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“Don’t Treat Commerce as an Intentional Act,” Says Future of Retail Report

Despite Amazon’s clear and present influence on consumer expectations for retail, one constant remains unchanged: year over year, participants in Walker Sands’ Future of Retail 2018 report confirmed that physical stores (73 percent) are still where they prefer to shop for clothing.

By contrast, e-commerce is the preferred channel for purchasing apparel, just 27 percent said. While this is good news for apparel retailers and their considerable store investments, Amazon is still the benchmark against which merchants are measured these days, for better or for worse.

That’s partly because the e-comm giant has attracted more than 100 million global consumers to its benefits-laden Prime membership, many of whom likely are among the 41 percent who told Walker Sands they receive one to two Amazon packages each week. Those numbers jump when you break out Gen Z shoppers (ages 18 to 25 years old) and Millennials (26 to 35 years old), 50 percent and 57 percent of whom, respectively, get their Amazon deliveries weekly.

For many these days, Amazon is not just a retailer, but a way of life.

Nowhere is the “Amazon effect” felt more than in the retail-wide pressure to ship orders faster—and more cheaply (or free). More than two in five (44 percent) of consumers have placed an order for same-day delivery within the past year, according to the Walker Sands report. As a testament to how important this option is for the notoriously impatient 25 and under crowd, 54 percent said same-day delivery is their top purchase driver, followed closely by 53 percent for whom next-day delivery and complimentary returns or exchanges will compel them to buy.

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Overall, just 4 percent of all consumers in the survey said they’ve gotten same-day delivery, and 15 percent have had orders fulfilled via next-day services. Two-day (43 percent) and “regular” (53 percent) shipping still lead as the most commonly used options, but it’s hard to imagine consumers won’t drive growth in speedy shipping in the coming years, especially as Gen Z gains greater economic influence.

With all of these e-commerce orders flying around, shoppers need to get a grip on what’s where—and when to expect it. More consumers deemed the order status and shipping communication they received from Amazon (42 percent) as excellent, while for all other e-retailers, that figure falls to just 30 percent. Clearly, there’s an opportunity here to improve supply chain transparency and enhance both brand image and loyalty along the way.

The Amazon way of life also is playing out through the growing adoption of Alexa, and the many devices in which the digital voice assistant lives. As consumers realize the value that a voice assistant provides, many increase their investments accordingly. Thirty-nine percent of those who own a voice-controlled device have more than one, according to the report, and the most diehard users (7 percent) own four or more.

So far, Alexa and her ilk are great for streaming music (57 percent) and using in a Google search capacity (“Alexa, who was the 13th president of the United States?”), but shopping activities like building a shopping list (27 percent) and actually making purchases (20 percent) lag behind for the moment. According to Walker Sands, this might just be a part of Amazon’s voice strategy: get consumers acclimated to these devices and eventually they’ll feel comfortable buying items sight unseen.

And yet the lack of imagery does seem to be hampering voice adoption, with 35 percent of consumers describing the dearth of images and videos accompanying a digital voice assistant as a “roadblock”—though Amazon seems to have addressed this issue somewhat with the Echo Look, which just launched this week after a limited release. It’s interesting to consider that even as voice is emerging as a channel to watch, fashion retailers also are emphasizing visual search, in part due to the effect Instagram and other social platforms have had in driving style inspiration.

But back to voice: nearly one-fifth (18 percent) of those with a digital voice assistant use them three times a day, and 14 percent place one in the bathroom. Cue the toilet jokes, but it goes to show consumers want to enhance what can be perceived as “downtime.” How much time is spent in the bathroom executing the morning routine, for example? Why not listen to music, check the day’s weather and re-order paper towels while you’re getting in a quick shave before dashing to the office? While Alexa is making inroads into the bathroom—19 percent want to take things a step further, telling Walker Sands they want “hands-free commands” that can be used in the shower. Out of shampoo? Place a replenishment order on the spot.

As retail continues to fragment and touchpoints multiply, creating non-linear paths to purchase, brands and merchants should rethink their relationships and communication with consumers. “Don’t treat commerce as an intentional act, but rather as a daily activity that happens while consumers dig through the fridge, look at their calendar or drive to work,” the report said.