Guest Column | June 16, 2017

Shopping Redefined: Complex Technologies And Strategies Produce A Surprisingly Simple Approach

5 Proven Steps To Successfully Select & Onboard Outsourced Logistics Partners

By Louis DeJianne, director of retail strategy, UPS

The retail and logistics industries have developed a number of terms to define how consumers purchase products. Single channel, multichannel, and omni-channel are just a few of these buzzwords. While these terms have their place, they can contribute to a disconnect between merchants and their customers.

To consumers, it’s just shopping.

The convergence of the online and brick-and-mortar worlds creates an exciting — and challenging — environment for retailers. Some technologies considered cutting-edge just a few years ago are now commonplace or less revolutionary than expected.

How does a company best invest its human, financial, and operational resources to capture and retain shoppers in this rapidly changing environment? The answer lies in unhitching our thinking from channel type and evaluating the situation from the consumer’s perspective. Remember, to consumers, it’s just shopping.

This year’s UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper™ study illustrates how retailers can chart a path to long-term success despite disruptive technologies and evolving consumer preferences.

Shopping Is Global

The lines separating U.S. and international retailers are disappearing. Nearly half of avid U.S. online shoppers bought items from international retailers, according to the latest UPS study. Of those who purchased from an international retailer (47 percent), more than four in 10 shoppers were driven by lower prices on U.S. marketplaces, and more than one-third of respondents wanted unique products not found from U.S. retailers.

Digging deeper into those purchases, consumers who purchased from an international retailer on a U.S. online marketplace made a majority of their purchases from retailers based in China (61 percent), the U.K. (23 percent), Canada (15 percent), and Japan (14 percent).

Online shoppers are going global, often viewing merchants across the globe the same as retailers down the street.

Seamless Experiences

Shopping can be strolling through a shopping district, searching online or stumbling across something new or different on social media. The product’s point of origin is less important than a customer’s ability to find and easily purchase it.

Personalized experiences can create value-driven experiences, which mitigate price differences. Providing a single, seamless experience that reinforces the merchant’s brand promise and desired customer experience is critical.

For example, eight in 10 online shoppers use retailer apps, often preferring them to websites because of faster speed and a better user experience. The convenience factor is key as on-the-go mobile shoppers seek efficiency at every turn. Mobile coupons and high-quality product images are two of the most important app features, shoppers say.

Marketplaces Muscle Up

The UPS study found almost all avid U.S. online shoppers (97 percent) made purchases on marketplaces — up 12 points from 2016 — and 81 percent cited price as the most important factor when searching for and selecting products online.

This is especially important for how retailers incorporate marketplaces into their customer experience. According to the UPS study, online shoppers start their searches at marketplaces more than any other channel (38 percent). And in the next year, 29 percent of online shoppers plan to research more frequently using marketplaces, and 30 percent plan to purchase more on marketplaces.

Price and product availability are two of the leading factors for online shoppers increasingly turn to marketplaces. Physical stores, meanwhile, still play an important role.

What’s In Store For Stores?

New technologies may be the greatest source of disruption in the industry, but determining how they can enhance the shopping experience is also its greatest source of opportunity.

Technology can enhance how shoppers are immersed in the store experience. According to the UPS study, virtual reality helps shoppers visualize furniture and home décor and bring products to life through product demos.

Physical stores also can enhance the personalized experiences retailers provide. Many online shoppers use stores to touch and feel products, solve immediate problems, receive superior customer service and participate in rewards and loyalty programs.

Even checking out online provides an opportunity to leverage the in-person experience at a physical store. Half of shoppers have used ship-to-store this year, many of whom also made additional purchases in store.

Consumers desire choice, control and convenience when researching, purchasing and returning items. Price is important, but personalized experiences are valued. Shopping should be seamless, providing a single-branded experience wherever the customer happens to be, and whether the merchant is in Shenzen or Springfield.

Because, after all, to consumers it’s just shopping.