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Consumers have a lot of options when it comes to making purchases - online, brick-and-mortar, catalogs, call centers and more. Physical retail locations remain the favored way for customers to shop, with a recent report from Accenture finding that 21 percent of United States shoppers plan to increase in-store purchasing in 2014, which is up from just 9 percent the year prior.
However, online stores are still better than brick-and-mortar in many ways in the eyes of customers. First and foremost, as many as 40 percent of shoppers said the in-store experience needed to improve significantly, as it lagged behind the convenience of the online experience
"Consumers are looking for the conveniences of shopping online, such as information on product availability, to be available in-store," explained Chris Donnelly, global managing direct of Accenture's retail practice.
"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, brick and mortar/high street retailers must work hard to differentiate the shopping experience they offer compared to the online pure-plays," he added.
Blurring the lines between brick-and-mortar and online stores
Online and offline retail channels are quickly becoming a seamless experience in the eyes of many customers. For example, 19 percent of shoppers said they are now utilizing in-store pickup offerings to purchase items online and quickly grab them at actual retail stores. Conversely, 14 percent of shoppers also said they are buying products in retail stores and having them shipped to their homes, according to the Accenture report.
While that's an effective first step, merchants can't stop there. Customers expect that line to continue to blur. For example, people want a retailer's product offerings, pricing and promotions to be the same across channels. Only approximately one-third of respondents to the Accenture survey said their customer accounts were completely connected across in-store and online channels.
As retailers move forward, they need to keep the expectations of their customers in mind. Making the right adjustments to the nature of online and offline shopping can help brands expand their reach and establish themselves as progressive thought leaders in the retail space.