Connecting with Shoppers In-store this Holiday Season

By Michelle Carter, Senior Vice President, Leger, MRIA Emerging Leaders Blog, December 2017

As we look forward to this year’s holiday season, technology continues to play an increasingly important role in the overall shopper journey, but getting the right blend of in-store experience and electronic interaction (e.g., website, app) may just be a key differentiator for this year’s success stories.

Each year Leger conducts a study with over 20,000 shoppers in Ontario as we look to understand what drives the in-store experience for shoppers across a wide range of retailers.  In this year’s WOW Retail Index, we saw that a number of the retailers who are excelling with customers in-store are those who are delivering a multi-sensory experience.

When you can connect with the consumer via the senses, particularly around the holidays, you are adding an emotional overlay to the shopping experience.  Lush, Kiehl’s and David’s Tea, for example, were at the top of our rankings this year and do a wonderful job of engaging senses, including sight, smell, touch, and taste with shoppers in-store every day. These retailers make the in-store experience unique across a whole range of elements ranging from what the store looked like, to how the customer experienced service and the mix of products available to the prices and promotions available.

(Above) Multi-sensory experiences attract the holiday shopper in stores

But what happens when you’re not in a speciality sector?  Not every retailer can deliver across all of the senses and not all are special occasion or destination shopping trips. Take grocery retailing, for example.  While potentially a sensory trip if you choose to smell and touch all of the items as you walk through the produce aisles, it’s most likely to fall into a functional shopping occasion. Even with in-store bakeries and specialty counters that add tantalizing smells and unique products, we see that the highest performing grocery retailer has a WOW score that is 20 points lower than those we see for retailers like Lush. So how do those types of retailers win with customers?  Perhaps here’s where technology can help with that shopping experience this holiday.

Nearly half of shoppers who have a mobile phone or tablet have used a retailer app in the past year.  Their reasons range from time savings (46% of users) to the simplicity of the interaction (40% of users).  We’re also seeing decreases in desk top usage as apps are more effective than traditional websites at connecting shoppers with retailers.  Shoppers are using apps to research and find the right products similar to what they may have done in prior years via retail websites. But, an amazing 60% of app users indicated that they find the retailer app better than the corresponding website, and 57% say they find it easier to find products on the app than on the website. Furthermore, 56% say they find it easier to complete a transaction on the app than on the website.  But app users are not shunning in-store shopping.  They are looking to gain efficiencies via the use of technology before they head into the store.

These shoppers, often millennials, are engaged with the retailer both online and in-store.  They are using their apps not only to help identify what products they want, but also to determine where the products are in-stock and to identify which of the stores carrying the product is nearest to them.  Apps are giving customers greater insight into supply chain logistics than ever before. They are giving customers the power to choose how they shop, and where they shop, both in-store and on-line.

But beyond efficiency and time savings for their customers this holiday season, what other benefits does an app deliver for those retailers who have them?  Over two-thirds of users say that the app actually improves their perception of that retailer.  Over half of them are more loyal and will shop more frequently with that retailer.  Let’s not forget the financial benefits to the customer. Apps are another way of engaging with shoppers and communicating with them before they get in-store; 30% of users love the fact that they receive exclusive promotions and rewards offered via the app. Holiday promotions targeted to users of those apps plays to the customized shopping experience and are more likely to be heard by customers.  One might argue that the retailers who have apps that are already in place and are optimized to deliver against an overall shopper experience could have a head start this holiday as they have a communications tool that is engaging for their customers.

As the mad rush of the holidays approaches, shoppers will look to technology for time savings and to simplify their in-store shopping experience, but not with the expectation that the in-store experience will disappear completely this year.  They will augment their shopping with the aid of technology.  Getting the right blend of electronic support and positive in-store experience is what it will take to delight shoppers this holiday season.  We all anticipate that store sizes will continue to shrink in the future, but a streamlined shopping experience will keep customers engaged.

Michelle Carter is a Senior Vice President at Leger and Managing Director of the Toronto office.  With over 20 years’ experience in syndicated and ad hoc market research, Michelle has worked both locally and internationally across a range of industry sectors.

Leger is the largest Canadian-owned market research and polling firm. Leger Metrics, Leger’s proprietary tool enables leading consumer facing organizations real-time actionable voice of customer feedback to help manage their customer engagement.  www.leger360.com