information about customers, they are not demonstrating the ability to generate applied insights for more personalized contextual interactions,” IBM said. That’s why retailers scored the lowest for tailoring engagements based on individual needs and wants. Only 17 percent of retailers even provide a personalized name or any tailored product content for marketing on at least one digital channel, like an app or e-mail.

Cognitive computing, IBM said, can help retailers customize offerings by gleaning insights based on patterns and from unstructured and structured consumer data, and turning that into knowledge of consumers’ brand, color and other preferences, plus upcoming events in their lives, like birthdays.

“With a sharp increase in use of customer touchpoints and the subsequent digital disruption that has moved to the forefront, consumers are continuously raising the bar on what they expect when buying from their favorite brands,” IBM said. “Retailers must be aware of opportunities around them to improve customer engagement in a world where the last best experience drives the minimum expectation for the next.”