An increasing number of consumers nowadays are choosing their purchasing channel not because they have a fundamental preference for it, but because it meets their ‘shopping needs of the moment’.

Does one’s choice of shopping channel – online or at a bricks-and-mortar store – depend on being a particular type of consumer? No, it depends more on the type of product and the customer’s shopping needs at the moment of purchase, says IBM Global Business Services following a recent survey the firm carried out among 26,000 global consumers, which was released in mid-January at the 2013 United States National Retail Federation Convention in New York. The  IBM report states that while more than 80% of the shoppers surveyed “chose the store to make their last non-grocery purchase, only half are committed to returning there next time they buy”. In the same vein, 35% were unsure whether their next purchase would be made online or at a physical outlet. These figures suggest that consumers nowadays find themselves in a state of transition, a situation which merchants could take advantage of if they focus on providing the right customer experience.

Modern shopping experience: multi-channel and convenient

This experience, as we are often reminded, must be a satisfying one on all channels. “To satisfy clients, retailers must deliver a consistent, convenient shopping experience across each consumer touch point, extending from the store to online and back again,” writes Jill Puleri, Global Retail Leader at IBM Global Business Services, in the report. This means attracting consumers at the various stages of the shopping experience and making use of all media. The study found that people increasingly go to one channel to obtain information before using another channel to make their purchase. The IBM study also found that nearly half of all online purchases in the eight product categories tracked resulted from ‘showrooming’, “a burgeoning trend in which consumers browse goods at a store, but ultimately buy them online,” explained the market survey firm.

From in-store to online

Among these ‘showroomers’, nearly a quarter said they had originally intended to buy their item in the store, but ultimately purchased online – primarily due to price and convenience. Accordingly, “retailers must better connect their store and online presence to capture the sale to showroomers. Today, online-only retailers account for one-third of showroomer purchases,” advises IBM. To achieve this, retailers must first be able to collect and analyse customer-driven data in order to understand customer purchasing behaviour and preferences. In addition, the report underlines that retailers must make their offerings available across all devices and, even when a customer goes to shop at the store, they should ensure the availability of online functionality that will help to provide a shopping experience which will create loyalty among the technology-savvy consumers of today.