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The promise of a new year has resulted in a lot of speculation about what the state of retail will look like over the next twelve months.
Mobile has continually been hailed as the top trend to watch, along with an increase in the number of Aussie retailers heading online and a focus on using data more intelligently to personalise communications and customer experiences.
But this is from within the boundaries of the industry itself... What are the thoughts and opinions of consumers?
More than 1,000 Australian consumers were surveyed, with topics around consumer preferences, desired features and services for within physical stores and motivations that drive personal choice in using one retailer over another, all being explored in detail.
Respondents were asked focused questions across the areas of mobile, social media, technology and physical in-shop experience, in order to determine what Australian consumers want from the retail stores of the future.
While preferences and answers varied across different age demographics, patterns were apparent which indicated that Australian shoppers are looking for more technological advancements from bricks-and-mortar retailers, alongside more features which allow convenient shopping, echoing similar findings elsewhere.
Out of QR codes, coupons, video content, maps, applications and proximity content, maps and coupons were selected as the most useful mobile features from those surveyed.
"Gen Y" consumers rated the importance and usefulness of mobile coupons far higher than "Gen X" and "Baby Boomers", with 87% indicating they would like stores to offer these in the future.
Maps were the mobile feature of choice for Baby Boomers, with 53% interested in this being offered within the retail experience.
What may be surprising to the industry, when focusing specifically on mobile payments, consumer opinion is seemingly split, with only 16% of respondents having a clear preference for this feature being offered. 41% had negative views to this being incorporated.
Discount coupons reigned supreme as a feature Australian shoppers want, with 21% of consumers having a preference for coupons being offered over social media and 46% citing they would be open to stores offering this as feature in the future.
Consumers also nominated the ability to see what others are saying about brands and products as a very useful social media feature, but very few were interested in sharing shopping decisions with friends and family via social media.
Within the research report, Dr Dean Sands, of the Australian Centre for Retail Studies, suggests that this finding suggests shoppers are more interested in retailers providing access to the views of the wider society, rather than their own friendship network.
For consumers, the ability to access informational content and make purchases via in-store kiosks was voted as the most useful thing a store could offer, closely followed by virtual try-on technology.
But surprisingly, making purchases and accessing information and content via in-store iPads was considered to be the least useful offering overall, which contrasts with suggestions that retailers need to develop tablet offerings for information-hungry consumers.
It seems Australian consumers want the ability to order online and pick-up in-store in the future, with over a quarter of all respondents having an interest in click-and-collect.
While some stores have already begun offering this service, it is still a realtively immature service amongst Australian retailers. However, it should become a serious focus for many, in order to satisfy consumer expectations.
The research also showed that interactive maps should also be considered, given they were an equally popular feature for respondents. Maps can assist with the location of products in-store and demonstrates the shift towards consumers wanting increasingly functional technology-based utlities to improve shopping experiences.
Evident in the research paper was that each generation places value and importance on different store features.
Gen Y consumers were very interested in transactional and informational technologies such as mobile and social media, whereas Baby Boomers came across as somewhat reluctant to these features.
But interestingly the same proportion of Baby Boomers and Gen Y shoppers were interested in maps that help in locating products in-store. Similarly, click-and-collect was equally popular among Gen Y and Gen X consumers.
Sands cites that these differences highlight the importance of targeting the right audience and market when making changes to a business - and that features should be utilised in the right context for the relevant shopper base:
The introduction of mobile devices and technology to a physical store had a positive effect on the behavioural outcomes for Boomers, while social media had a minimal and even negative impact on some outcomes.
The impact of store add-ons also differed substantially across retail store formats (i.e. department stores, specialty retail, etc.). Shoppers reported that some add-ons would have a negative impact on their shopping behaviour in certain contexts (e.g. use of mobile device features lead to an 11% decrease in loyalty for a discount department store, while leading to a 17% increase within a department store).
This demonstrates the importance of considering the unique context of each retail store when deciding on which add-ons to incorporate.
The digital future of physical stores
While many people have been predicting the continued downfall of bricks-and-mortar stores in 2013, based on the research, Sands suggests otherwise.
He believes the future of the store lies in the integration of new and emerging technologies that enhance the shopping experience for the right consumer base - an important element explored in Econsultancy's recent report, How the Internet Can Save the High Street:
Emerging technologies and channels are not only assisting retailers to connect with consumers outside of the store but increasingly also within the physical store environment.
Retailers must deliver through one voice, one brand. The integration of channels throughout the shopper journey will not dilute the store experience instead it will create a strong design language that sits across all channels, consumers want personal and engaging experiences from retailers at each touch point.
While the growth of emerging non-store channels outpaces that of traditional channels, bricks-and-mortar stores will continue to hold their place as the hub of the retail value proposition and the core of the shopper experience.
Retail stores will, however, evolve in new and innovative ways to connect shoppers to virtual shopping alternatives and the opportunity exists to create this source of competitive advantage.
[Image credit: nobihaya]