Guest Column | November 16, 2020

Omni-Choice: The Shopper Is In Charge

By Andrew McQuilkin, BHDP Architecture

Omnichannel Challenges

The United States retail landscape is experiencing a major paradigm shift when it comes to who impacts and controls shopping decisions. Previously, retailers significantly influenced where and how consumers shopped by controlling selection, quality, location, price, and service. With the introduction of online and mobile shopping, buyers’ choices and habits broadened, creating an omni-channel environment. As a result, pressure has increased for traditional retailers to innovate to maintain their market share. Accordingly, retailers with weak or no additional channels suffered the most during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and subsequent gradual re-openings.

With the shopper in charge, it is no longer about the retailer selling product. Instead, it is about improving the shopping experience in the physical or digital space by providing more options and adapting to new approaches that put buyers’ expectations, behaviors, and emotional drivers at the center of the shopping experience. Omni-choice means shoppers are provided with multiple options for reviewing, selecting, purchasing, and obtaining goods. According to Johan Ahlqvist, Director of Store Design and Construction at Lilly Pulitzer, “Technology educates the customer before they visit the store. You have that connection.” By paying attention to emerging trends and developing a greater understanding of their shoppers’ behaviors and beliefs, retailers can create more omni-channel strategies that will bring shoppers back.

Shopper Behavior Research

To reach a deeper understanding of the changing retail environment, BHDP surveyed 1,000 individuals who shopped at three or more specialty brands from a list of 25 retailers. Respondents were asked about their shopping preferences: 1) before the COVID-19 pandemic; 2) when COVID-19 restrictions were being lifted; and 3) post-COVID-19. Before the onset of the pandemic almost 50 percent of all respondents preferred to shop always or mostly in-store, 31.4 percent preferred to shop mostly online with items shipped to their homes and 16.8 percent had no preference on how they shopped.

Unsurprisingly, with restrictions being lifted, only 26.1 percent of all respondents preferred mostly or always in-store shopping compared to over 55 percent desiring to shop mostly online. The percentage of respondents indicating they had no preference for how they shopped increased slightly to 18.3 percent.

Post COVID-19, the number of respondents stating they will shop mostly or always in-store increased to 39.9 percent, while the number who will shop mostly online with items shipped to their homes decreased to 28.4 percent. Additionally, respondents stating they had no preference between shopping in-store or online increased from 16.8 percent before the pandemic to 26.8 percent after the pandemic is over.              

The results showed that while at the start of the pandemic shoppers mostly had specific preferences on how and where they shopped, a significant number indicated they now no longer have a preference. This increase in “no preference” shopping represents the new baseline for the expectation of choice, thus removing the control from retailers and putting the shopper in charge. To address and solve for this transformation, retailers will need to work more strategically to effortlessly marry online with in-store messaging and experiences to provide omni-choice solutions for all shoppers. Some retailers already are recognizing the importance of offering an omni-channel environment. “At Ferguson, we are creating a single brand omni-channel platform to create a more seamless customer experience,” said Steven Petock, SR VP-Business Development at Ferguson Enterprises.

What Retailers Need To Know

With a greater number of shoppers expressing no preference between shopping online or in-store, retailers must emphasize and deliver on the advantages of their existing brick and mortar stores and capitalize on the strengths they offer over eCommerce retailers. This new reality includes emphasizing convenience, the shopping experience itself, product availability, and price. Several respondents in the survey mentioned that shopping is a social experience they like to share with others. “These outings with my daughter are how we spend quality time together and have some memories made,” stated one respondent. Others said that low prices keep them coming back to the store and that with online shopping, the prices are usually higher, and they also have to pay for shipping. Additionally, the connection between retail store staff and shoppers is one that is not replicated online. Shoppers appreciated personalized and exceptional customer service and friendly and knowledgeable staff. One respondent said, “I like to feel like I’m being catered to while I shop.” 

Retailers that already offered some aspect of omni-choice fared well during the pandemic. To attract more shoppers to return to brick and mortar stores, retailers need to continue to develop strong omni-channel solutions. Doing so requires a mindset shift that focuses on shoppers’ multi-tiered and changing purchase preferences and shopping behaviors to ensure higher brand loyalty and sales.

In this context, a holistic approach to multi-channel messaging and experiences will better fulfill shopper expectations. Vigilant retailers listen to their customers, understand their needs, and create omni-channel solutions that are integrated into their stores to address these needs. This enables retailers to deliver more meaningful touchpoints in the brick and mortar store that can create the experiences shoppers are seeking.

About The Author:

RexFor over 30 years, Andrew McQuilkin, FRDI, has served in key design leadership roles in the retail industry. In his role as Retail Leader at BHDP, Andrew is responsible for leading the retail design and architecture team’s expertise in branding, store planning, interior design, merchandising, building architecture, and rollout for retail clients. Andrew has extensive knowledge and background in strategy, concept design, and implementation of stores, with award-winning retail designs including six Store of the Year Awards. For more information, contact Andrew McQuilkin at, visit or call (513) 271-1634.