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Ray’s Ramblings: Huge Disconnect In the Furniture Industry May Bring Down Retailers

I was going to devote this column to the recent spikes in Covid in Asia and what this will mean to the supply chain and the flow of products, but I simply couldn’t do it.

For me, if Covid were human, it would be that guy who crashes your dinner party and simply refuses to leave.

So, rather than give this damn virus any more power by writing about it, I invite you to join me in this week’s column as we look at the findings of a study called “The Future of Retail,” conducted jointly by NetSuite, Wakefield Research and The Retail Doctor Bob Phibbs.

The survey polled some 1,200 consumers and 400 retail executives in the U.S., the U.K. and Australia to determine the age-old question of what consumers want.

Assuming the consumers were truthful in their responses, it appears there is a huge disconnect between what shoppers say they want and what retailers think their customers want.

Let me share some specifics. The study concluded that even with heavy investments by retailers to enhance the customer experience both in-store and online, they may have failed to impress consumers.

While 73% of the retail executives polled thought the overall ambiance and environment in retail stores had become more inviting over the past few years, only 45% of consumers agreed. Even more alarming was that just under 20% of the consumers polled said it had become less inviting.

There were also night-and-day differences regarding the level of engagement RSAs should have with consumers. Here, a whopping 80% of retailers said that consumers would feel more welcomed if in-store personnel interacted with them more. Consumers did not agree. Almost half (46%) said that was not the case and an additional 28% of the consumers polled said more interaction with salespeople would leave them feeling more annoyed.

The retail-consumer disconnect was also evident when the topic of chatbots was on the table. Here, the vast majority of retailers (79%) said they were confident that chatbots are meeting consumer needs. Some two-thirds of consumers disagree and said that chatbots are more damaging to their shopping experience than they are helpful.

When the topic of using social media to engage and build stronger relationships with consumers was brought up consumers and retailers were once again on decidedly different sides of the fence. While just about all the retailers polled (98%) gave this strategy a thumbs up, only 12% of consumers agreed.

Another bridge retailers need to cross to get closer to customers has to do with personalization, especially if they hope to succeed with millennials.

Here, while 63% of millennials said they would pay more for more personalization, only 11% of the retailers polled admitted that they and their staff were not equipped to provide that.

This chasm between retailers’ and consumers’ expectations regarding in-store experience is troubling, especially as the survey concluded that 80% of consumers do not believe they are receiving a personalized shopping experience either in-store or online.

And while many brick-and-mortar retailers lose sleep over losing business to online competitors, the survey concluded the overwhelming majority of consumers agree that there is a need to visit a brick-and-mortar store to make a purchase, they want to shop at stores that can streamline and simplify the shopping experience.

While online shopping continues to make steady gains with consumers and has certainly gained additional ground due to Covid, the study concludes that the physical store is not going away, providing those retailers implement ways to keep the in-store shopping experience simple, painless, and seamless.

The consumers polled confirmed that the characteristics that attract them to online shopping are essentially the same they look for in their in-store shopping: ease of shopping, the ability to use mobile devices to shop, and the availability of kiosks to allow them to shop for items that may not be in the physical store.

Today’s consumer has more shopping options than ever. Winning retailers, regardless of their store format, will be those merchants who focus on not just meeting the shopper’s expectations, but on exceeding those expectations.

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