retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

A new study of Americans' evolving attitudes on when, where and how they shop confirms statistically what we at MNB have seen anecdotally.

In addition to customer service, it’s all about the smartphone. And those shopping apps are just as important for brick-and-mortar stores as for e-commerce giants in the battle to win and keep consumers.

The survey from the design firm King Retail Solutions (KRS) queried 1,200 consumers and found that 51 percent have one or more shopping related-apps on a smartphone, and that majority will only continue to grow.

Not surprisingly, more women have smartphones and shopping apps than men. And among demographic groups, the Millennials lead in both categories, followed by the Gen X-ers and then the Baby Boomers.

But the important takeaway is how and where shoppers are using the apps. The survey found 47 percent of consumers used apps that represent the leading specific retail and e-retail brands – such as No. 1 Amazon, No. 2 eBay and No. 3 Target – for shopping both online, on the phone and in the store. An additional 14 percent of shoppers solely use their apps for in-store shopping -- meaning a total of 61 percent refer to their smartphone for in-store shopping – a development that should spur brick-and-mortar retailers into action.

“Investing in functional, helpful, even delightful proprietary shopping apps is clearly no longer a fad to humor, but instead a significant tool to employ for increased in-store sales,” the study concluded.

I would agree. My Millennial daughters are constantly comparing price and quality on their omni-present smartphones before making a purchase in a store or online. I fall squarely in the less-technologically savvy Baby Boomer group, and still find my contemporaries also donning their reading glasses in the supermarket, wine store or other shop to do pre-purchase research.

KRS executive vice president Andrew Swedenborg says that “retailers today are being asked to spin a lot of plates when it comes to maintaining and, more importantly, adding to their relevance with shoppers. People are shopping everywhere they’re plugged in.”

The study also confirmed that consumers placed quick, friendly service from a knowledgeable staff as the most important factor in feeling delighted or otherwise impressed with their retail experience.

Clearly, the challenge is combining superior front-end customer service with enhanced mobile technology - and quality and price – to differentiate your brand. And being nimble enough to anticipate the next must-have app.

The KRS study also addressed “category blurring” in the area of groceries, fresh meals, and services such as haircuts or medical care – or one-stop shopping for soup, sundries, a buzz cut and a flu shot.

Some 61 percent of shoppers reported purchasing fresh-prepared meals from a non-restaurant, with Walmart, Target, Kroger, Albertsons/Safeway and Whole Foods in the top five. Yet grocery and fresh-prepared food lag behind apparel and electronics in the purchase online for in-store pickup category.

And therein lies an opportunity. If you’re selling freshly prepared meals, and your targeted mobile technology lets customers know about daily specials and seasonal offerings, that’s a plate worth spinning.

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