Shopping's future unveiled: What consumers want and what retailers need to do


Shopping today is a vastly different experience than it has been historically. Now, you can go to the store or shop online from the comfort of wherever. You can get free delivery, same-day delivery and even at some retailers, 15-minute delivery. Choice, speed, convenience and payment options are plentiful.

For some generations these have been game-changers, but for a massive group of shoppers with growing purchasing power, this is the expectation. Consider a third of the U.S. population is younger than Amazon, which started in 1994. For the teens and adults in this group, one-click ordering, and fast, free shipping are the default.

These expectations are shaping the future of consumerism and smart retailers are taking note. Offering shoppers a seamless experience is essential, no matter where or how they are shopping. In fact, you probably have a few favorite retailers because you know they have what you want, when you want it, and it's a simple process to get it wherever you are located.

To embrace the future of shopping, many retailers are taking a unified commerce approach. This means they use interconnected systems and data to provide the best customer experience, including inventory, sales, e-commerce, fulfillment, returns, customer relationship management and more.

Manhattan Associates Inc., in partnership with Google Cloud and Zebra Technologies, recently announced the industry's first real-world analysis of unified commerce. The Unified Commerce Benchmark for Specialty Retail, conducted by Incisiv, assessed 124 retailers across 11 specialty retail segments on the implementation of 286 key attributes of unified commerce.

Based on insight from real purchases, returns, and customer journeys across digital and physical channels, the study reveals the common attributes of successful retailers and the opportunities for others to improve their customer value and modernize operations.

Which companies are the best of the best in unified commerce? Fifteen emerged as overall leaders: Academy Sports + Outdoors, American Eagle Outfitters, Belk Inc., Crate & Barrel, Levi’s, Macy’s, MAC Cosmetics, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Pandora, REI Co-op, Saks Fifth Avenue, Sephora, UGG and Zales.

Some other noteworthy discoveries of the research include findings made by expert secret shoppers. Here are some top shopping habits and retail trends:

Ability to change your mind

Ever placed an order only to change your mind? Some retailers offer the flexibility to modify orders post confirmation. Lifestyle apparel retailers lead the way in this capability with 50% allowing customers to modify orders post-confirmation, far outpacing the retail average (18%). Sporting goods retailers come in dead last in this area, with 0% offering this functionality. And only 15% of retailers will let shoppers change their shipping/fulfillment method post order confirmation.

Easy tracking and delivery confirmation

Wondering where your package is? About three-quarters (72%) of retailers offer customers order tracking and notifications, but plenty still lack this important feature. Athleisure retailers are the worst offenders, with just 60% providing tracking and notifications. Meanwhile, cosmetics and skincare retailers are likely to provide regular status updates — 97% will send you notifications if you’d like them.

Flexible payment options

A whopping 93% of leaders allow shoppers to Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL), but non-leaders aren’t too far behind: 82% offer this option. Additionally, half of leaders let shoppers use mixed payment methods (e.g., pay partially with a gift card, partially with a credit card). However, most retailers — leaders or not — do not offer the ability to check out with Apple Pay or Google Pay, leaving room for improvement.

Sustainability efforts

If the environment is important to you and influences your shopping habits, you're not alone. The study found only 20% of shoppers are satisfied with their preferred retailer's sustainability practices and 40% of shoppers are actively looking for, and willing to spend more for, sustainable and ethically sourced products. Companies are appealing to sustainability as a growing consumer priority by publishing detailed content on sustainability practices: 87% of leaders do this, far outpacing the share of non-leaders that do the same (58%).

Consumer needs are always evolving and the most successful retailers are the ones who have the ability to keep up with these changes. By embracing unified commerce, retailers can give today’s connected consumers the information and personalized shopping experience they are increasingly demanding. Read more at





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