Consumer expectations continue to rise in retail

New research by the Retail Council of Canada shows more people will switch retailers when problems arise.

New research from the Retail Council of Canada (RCC) shows Canadian consumers continue to heighten their expectations of retailers both in-store and online and are more easily convinced to go elsewhere when retailers do not provide a “perfect experience.”

The study, called “The Blended Commerce Imperative,” was conducted by the RCC and its marketing advisory council in partnership with Google Canada and SaaS-based insights tool WisePlum. It is based on more than 5,000 responses from Canadians across demographics taken between Oct. 11 and 25.

According to its findings, customers continue to grow less patient with retailers. Although many were more willing to accept service issues during the early stages of ecommerce, that has changed significantly over the last five years. More than one-third (67%) of those surveyed reported having a problem with online purchases; meanwhile, only 41% of consumers said the same of in-store purchases. “Considered up until now to be a convenience driver,” the report notes, “online is becoming the Achilles’ heel of retail.”

Some of the frustration from online purchases stem from the credentials required during transactions and from finding out products are out of stock after the purchase decision has been made, according to Diane Brisebois, president and CEO of the RCC. Meanwhile, difficulties can also arise in-store, when customers face long check-out lines, for example. In these instances, she notes, customers are no longer hesitating to switch retailers altogether.

The findings reveals millennials are driving change: 59% of them cite experiencing problems both online and in-store, as opposed to 32% of older consumers. Moreover, millennials report an average of 5.1 problems – more than fivefold the average of 0.9 among older customers.

While many companies continue to assume customers visit physical retail stores during the research phase before ultimately making their purchases online, according to the RCC, in reality the research phase is more evenly split between the channels: 61% of shoppers did at least one online activity prior to purchasing in-store, compared to the 65% who did at least one offline activity prior to ordering online.

When shopping in-store, 30% consumers report desiring better store layout and an easier time finding what they want; 29% say they would like knowledgeable, friendly staff to assist them, while 24% would like confirmation that an item is in stock before they enter the store. When shopping online, consumers cite more product details and better pictures (36%), confirmation the item is in stock before they order (23%) and better website navigation (21%) as the main areas of improvement.

Respondents identified grocery as leading the way for convenience, through the offer of click-and-collect programs, curbside pickup, home delivery and designated pick-up locations. Grocery retailers’ “multi-tactic approach provides consumers with flexibility and convenience for their shopping needs,” according to the report.