What Today’s Shoppers Want: Why Service & Convenience Are Trumping Tech

There’s no question that the retail landscape has transformed dramatically over the past several years.

With the spike in e-commerce sales, advancements in technology and shifting consumer preferences, retailers have been forced to adapt to the changing times or risk becoming obsolete.

But that doesn’t mean the future of retail is all about automation, robotics and artificial intelligence. In fact, according to a recently released report by commercial real estate firm JLL, shoppers value good service over technology — with today’s consumers seeking novel store concepts, wellness experiences, user-friendly innovations and “rental retail.”

New store concepts

The study, which surveyed more than 1,500 respondents, found a majority of shoppers spanning from seniors to Gen Zers agreed that a skilled customer service representative is the most important factor in building brand allegiance. (Such in-store interactions ranked higher than AI robots, smartphones or a combination of these.)

With about 90% of shoppers making their purchases in physical stores, consumers are still looking for experiences that go beyond the often transactional process of online shopping. The researchers cited luxury footwear direct-to-consumer brand M.Gemi’s tailored experience at its flagship as an example of a label that has provided a seamless experience from start to finish. (The store recently opened in New York City’s Hudson Yards development.)

A rendering of the new M.Gemi store in New York City's Hudson Yards.
A rendering of the new M.Gemi store in New York City’s Hudson Yards.
CREDIT: Courtesy of M.Gemi/BSP NYC, Katsuya Arai

“Successful retailers know that nimbleness and agility are the key to staying ahead of shoppers demands and engrained in their lives,” said James Cook, JLL’s director of retail research. “And, while most retailers are employing the latest technology in their quest for shopper acceptance, surprisingly this isn’t always what keeps shoppers satisfied.”

Wellness experiences

Additionally, consumers are putting an even bigger emphasis on health and wellness — an economy that has grown 12.8% in the last two years to $4.2 trillion, according to the Global Wellness Institute. JLL reports that 41.2% and 17.4% of respondents want to see open spaces with greenery and fitness centers, respectively, in their shopping destinations.

Among the retailers already testing out this concept is Kohl’s, which has reduced its brick-and-mortar footprint by leasing out extra spaces in its stores to Planet Fitness. Mall landlords have been turning to the fitness industry in an effort to fill vacant storefronts, with commercial real estate research firm CoStar noting an increase of 70% between 2013 and 2018 in the amount of space leased by fitness centers and gyms in malls and lifestyle centers.

Separately, L.L. Bean launched last year its “Be an Outsider” campaign after finding that people on average spend 95% of their time indoors. The retailer built an al fresco co-working location in New York City’s Madison Square Park to promote wellness as well as showcase their products’ ability to enable a healthy outdoor lifestyle.

User-friendly innovations

When they do a desire tech upgrades — for many shoppers user-friendly innovations top high-tech gadgets. About 31.5% of consumers also look for seamless checkouts and only 11.3% expecting to see customer service robots in stores within the decade. (Shoppers have reasoned that clunky self-checkout registers and automated phone attendants have left them skeptical of such innovations.)

Further, 36.7% of those surveyed predict same-day delivery in the next 10 years as retailers leverage existing locations as fulfillment centers, join forces with robotics companies to build smart warehouses and employ self-driving vehicles to assist with last-mile costs.

Last February, Target became the first nationwide retailer to offer same-day delivery in major metropolitan cities following its acquisition of grocery delivery service Shipt. Amazon similarly made headlines in late April upon announcing the rollout of one-day shipping for Prime members across the country. (In certain markets, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus also deliver orders within several hours for an extra fee.)

“Rental retail”

Lastly, a growing number of shoppers becoming more mindful about their carbon footprints has driven the rise of what JLL dubbed “rental retail.” According to the firm, 57.3% of shoppers are willing to rent trendy and well-made products from a store — à la Rent the Runway — and more than 70% of millennials and Gen Zers are willing to partake in the sharing economy.


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