Consumer shopping habits have changed drastically over the last few years thanks to the explosion of eCommerce.
Where shopping in a store was once the predominant way to shop, online shopping is quickly becoming a preferred way to shop for consumers around the globe.
Sixty-eight percent of internet users in the European Union shopped online in 2017, says the 2017 survey on Information and Communication Technology. In the US, according to Walker Sands Communications’ The Future of Retail Report 2018, 46 percent of consumers prefer to shop online.
eCommerce is the driving factor behind this shopping evolution. Consumers no longer have to go out to go shopping. eCommerce has brought the shopping experience to their fingertips via computers and mobile devices, completely changing the way consumers shop.
This article is an exploration of the most impactful ways that eCommerce has changed consumer shopping habits.
Mobile is Blurring the Line Between Online and Offline Shopping
The biggest impact eCommerce has had on consumer shopping habits is that consumers can shop from anywhere, anytime. They no longer have to wait until store hours to make a purchase. While the ability to research and shop online has been around for a while, mobile has taken eCommerce to the next level because shoppers can use the device at any point during the sales cycle.
A 2018 Forrester’s Retail Best Practices: Mobile Web study found that mobile devices will be used in more than one-third of total US retail sales in 2018. Consumers use mobile in a variety of different ways throughout the sale cycle, notes Nels Stromborg, the North America managing director at Retale. These use cases include:
- To discover new products
- To locate products and compare prices
- To create and manage shopping lists
- To make purchases
- To review purchases
The rise of mobile shopping has blurred the line between the physical store and the online experience. Rather than having two distinct channels, both channels can be used in conjunction to optimize the shopping experience. Though some of the legacy brick-and-mortar brands have had trouble keeping up with the growth of eCommerce, it isn’t the kiss of death to physical stores. In fact, big companies like Amazon and Alibaba have opened up brick-and-mortar locations.
The kiss of death comes when companies aren’t able to create a seamless experience between online and offline shopping, explains Tom Popomaronis, senior director of product innovation and business development at the Hawkins Group. The companies that have been able to make the transition have created apps, optimized their eCommerce stores and started selling products through their social media channels.
By doing this, they have given consumers the choice of where, when and how to shop. A shopper can purchase a product online at midnight, receive it the next day and then return it to a physical store if unhappy with the product.
That’s the power of mobile eCommerce — the ability to create a more seamless shopping experience. It’s an experience that customers have come to expect.
Customers Expect More Personalized Experiences
The progression of eCommerce has advanced the customer expectations of the companies they buy from.
So, what do customers expect? They expect a seamless shopping experience that is personalized to them — one that is consistent no matter what device they are using for their shopping or what stage of the buying process they are in.
Furthermore, according to Accenture’s 2018 Pulse Check report, more than 90 percent of consumers are more likely to shop with brands that recognize them and personalize the experience.
Richard Kestenbaum, partner at Triangle Capital LLC, says the challenge for retailers is they have to offer better experiences than they have in the past to motivate customers to come in or make a purchase. Companies are doing this by creating omni-channel, personalized experiences with content that “resonates, engages and delights consumers” at every stage of the buying process, says marketing consultant Andy Betts.
Take, for example, GOAT, the mobile sneaker marketplace that lets users create wishlists. Then, when those sneakers go on sale, or the price drops into the shopper’s target price range, the app sends them a push notification. The company has created a personalized experience that is driving business, as the company now has more than 7 million users worldwide.
Shopping Has a Become Social Activity
When companies like GOAT create a great shopping experience, people want to share that experience with others. Digital marketing has facilitated that sharing and turned shopping into a social activity.
What’s more, consumers today rely on the opinions of others to guide their purchase decisions, and they have immediate access to those reviews. Anyone on social media can be an influencer for a brand. Social platforms and online review sites have opened the floodgates for word-of-mouth advertising via product reviews.
A 2018 Online Reviews Survey by customer feedback software company ReviewTrackers revealed that nearly 64 percent of people check online reviews on Google before they make a purchase. And that’s just Google. Users are also checking Yelp, TripAdvisor and social media platforms.
And it does not matter to consumers that these reviews are from complete strangers. They trust the reviews more than they trust what brands themselves are saying. That’s why, consumers, not brands, are more responsible now for shaping the perception of a brand, says Chris Campbell, CEO of ReviewTrackers.
These online reviews have become so important that 94 percent of people have avoided a business because of a negative online review, the company’s research shows.
Retailers have recognized the power of these channels to shape shoppers’ opinions and have begun engaging with their customers on social media and online review platforms.
That engagement has played a big role in facilitating customers’ desires for more information before making purchases.
A side-effect of that engagement is consumers are more informed than ever before about the products they are buying and the companies they are giving their money to.
Shoppers Are Becoming Their Own Salespeople
Let’s put numbers to the company engagement / informed customer relationship.
The eCommerce Foundation’s United States eCommerce Country Report indicated that 88 percent of consumers research their purchases online before they buy. Globally, that figure is closer to 61 percent, according to KPMG’s 2017 Global Online Consumer Report.
Aside from just online reviews, consumers have access to detailed product and company information that they can read and analyze before clicking a button or buying in store.
These better-informed customers are changing the role of salespeople in companies. These customers’ expectations are higher, and companies are having to change their approach to meet those expectations.
Before digital media, customers relied on salespeople to guide them on their path to making the best purchase. Now, notes Brandon Berry, VP of talent acquisition and corporate training at Recruit Group, customers enter stores, online and offline, armed with the information they need to make a purchase.
“This is an era of ever heightened customer expectations,” says Raghav Sibal, managing director of Manhattan Associates’ Australia and New Zealand offices. “Consumers have come to rely on their own technology-assisted resourcefulness to make more informed purchase decisions, which makes the store assistant look increasingly redundant when they aren’t equipped with the same.”
In an effort to meet the expectations of highly informed customers, companies are creating new customer experiences.
The Evolution Continues
All customers have similar basic expectations when they shop. They want the products they want when they want them, and they don’t want to pay too much for them. This is why eCommerce has grown to be the preferred shopping method for consumers.
eCommerce gives consumers access to information, the ability to shop on different devices and the option to share their experiences with others, which has completely altered their expectations and the way they shop.
Customer shopping habits will continue to evolve with technology, and companies will have to continue to adapt to maintain relevance.
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