What shoppers REALLY want from retailers during the holidays

Yes, low prices and having items in stock is key, but so is using technology strategically as part of the experience

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It’s the season for giving, so the number crunchers have generously given us some data to unwrap on this year’s expected holiday shopping trends.

I say ‘expected’ because most of the statistics were gathered in late autumn when holiday shopping was just getting underway. The figures are invaluable for omni-channel customer engagement, however, because they indicate not only what we planned to shop for, but how: our preferred ways to search for information about gift items, compare prices and ultimately make purchases.

From this data, retailers can learn a lot about the kind of omni-channel experience consumers want today. Let’s look at some highlights.

Mobile growing: Forty-eight per cent of Canadians polled by Google Canada use their mobile devices inside stores. Another 56 per cent bought gifts the very same day they researched them on their smartphones. A ForeSee survey of U.S. shoppers found 66 per cent of consumers had visited a retailer’s website while inside the store, up from 55 per cent last year. According to Accenture research, 45 per cent of Canadians are willing to try smartphone payment apps at retail checkouts.

Online still strong: Thirty-four per cent of Canadians told Google Canada they planned to research and buy holiday gifts online, a whopping 23 per cent jump from 2013.

Omni-channel is key: Consumers expect a great experience on all channels and platforms, not just digital. While an Ernst & Young study advises Canadian retailers to make “seamless technology available on tablets, smartphones or desktop” and “a significant shift in spending to digital advertising and social media,” it also recommends “better omni-channel delivery, including free and fast shipping.”

Accenture’s Canadian report concludes that “driving consumers to a store through seamless offerings – meaning the integration of the in-store, online and mobile experience – could lead to more sales.” The Foresee data shows that 38 per cent of U.S. shoppers who bought items in-store also made purchases on their smartphones; 26 per cent of in-store shoppers have also used the retailer’s mobile app. As the Foresee report states, “store customers have become omni-channel customers in a big way.”

With all this in mind, here are my omni-channel holiday wishes for Canada’s retail and other sectors.

I wish for more Canadian research data on omni-channel engagement in all industries. Although there’s more data coming out of the Canadian market these days, it’s still outnumbered by reports released regularly from the U.S. and U.K.

I wish more Canadian businesses would get into the digital game. A study by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business estimates that 61 per cent of Canada’s independent retailers still have absolutely no online presence whatsoever.

I wish businesses of all stripes would include more listening and less ‘pushing’ in their omni-channel strategy. Personalizing a customer’s experience means gauging their content needs and channel preferences, not randomly flooding them with marketing messages and offers.

Media relations pro Joseph Ferrary gets it. I called his New York office yesterday to find out when an updated version of ForeSee’s holiday shopping research is coming out (soon, and it’ll be available here). Since I left a voicemail explaining my looming deadline, he got back to me within an hour. By phone – the same channel I had used to contact him.

Thanks for noting my content needs and channel preference, Joe. Isn’t that what all customers wish for?

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