The Importance of Balancing In Store and Online Customer Experiences

The Covid-19 pandemic forced the closure of many stores across the globe, meaning that consumers were left with no choice but to shop online. Companies missed out on being able to interact with customers and provide a positive in-store experience for them. 

In this blog, we will compare in-store shopping to purchasing online and determine how customers prefer to shop. It is assumed that there is a generational divide between people who choose traditional and modern methods, but actually, it depends on factors such as accessibility and the shopping experience. Some consider shopping a hobby, while others consider it a chore. Like it or dislike it, we all have to shop.

In a bid to replicate the in-store experience, companies began getting creative with how they did business online. Musgraves developed a tech-enabled online grocery store and a “beat-the-queue” functionality on their Centra app, to deliver better customer experiences. Currys PC World’s “shoplive” functionality allowed customers to interact with tech experts via video chat to help them with their purchase.

Other ways that companies can improve the online experience for their customers include simplifying the checkout process, providing fast and efficient customer service, and offering free shipping. 

Even as shops began to open up, customers continued to shop online with online retail sales up by 39% in Q1 of 2021 in comparison to previous years. The leading reasons for this increase are as follows:

  • Ability to shop at any time of the day (56%)
  • The convenience of not having to travel to the store (50%)
  • Finding cheaper products online (49%)

According to McKinsey, 17% of customers in the US switched over to online shopping during the pandemic for reasons such as e-commerce availability and hygiene conditions. 

This increase is expected to continue, with e-commerce revenue expected to reach 5.4 trillion USD in 2022. 

So which do consumers prefer? 

Despite the increase in online shopping, the majority of customers still prefer traveling to the store itself. 

A survey conducted recently found that nearly half of consumers (48%) prefer ‘in person’ shopping as opposed to shopping online. 35% of these customers prefer shopping in stores simply because they “enjoy the experience”. Furthermore, a recent study done in the UK, stated that 56% of people want to see and feel products before purchasing. 

Customers often prefer in-person shopping when purchasing “challenging” products, such as clothing. The top reasons for this include difficulty browsing for products online (25%), confusing product specifications (21%), and the inability to seek guidance or advice from a sales assistant (21%).

Creating a positive in-store experience is incredibly important with 84% of consumers stating that they would return to a store following a positive experience. 

Companies can boost the in-store experience in a number of ways such as:

  • Promoting a safe shopping experience.
  • Providing ‘retailtainment’ such as real-life mannequins and live music.
  • Developing relationships with your customers

Surveyed consumers also gave importance to the quality of customer service (31.5%), to the variety, quality, and availability of products (29.8%), and to the store layout and physical arrangement of products (19.8%).

While online shopping has been on the rise, the majority of people are still willing to make the journey to shop in physical stores. PwC’s annual consumer survey states that 40% of customers visit physical stores at least once a week. Clients benefit more from shopping in physical shops even though online shopping seems like a good innovation.

A physical store helps in creating a brand experience, as retail is known to be a highly competitive industry. A recent study shows that when a new store is opened, traffic to the website increases by 37%, along with the number of online mentions and searches of the brand. It also serves as a free way to get market research done, as it is very easy for retailers to study their customers and their buying patterns. Creating an experience with the right balance of excitement, convenience and safety is key to differentiating your brand from your competition.