Retailers, at least the majority of them, think they're doing a great job at giving customers what they want. Consumers generally disagree, according to a new study of 15,800 people by Oracle Retail.
Based on the results of that survey, it's clear that retail companies are missing on the fundamentals. For example, 57% said that it was not easy to return purchases, while the same amount of retailers described the returns process as "very easy." But perhaps the more troubling takeaway is a pattern of disconnects that suggests that retail leadership may not know what customers actually want.
What do shoppers want?
Ask consumers what makes for a great experience when they go shopping, and 56% will point to convenience -- as manifested in ways such as having their sizes in stock. But when asked what their top priority was, just 34% of retailers ranked convenience that high.
Customers also viewed discovery, "as in space to experiment and try new products" (36%) and expert advice (22%) as highly important to a good shopping experience, while only 18% of retailers considered discovery a priority, and a mere 6% believed that having employees capable of dispensing expert advice ought to be their top priority. For the businesses, by a slim margin, the nebulous idea of the "customer experience" was key -- 35% ranked it as their No. 1 in-store focus. And that roughly paralleled the 37% of consumers who felt the same way.
It is, however, necessary to note that the question posed to customers was not identical to the one posed to retailers, and that the businesses were restricted to a single "main priority" answer, while consumers were able to select several. Yet even factoring that in, there still appears to be a significant mismatch between what shoppers want, and what retailers think will win people's business.
Speaking of what wins customers' business: Beyond the in-store experience, people were overwhelmingly clear that they want faster shipping, and they'll take it any way they can get it. Among the consumers surveyed, 92% said they want "free one-day delivery by whatever means is most expedient -- drone, driverless car, messenger, etc."
One point that business leaders should be particularly sensitive to. Consumers can be particularly unforgiving when retailers promise that fast delivery and the package doesn't arrive on time: 13% of respondents said that they would never order from a retailer again if it missed its promised delivery window.
"Consumer expectations are perpetually in flux, with each positive experience setting a new bar for success in retail," said Oracle Retail General Manager Mike Webster. "No matter if they're enjoying the convenience of ridesharing, browsing through a seamless in-app experience or walking into a brick-and-mortar storefront, customers expect the same caliber of service in all interactions, upping the stakes for retailers as they compete with rival brands and new business models."
Retailers meet consumers
Retailers, specifically those that started as brick-and-mortar chains, apparently need to talk to their customers more. Even on topics where both sides agree in principle, they often disagree on the question of whether the consumer's needs are being met.
When it comes to delivery, for example, both consumers (86%) and retailers (87%) agree "that retailers should offer the ability to choose the most convenient delivery option at the time of ordering." Yet 47% of consumers said that the delivery options they want are "sometimes, rarely or never" available.
That type of disconnect is what drives retailers into decline, or even out of business. You can't fix a problem that you don't recognize is a problem.
In our omnichannel world, consumers have a vast array of choices when it comes to where they spend their money, no matter where they happen to be. You can literally be standing in one store while you order from another with just a few clicks on your phone. That reality should be more than enough to induce retailers to do a better job of listening to customers. If they don't, those folks will simply shop elsewhere -- and the companies that failed to recognize why will be among the next to fall victim to the so-called retail apocalypse.