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Here’s What Consumers Think About Subscriptions and Automated Purchasing

As shopping habits continue to evolve, retailers must innovate through unique models if they want to grab the consumer’s attention. One such example, automated shopping, is still a process that consumers are getting used to―but it appears they are warming up to buying new clothes that way, and in a quicker manner than other products.

Shoppers say they would be ready to embrace automated repurchasing in 1.08 years on average, which is the shortest time frame across all categories, according to the Future Shopper Report from Wunderman Thompson Commerce. Consumers are used to recommendation engines suggesting clothing for them, and combined with free deliveries and returns, automated shopping would be less consequential for consumers.

Behind clothing are beauty (1.13 years to embrace automated repurchasing), pet care (1.16 years) and electronic consumables (1.17 years). Health and pharmaceutical was the sector consumers expected to take longest to develop before they were comfortable using it, at an average of 1.23 years.

Just 24 percent of consumers currently use or have previously used features that automatically re-order products. On the flip side, 38 percent of all consumers have not only never used one of these features, but also say they will never use them either now or in the future. However, the study pointed out that more consumers want access to these goods quickly, with 32 percent saying that one aspect they would change about online shopping would be for all products to be delivered in two hours―further tying into the shopper desire for immediacy and convenience.

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Additionally, 52 percent of shoppers wish brands would be more innovative in how they use digital technology to improve their experience, with 47 percent saying companies being more digitally innovative would actively influence their purchasing decisions.

Beyond automated repurchasing, the Future Shopper Report highlights sustainability and the environment as playing a bigger role in influencing consumer choices as younger, more socially conscious shoppers enter the market, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.

Seventy-one percent of shoppers said they wish retailers and brands offered better environmental practices such as less packaging, a lower carbon footprint and eco-friendly delivery vehicles. Furthermore, 55 percent said they considered a company’s ethics and morals when making purchasing decisions, with 46 percent actively choosing companies that are more environmentally responsible.

“What’s more, consumers are not only shunning those brands and retailers that cannot reduce their carbon footprint or introduce eco-friendly measures, but they are also actively swaying their purchasing decisions away from those that don’t match their sustainable expectations,” said Rachel Smith, head of customer experience at Wunderman Thompson Commerce.

“Many retail companies are now facing a conundrum; they have to both meet the demands of the environmental shopper while not reneging on qualities such as price, convenience, speed of delivery and free returns―some of which run contrary to the ethically conscious consumer,” she added. “The brands and retailers that strike this balance perfectly will win out both in the long- and short-term.”

However, despite the preference for ethics and sustainable practices, when giving their reasons for choosing another retailer over Amazon, better environmental practices came in sixth position, indicating that when push came to shove, low pricing and free delivery are still more important.

The report identifies subscription-based services as another rising trend disrupting retail business models, with 58 percent of consumers having between one and three active subscriptions. Nine percent have between four and six active subscriptions.

Of interesting, subscriptions in the U.S. and the U.K. have increased tremendously in the past year. While only 20 percent of U.K. shoppers and 29 percent of U.S. shoppers had between one and three active subscriptions in 2019, that number jumped considerably in 2020 to 59 percent and 53 percent in the U.K. and U.S. respectively. Amazon’s “subscribe & save” offering enables consumers to put their favorite purchases on repeat and companies like OrderGroove help brands and retailers set up subscription programs. Nike, for one, built its own sneaker subscription service.

Despite the growth, consumers expressed dissatisfaction with subscriptions overall; just 13 percent were satisfied with the subscription service they have, and only 9 percent said they like the convenience―a worrying stat given that subscription is supposed to be all about convenience, indicating brands, retailers and marketplaces have a long way to go to please paying customers.

The Future Shopper Report is drawn from data collected during the COVID-19 outbreak designed to track the digital commerce shopping habits of more 16,000 consumers in the U.S., U.K., Australia, China, France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands, and also understand how this outbreak will affect shopper behaviors in the months and years ahead. It presents what retailers and brands can do to pivot and stand the best chance of surviving and thriving in the long run.