In the age of digital commerce and infinite choice, shoppers expect more high-touch retail experiences, according to a report by post-purchase experience experts, Narvar, which analyzed responses from 1,500+ US online shoppers and evaluated the ways in which customers prefer to communicate with their favourite brands throughout the shopping journey. This article is copyright 2018 The Best Customer Guide.

The report, entitled "Connecting with Shoppers in the Age of Choice", found that the boundary between online and offline is blurring as consumers integrate shopping experiences into their everyday lives.

Some 16% of American adults (about 39 million) now own a smart speaker like a Google Home or Amazon Echo. Meanwhile, the retail industry is expected to invest $422 million in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) over the next four years.

At the same time, 41% of consumers currently shop or plan to shop using the voice assistant on their phone, 31% via voice-controlled device, and 21% via AR or VR technology on a smartphone. Chatbot usage by consumers, meanwhile, is nascent but growing: 29% of consumers use or plan to use chatbots to shop online.

As people get accustomed to shopping using these technologies, they are using these channels for more than researching products. The study found that 30% of shoppers use voice to track their packages - nearly as many as the 36% who use it to add items to their shopping list.

As shopping behaviors evolve, so are consumers' expectations for proactive updates from retailers. Eighty-three percent of shoppers say they expect regular communication about their purchases, while just eight percent say they get too many notifications.

Key findings from Narvar's "Connecting with Shoppers in the Age of Choice" report include:

  • Consumers are loyal to retailers that invest in customer care : Shoppers will return to retailers who go above and beyond expectations to make them feel cared for. Some 54% of shoppers would give repeat business to a retailer that accurately predicts the date their package will arrive, and 77% would give repeat business to a retailer that resends lost or damaged items with expedited shipping.
  • Retailers stand to gain - or lose - customers based on the returns process: Consumers have little tolerance for hassles related to returns; they expect ease, transparency and flexibility. Some 76% of shoppers would give repeat business to a retailer that makes returns and exchanges easy, and 67% opt to return online purchases through the mail, while 25% won't buy something if they don't have the option of returning to a physical store.
  • Voice shopping is poised to go mainstream: As voice technologies become present in people's living rooms, cars and phones, consumers are shopping more via voice. Device ownership has increased 42% in the last six months, while shopping via device has increased 41% in the last six months.
  • Voice is present through the entire shopping experience: Voice shopping includes much more than product discovery and transactions; people are using voice throughout their shopping journeys. Because voice device owners are more likely than other shoppers to select automatic replenishment services, retailers have an opportunity to present them with more experimental predictive experiences. Some 51% of shoppers use voice to research products, 36% use it to add items to their shopping list, and 30% use voice to track a package. At the same time, 52% of voice device owners opt into subscription services and automatic reordering, compared to 30% of all shoppers surveyed.
  • Shoppers embrace bots, and forgive them for not being perfect: Shoppers are becoming more comfortable using bots to resolve simple customer care issues, but expect human support for help with complex questions, high-value and considered purchases, or nuanced issues. Some 65% of shoppers say they like using chatbots because the bots are available at any time, while 14% say they don't like chatbots at all, compared to 25% just six months ago.

"To deliver customer care at its highest level, brands will need to anticipate customers' wants and needs, using technologies like voice and chatbots to communicate with shoppers at every point of their journey," said Amit Sharma, Founder & CEO of Narvar. "The retailers that succeed in building loyalty with shoppers will be those that connect with people personally and communicate proactively."