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Consumers Want In-store Customer Experience to Match Online

Consumers love the convenience of the online shopping experience. But, that convenient and quick customer experience isn't always the same in-store.

New research from Accenture reveals that more U.S. shoppers are planning to make purchases from physical stores, which is the good news. The bad news? The survey shows that 40% of respondents ranked improving the in-store shopping experience first, compared to just 16% who said the same of online shopping.

Accenture surveyed 750 adult consumers, and 21% of U.S. shoppers said they plan to increase their in-store purchasing, up from just 9% of shoppers in the previous year. But, that in-store experience has to match the online customer experience.

"The survey results indicate that retailers have an opportunity to increase in-store sales, but only if they make the experience worthwhile for consumers," said Chris Donnelly, global managing director of Accenture's Retail practice. "Consumers are looking for the conveniences of shopping online, such as information on product availability, to be available in-store. The lines between the different shopping channels are blurring, but the good news for traditional retailers is that the store continues to play an important role. In order to ensure that they offer shoppers a seamless retail experience, bricks and mortar/high street retailers must work hard to differentiate the shopping experience they offer compared to the online pure-plays."

Here are some key trends Accenture identified in the survey:

Bringing the Online Experience into the Store More shoppers are looking to take advantage of seamless retail services involving the store: In the most recent survey, 19% of shoppers said they are using "click and collect" services (reserving or buying an item online and then traveling to a store to collect it) more often than in the previous year, compared to 12% who said the same in the 2012 survey. Additionally, more shoppers (14% compared to 7%) are buying in-store and having the product shipped to their home. The ability to check product availability online before traveling to a store is the service that would most improve the shopping experience for 31% of U.S. shoppers surveyed. And, the vast majority of respondents (89%) said they would either travel to a store to make a purchase or buy online if retailers offered real-time information on product availability.

Showrooming vs Webrooming Shoppers are "webrooming" more than "showrooming" across all product categories, except grocery. Accenture's study found that 78% of U.S. shoppers had webroomed (browsing online and then going to a store to make their purchase) in the 12 months before the latest survey, while 72% had showroomed (going into a physical store to see a product and then searching online for a better price and making their purchase online). The proportion of shoppers who engaged in webrooming for making consumer electronics and home improvement purchases increased significantly from 2012 – from 39% to 48%, and 25% to 35%, respectively.

Product Delivery: Free Beats Speed Regardless of whether they are buying from an online pure-play or a multi-channel retailer, Accenture's study found that more than half – 57% – of respondents said that waiting for free delivery was the most important delivery option, compared to 23% who preferred to pay a reasonable charge for next-day delivery. Of those shoppers looking for next-day delivery, only 38% said they were willing to pay more than $10 for that convenience, and 14% said they believe the service should be free.

However, more shoppers expect the length of time they have to wait for free delivery to be reduced. In Accenture's 2012 study, just 25% of respondents said they expected a free-delivery purchase to arrive within one to five days. In the latest survey, that number jumped to 44%.

Services from the online pure-play retailers that offer faster delivery in return for an annual subscription, are having a profound impact on shoppers' expectations," Donnelly said. "Free delivery remains a crucial factor for a significant number of shoppers but they are not always willing to wait as long to get it."

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