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When consumers shop - in stores or online - they are usually looking for something specific and want to be able to find it easily. And when they shop online they expect to get their merchandise delivered quickly and for free. Those are among the findings released today in the latest issue of 'Consumer View', a quarterly report issued by the National Retail Federation that gauges consumer behavior and shopping trends related to stores, online channels, customer loyalty, technology and other topics. This article is copyright 2018 The Best Customer Guide.

"Consumers today want what they want when they want it and they don't expect to pay a premium to get it fast," NRF Vice President for Research Development and Industry Analysis Mark Mathews said. "When they walk into a store they want to find their item, and find it easily, especially if they've researched it online beforehand. And whether it's next-day or pickup-in-store, quick delivery of online purchases at little or no extra charge is growing so fast that it's something shoppers are coming to expect."

Mathews discussed the report during a session on developing trends in consumer behavior held today at NRF 2018: Retail's Big Show (NRF's annual conference) in New York. The session was moderated by NRF Director of Retail and Consumer Insights Katherine Cullen and also featured IBM Global Managing Director and General Manager of Worldwide Consumer Industries Laurence Haziot and Prosper Insights & Analytics Executive Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Phil Rist.

Whether shopping in-store or online, consumers are typically seeking to buy a certain item rather than just browsing, with 73% surveyed saying that's the case with stores and 54% online, according to the report. And in either case, 58% rated being able to find what they want quickly and easily as their top factor in determining where to shop. Shopping "just to browse" has shifted to being more popular online (done by 46% of those surveyed) than in stores (27%).

Among those shopping online, 68% expect free shipping even on purchases of less than $50, with 47% saying they typically back out if shipping isn't free. And 38% expect two-day shipping to be free while 24% expect free same-day shipping.

The quality of customer service is also a top factor in deciding where to shop, cited by 44%, along with speed and simplicity of checkout (42%) and the ability to try out products (20%). Consumers said their overall experience with a brand or retailer is important in determining which to buy from and how often (79% each) and how loyal or connected they feel (77%).

The survey found 59% of consumers are interested in special events retailers hold to draw customers into stores or onto websites, including the ability to try out products, exclusive access to sales, demonstrations and product tutorials. Millennials are particularly enthusiastic about special events - 44% said they were "very interested" compared with 25% of consumers overall. And Millennial men (60%) were more likely to be "very" interested than Millennial women (28%).

The report said fewer than a third of consumers were aware of technological innovations such as 3D printing or making purchases through social media (29% each), in-app store navigation (28%), in-store digital displays (25%) or retail messaging apps and online chat (24%). But among those that were, messaging apps and chat were the technology that had most often been tried (65%) while in-app store navigation was most-cited as improving the shopping experience (63%.)

"Retailers are literally racing to consumers' doorsteps to meet rising expectations," Mathews said.