Live from NRF: Consumers Want Cross-Channel Synergy

As a merchant, you may consider yourself to be multichannel. But the customer views your bricks-and-mortar stores and Website as one entity, according to a survey shown Monday at the National Retail Federation’s Annual Convention and Expo.

Acting as marketers, David Selinger, CEO of personalized product recommendation company Richrelevance, and Paco Underhill, CEO of multichannel consultancy Envirosell, surveyed consumers on a shopping trip to New York City-area stores the first weekend of November.

Most consumers at bricks-and-mortar locations of Macy’s, The Gap, Starbuck’s, Best Buy, Sears and Border’s told them that they were using the stores’ Websites to help make their in-store purchase:

  • 88% said they had shopped that retailer’s Website
  • 85% compare prices online
  • 44% visit a competitor’s Website
  • 75% said visiting the store’s Website helps them shop in-store
  • 26% will visit a site to continue shopping after leaving a store

These findings, in theory, would give multichannel retailers a distinct advantage over the pure-plays. But the service and attitudes Selinger and Underhill saw in the stores would instead cause loyal customers to walk away.

They videotaped their own experiences of trying to return items purchased on the Internet, redeem Web-only coupons and have prices adjusted to match what they saw on a specific retailer’s Website. Trying to accomplish these tasks caused was “friction moments” between the consumer and the store clerks.

One clerk explained that the retailer couldn’t match an Internet price of a flat-screen television because it’s shipped direct from a warehouse. Because there’s no overhead like in a store, it could sell for less online.

Another salesclerk who took back an item that was purchased online told Selinger she was now “stuck with it.”

And an item purchased online at one store could only be returned for store credit – a return would have to be made through the e-commerce channel if Selinger wanted the refund on his credit card.

The project revealed that in many cases, cross-channel synergy does not truly exist. What’s more, this is making the total shopping experience difficult for both the consumer and the “foot-soldiers” in the stores, Underhill said.

“Amazon does not have the opportunity to put a human being in front of its customers,” Selinger said. “Consumers do not distinguish the Web as a separate entity from the stores, and they want that brand experience to stay the same.”

And consumers who are not happy with the cross-channel experience will be quick to switch to another merchant. Underhill and Selinger said they met several shoppers who were comparison shopping on their mobile devices while in a store.

And those numbers may be surprising to most retailers: In another NRF session earlier that day, Forrester Research analyst Sucharita Mulpuru said 39% of consumers with mobile devices are now using them to comparison shop.