Beware of the obvious, it’s not always right. That’s the lesson from a piece of research into in-store customer experiences released by consumer retail research outfit iModerate last month.

The study, called “Bricks and Mortars Stores, Nice or need to Have?”, reveals that the most online savvy of shoppers — younger consumers — hold more more firmly to the view that  it is important for brands to have a physical location. Eighty per cent of Gen Zers and 82 per cent of Millennial consumers held to the notion as opposed to 69 per cent of Gen Xers and 65 per cent of Boomers.

gen shop 1

(Source: i-Moderate)

The study’s authors also reveal that the data suggests a consumer’s first in-store impression is  critical to building loyalty.

Consumers love the visceral experience of shopping, says the researchers. The ability to feel and try on merchandise — particularly items such as clothing, shoes and cosmetics — offers shoppers a critical reassurance. This especially true for first-time buying experiences where perceptions are formed and where and loyalty is established.

According to iModerate CMO Adam Rossow, “One of brick-and-mortar’s greatest advantages over other channels is that there’s an opportunity for shoppers to interact with products, and that gives them the confidence they need to make a purchase. Retailers can take even small steps to capitalise on these exploratory shopping habits, such as creating close-up experiences with new styles, providing samples and demos, and ensuring there are ample mirrors and fitting rooms.

Expensive items, specialty items and relatively more complex products benefit most, and the in-store opportunity really shines when customers are in a hurry. On the flip side, it is less of an issue when they are in a hurry, if it’s an emergency purchase, or if the store carries truly unique items.

The ideal store
The ideal store

Different demographic cohorts are attracted to different aspects of the experience, according to the study:

  • Gen Z seeks the reassurance found through the sensorial. Stores like Charlotte Russe and Forever 21 enable them to try on various sizes and styles that are difficult to perfect online, and brands such as Sephora offer samples and demos.
  • Millennials seek efficiency and quality. Many are launching careers and have young families so they need to shop frequently, and favour big-box stores for their ability to find everything they need quickly in one place.
  • Gen X seeks an escape and discoveries. With bustling careers and older kids, their life is hectic and they appreciate stores such as Target that offer a getaway through calm music, coffee, etc.
  • Boomers seek comfort and space. Many are living on limited incomes, so they like to touch products before buying them and balk at paying for shipping. They also value low music, light scents and seating.

For the big box department stores there are also some important takeouts: staff need to be better trained and more knowledgeable around product; stores need more consistency around product selection, layout, maintenance and management to make shopping more efficient; and those big wide open spaces can  feel cluttered and dirty when not they are not maintained.

Service still matters

According to the authors, “One of the most critical in-store touchpoints influencing purchase behaviour and loyalty is customer service. A store can meet shoppers’ criteria by offering desirable, well-priced, quality products, but a poor customer service experience can trump all else — and may result in shoppers walking away from a purchase, or worse, avoiding the store the next time.

At the very least, they say, shoppers want to feel respected and welcome. “But stores that go above and beyond to gain loyalty offer that extra touch of personalised care, treating shoppers like a trusted friend.

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