New Study: Retailers and Consumers Disagree on What Matters Most While Shopping

Despite a renewed focus on the customer experience, retailers are missing the mark on what’s really important to consumers, according to a new survey by Oracle Retail. The technology enterprise company found that retailers are consistently underestimating issues such as ease of returns, in-store convenience and opportunities for product discovery.

The global survey of 16,000 consumers and 210 retailers, looked at the final mile, the in-store experience and customer communications. While both customers (92%) and retailers (87%) agreed that fast shipping is important, retailers were still falling short; 47% of consumers said their preferred delivery option was “sometimes, rarely or never” available.

As more retailers try to compete with the logistical capabilities of industry giants, fast shipping and comprehensive return policies can be the decisive factors in a purchase. But overpromising is also dangerous, particularly with delivery times. Of the consumers surveyed, 13% said they would never again order from a retailer that delivered products late.

“Customers have little tolerance for suboptimal experiences, particularly when it comes to the basics,” said Jeff Warren, VP of retail strategy and solutions management at Oracle. “Accurate information on inventory, expedient delivery options, frictionless returns, these are all [expected]. New offerings like virtual closets or drone delivery can be intriguing, but if the rest of the interaction is poorly executed or not profitable for the retailer, customers will walk and profits will erode.”

Returns are a consistent pain point that many retailers have failed to solve; although 57% thought their return policy was “very easy,” the same percentage of consumers found the process a hassle. There was a similar imbalance between how many retailers believed consumers trusted their product information (39%) and how many consumers agreed (21%).

“Consumer expectations are perpetually in flux, with each positive experience setting a new bar for success in retail,” said Mike Webster, SVP and GM at Oracle Retail. “No matter if they’re enjoying the convenience of ride-sharing, browsing through a seamless [app] experience or walking into a brick-and-mortar storefront, customers expect the same caliber of service in all interactions.”

For the in-store channel, the disconnect was between what consumers and retailers viewed as the most important features. While “experiential retail” has been a buzz phrase for the industry, 56% of consumers ranked convenience, such as having their size in-stock, as the biggest factor in a positive in-store visit. Consumers also voted discovery (36%) as equal in value to experience (37%), but only 18% of retailers agreed.

The retailers that can deliver in the areas most valued by customers will see the biggest returns. Many retailers have chosen to invest in new experiential technologies, and the survey found that consumers supported the use of virtual try-on technology (54%) and subscription services (41%). But customers also prioritized more traditional offerings, such as responsive customer service (66%) and loyalty programs (48%).

“We believe retailers need to quickly transition from a product-centric focus and pivot to customer,” said Warren. “They need to put the customer at the core of every business decision and process that will enable them to better anticipate customer expectations both now and in the future. Communication and transparency are key to building rapport with both existing and new customers.”

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