‘High Street must tune in to customers’ changing needs’

Picture: Lorne Campbell / Guzelian'John Cowling of Price Waterhouse Coopers, Sheffield.''PICTURE TAKEN ON FRIDAY, 20 March 2009.
Picture: Lorne Campbell / Guzelian'John Cowling of Price Waterhouse Coopers, Sheffield.''PICTURE TAKEN ON FRIDAY, 20 March 2009.

THE high street as we know it is at risk, according to retail experts at PwC.

With 60% of shoppers expecting to spend more online in the coming 2-3 years and the same number stating they have been shopping online for more than five years now, retailers need to act now to meet the demands of the new consumer, according to new research from PwC: Pick ‘n’ Mix – meeting the demands of the new multi-channel shopper.

The survey of more than 1,000 consumers shows how internet shopping has moved from being used occasionally to become routine, with 14% of people now buying on the web more than once a week, compared to only 4% in 2007, while nearly one in five respondents say they are spending more than half of their disposable income online.

John Cowling, partner at PwC in Sheffield, said: “Nobody needs reminding that the retail industry is facing a tough time and will continue to do so for some time yet. Profiting from the acceleration of the uptake in multi-channel shopping merely adds to the list of challenges: as consumer needs change at a faster pace, greater flexibility to continually alter and adapt business models will be increasingly critical.

“Shoppers haven’t abandoned physical stores yet, they are just using them for different things and in different ways. Our analysis shows that the reason people go to stores is growing increasingly polarised between the two extremes of entertainment and convenience - a number of retailers are already grasping the implications of this trend and are adapting their advertising and store formats accordingly.”

The research demonstrates that shoppers are now more confident about exploiting the full range of channels and retailers available to them– over 90% of consumers said they had shopped multi-channel with at least one retailer, with most shopping with 2-5 preferred brands. Interestingly, the clear leader was Argos, with 65% of shoppers stating they had shopped multi-channel with them, followed by Tesco with 50% and Marks & Spencer, 36%.

The biggest differences in shopping behaviour were by product category, with factors like age, region, socio-demographics and time since first online purchase, being much less important. The data highlights how much this varied when consumers shopped for different things. For instance, 66% of electrical goods shoppers stated they would prefer to research online before going to a store, compared to almost 35% in furniture and homewares and nearly 20% in fashion.

Mr Cowling added: “Retailers have been most interested in the insights into emerging consumer behaviours, particularly in cross-channel shopping. They are re-evaluating how they develop their web, mobile and store spaces to match changing consumer needs in those channels, and how they manage and incentivise their web and store managers to deliver a joined-up customer experience when consumers shop across channels.

“There is also a real challenge here for retailers - our data shows that despite the fact there are now more opportunities for consumers to shop, it’s not prompting them to spend more than they did before. Consumers are instead consolidating their spending with their favourite multi-channel retailers – meaning being a ‘favourite brand’ will become increasingly important, and that those without multi-channel propositions may well lose out.

“The winners will be the retailers that are most tuned to their customers’ changing needs, and have the technology and organisational control to get customers the products they want, when they want and in the ways they want to shop.”

“Companies like Go Outdoors are getting this right with their strategy which over the last couple of years has focussed on an expansion programme of retail stores mixed with their online sales and marketing.”