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The New Customer Journey: “Always On” Meets “On Demand”

Thanks to technology, today’s customer journey is varied and fragment. And tomorrow’s will be even more diffused.

Even as some retail chains are still grappling with how to design an e-commerce site or mobile app that will convert the most customers, consumers are evolving past the typical online shopping experience.

The latest report from digital marketing agency Walker Sands entitled “The Future of Retail 2017” takes a look at how current and emerging innovations are set to disrupt retail again. From a poll of more than 1,600 shoppers in the U.S., the findings highlight how the new connected consumer will shape what retail looks like down the line.

Currently, e-commerce is a given. Nearly everyone (96%) shops online at some point, and 29% of those polled do so weekly. Of the Millennial crowd—those 26 to 35 years old—almost a third shop online weekly and 8% do so daily.

But even with the frequency of mobile and online shopping, the survey found that more than half of shoppers visit stores at least weekly. And 54% still prefer brick-and-mortar—with Millennials as wed to stores as their older counterparts.

That said, 78% of respondents believe that online shopping will eventually offer a better experience than physical stores.

And consumers are already adopting innovations that remove a lot of the friction associated with the customer journey online. That’s in large part due to voice. Thanks to devices like category leader Amazon Echo, Google Home and the upcoming Apple HomePod, online shopping is becoming easier. It is projected that by 2020 there will be 75 billion connected devices.

The report notes one in five consumers have made a purchase via one of these devices in the past year and a third of respondents plan to do so next year. Overall, 15% of consumers already shop via these gadgets all the time or often. Not surprisingly, isolating just Millennials results in an even higher usage rate. Of these consumers, 37% always or often shop via voice.

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With technology like this, shopping is no longer situational; it could happen anywhere at any time. “Retail isn’t just about when customers are ready to buy anymore—it’s a constant engagement with technology and experiences that drives the future of commerce,” the report says.

Voice is just one of the ways in which Walker Sands says consumers are evolving to be “always on.” The report also points to wearable fitness trackers, which 18% of respondents use, smartwatches, which 13% own, and virtual reality headsets, which are a part of 9 percent of consumers’ lives.

Couple these innovations with the rise of the “now” economy, which allows individuals to order rides and have items delivered at a moment’s notice, and you have a consumer who is accustomed to immediate gratification and is used to technology integrating seamlessly into their lives.

“Consumers are no longer willing to wait for what they need, and devices continue to be linked to personal data to predict what they’ll need next,” the report said. “The connected consumer is changing the world of products and services from a once-in-a-while interaction to a constant connection.”

Walker Sands predicts the future of retail will mean the lines between channels will continue to blur, advances like voice mean there will no longer be a traditional user interface and consumers will expect a more continuous commerce. Retailers will need to figure out how to deliver on these expectations and evolve how they view the customer journey.