Shoppers’ expectations outpace retailers’ capabilities

Retailers are not giving shoppers the omnichannel experience they desire, according to new research from Accenture and Hybris, creating a huge opportunity for those able to successfully execute against elevated digital expectations.

Organizational, operational and technology challenges are hampering retailers’ efforts to meet customers’ demand for a seamless shopping experience across all channels and touch points, according to research the firms commissioned with Forrester Consulting. Forrester interviewed 256 decision-makers from retail and manufacturing organizations in the U.S., the United Kingdom, France and Germany and 1,500 omnichannel shoppers to identify gaps between retailers ability to deliver on shoppers’ expectations for an omnichannel experience.

Retailers view omnichannel maturity as a key brand differentiator for their companies, and improving their ability to provide customers with a seamless shopping experience across all channels, as a top priority, according to the study. However, the study showed that 94% of retail decision makers said their companies face significant barriers to becoming integrated omnichannel companies.

The survey also found that 71% shoppers expect to view in-store inventory online, and 50% expect to buy online and pick up their purchase in a physical store. Yet, only one third of the retail decision makers surveyed said that their companies are able to provide customers with in-store pickup of online purchases, online visibility of cross-channel inventory and store-based fulfillment of online orders. All of these capabilities are considered vital for seamless retailing, according to Accenture and Hybris.

“Thirty nine percent of customers surveyed say they are unlikely or very unlikely to visit a retailer’s store if its website does not provide physical store inventory information,” said Chris Donnelly, global managing director of Accenture’s Retail Practice. “Additionally, the research also shows that retailers who struggle to implement robust seamless capabilities online also experience challenges meeting customer expectations in offline channels. So this is a particularly big challenge that requires immediate attention. Increasing adoption of e-commerce and mobile technology by consumers underscores how important it is for retailers to introduce digital commerce into every aspect of their business  to keep up with, and hopefully outpace, their competitors.”

One of the key challenges related to the integration of technology with 40% of the retailers surveyed indicating that they are having difficulty integrating back-office technology across all of their channels. The survey highlights a key area for improvement, which is the ability to have a consolidated, accurate view of real-time inventory across stores and distribution centers.

“As customers expect retailers to provide consistent and contextual service across every channel and interaction, retailers need to adopt new technologies that enable this critical transformation to omnichannel customer engagement and service,” said Brian Walker, chief strategy officer at hybris. “This is going to be vital to meeting customers’ expectations and, frankly, survival for retailers.”

Other findings showed that retailers can be their own worst enemy when it comes to satisfying shoppers’ expectations enabled by new technologies. For example, 46% retailers said they already have a dedicated omnichannel team, but noted that conflicting priorities and organizational silos remain a key challenge. Two additional key barriers identified as preventing retailers from becoming an integrated omnichannel company are difficulty in sharing customer data and analytics between channels, countries or locations and a lack of in-store associate training.

According to the research, in-store pickup of purchases by consumers emerged as a key capability that brick-and-mortar retailers must be able to provide their customers if they expect to compete effectively against online-only retailers. Nearly half of the customers surveyed said  they use in-store-pickup options to avoid online shipping costs, 25% so they can collect their orders on the day of purchase and 10% simply because they find it more convenient to pick up items from a store than having them shipped to their home.

“Customers expect stores to be well integrated with all of a retailer’s digital capabilities, and to succeed, retailers must be able to serve customer needs regardless of how, when and where they shop,” said Brigid Fyr, managing director of e-commerce for Accenture Interactive. “A focus on omnichannel retailing enables retailers to create a more consistent consumer experience across online, mobile and in-store channels and ultimately increase their brands’ relevance to their customers.”