Customer experience and technology: are retailers lagging?

Markus Eichinger, EVP Group Strategy at Wirecard thinks that brick-and-mortar stores are facing an existential crisis. They find it increasingly hard, and in many cases impossible, to compete with the steady consumer shift to online shopping. Yet the technology exists to bring them back to the shops and, according to Wirecard’s recent Consumer Report, they are ready and willing to engage.

Here Eichinger discusses five conclusions from the report that show where the gaps exist between technology and consumer expectation.

In March 1909, Harry Gordon Selfridge opened the doors to his Selfridges department store in Oxford Street, London, for the first time. Selfridge believed his path to success was through creating the ultimate retail experience for his customers.

Fast forward to 2020, brick-and-mortar stores are facing an existential crisis as they struggle to compete against the rising tide of online shopping. In an age of large chains and fewer independent stores, it could be said that retailers have forgotten to give customers an experience and build personal relationships with them. Yet, not all is lost, if retailers only listened to consumers and embrace new technology.

Wirecard commissioned a global study of 6,000 consumers in selected countries across Europe, APAC and the Americas, as part of our Global Consumer Report. We found that the ‘mass market’ shoppers are ready and waiting to use and adopt new technologies for an improved in-store shopping experience, but retailers are too slow to respond.

So, what are consumers demanding, and what can retailers do to deliver first-class experiences that tempt them back into physical stores?

1. Convenience must be king

Both globally and regionally, the research shows that consumers want to use new technologies that make the shopping experience more convenient for them. This includes using:

  • An app to purchase products using self-checkout (71% somewhat or very interested)
  • A smart mirror to allow them to view additional products, request other items and purchase goods without a checkout (65% somewhat or very interested)
  • Unmanned stores like Amazon Go (61% somewhat or very interested)
  • Virtual Reality (VR) to try on items of clothing before buying them online (61% somewhat or very interested)

Interestingly, the survey found that shoppers from Malaysia, Thailand and Brazil were among the most open to using these new technologies, while shoppers from the US, Australia and France were among the lowest: Emerging countries are on a fast track to adopt new technologies.

2. Mobile payments should be a given

Consumers see mobile payments as key: 44% of all respondents agreed that they would be less likely to shop in a physical store if it didn’t offer ways to purchase using their mobile phone for payments. Malaysian consumers were the most demanding with 79% saying they either strongly or somewhat agreed with this.

When looking at which shopping-related technology they think would most improve their shopping experience, 58% of respondents identified mobile payments as the most important, with biometric payments/cashier-less stores second (45%) and VR/Augmented Reality (AR) third (25%). It took some time, but it is now clear to see that mobile payments have finally reached the absolute mass market.

3. It pays to offer biometrics

Wirecard’s research indicates that it pays for retailers to implement biometric payment methods. Three in five would be interested in using biometric data to purchase products online (66%) and in-store (68%). Comparatively, 89% of Thai consumers would be interested in using biometric data to purchase online compared to 53% of German consumers.

This does not surprise, as European and especially German consumers are more cautious to experiment, especially when sensitive data is being touched.

4. Voice-assisted shopping is not far-fetched

Despite voice-assisted shopping devices, such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, often being dismissed as a gimmick, 57% of respondents agreed that using them would make shopping easier, and 44% would already trust voice-assisted payments to do their weekly shop.

Thai consumers were once again the most open to using these new technologies with 92% of respondents either strongly or somewhat agreeing that it would make shopping easier, compared to 38% of Australian consumers.

5. Customers look for products online – while they are in-store

Consumers are interested to use technology to research products while they are in-store, blurring the lines between the physical and online shop. 74% said they are interested in using an app or the store’s mobile website to research more about the product they are looking at, while at least 72% said they have some interest in using in-store technology like tablets, and 60% are interested in using VR.

The survey clearly shows that the willingness of consumers to try out new technologies is comparatively high – and perhaps even higher than many retailers believe. This is both a risk and an opportunity: those who are slow or unwilling to invest in technology risk falling behind those who do. Tech thinking will increasingly influence the retail world: Retailers must adopt an agile, quick trial-and-error approach instead of waiting to “be on the safe side” and thus lose the opportunity to learn.

Markus Eichinger, EVP Group Strategy, Wirecard