Consumers research and buy both offline and online, and they have decided opinions about what they like about each way of shopping. A new consumer survey provides retailers with guidance about how to please the increasingly common cross-channel shopper.

Jimmy Duvall, chief product officer, BigCommerce

Jimmy Duvall, chief product officer, BigCommerce

One of the most formidable challenges that merchants face is finding a balance between investing in and selling through a growing multitude of channels. Amazon and other marketplaces, brick-and-mortar stores, branded online stores and social media have all been lumped into one convenient but confounding bucket that we refer to as “omnichannel.” Practically speaking, there’s no way every merchant can master every channel, but apportioning resources in a way that makes each active channel successful takes prioritization, strategy and a savvy understanding of where the opportunities exist with the modern-day shopper.

My company recently conducted a study of nearly 3,000 consumers in the U.S., U.K. and Australia to help merchants corner those opportunities—which can be segmented into three phases—and transform themselves into a more omnipresent and preferable option for shoppers.

A significant 27 percent of respondents listed an inability to touch or try on an item before purchase as their least favorite aspect of online shopping.

Leading Into the Purchase Decision

Even if the vast majority of retail still happens offline, that’s not necessarily where the buck starts. Merchants need to think about how and where their offerings are presented during buyers’ consideration processes. Prior to making a purchase in a physical retail store, our data show that 39 percent of consumers visit a brand’s website, 36 percent read reviews left by other customers and 33 percent look to price match the product online. If merchants aren’t clearly present within each of those channels, they risk missing out on offline sales too.

The same principle is reflected in purchase journeys that both start and finish online. According to our research, 30 percent of consumers noticed a product on Amazon before purchasing it on the brand’s website and, conversely, 22 percent visited a branded online store before purchasing a product on Amazon. There’s a clear symbiotic relationship and opportunity, even when consideration, research, decision and purchase all happen online.

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Where (and How) the Sale is Made

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that 78 percent of our global respondents made a purchase on Amazon over the last six months. What may surprise is that 65 percent still made a purchase in a physical store, 45 percent on a branded online store, 34 percent on eBay and 11 percent on Facebook. While Amazon may soon be the biggest game in town, it’s certainly not the only one. Diversification in channels is alive and well, so merchants should strategize accordingly.

There were a few generational divides worth noting, specifically when it comes to understanding where and how Gen Z—those born between 1995-2012—shops . Members of that age bracket were twice as likely as the average consumer to make a purchase on Instagram and three times as likely to make a purchase on Snapchat. We’ve been touting the rise of social commerce channels for some time; it’s safe to say they’re arriving and present a relatively untapped opportunity for merchants.

Common across most of those online channels that’s not necessarily an offline possibility is the ability for merchants to tailor descriptions on product pages. In fact, 17 percent of shoppers said that the majority of their online returns are a result of the item they received not matching its original product description. Retailers need to nail that description on every online channel they have access to, plain and simple. This also applies to product images, as consumers want to know exactly what it is they’ll be receiving. Circling back to how consumers go through their purchase consideration processes, the opportunity exists for authentic customer reviews to be presented right on those product detail pages to give shoppers a fully informed picture surrounding their intended purchase.

Let’s not forget brick and mortar; even with the marketing and product description limitations that traditional shelves have, it still holds value in a key way. A significant 27 percent of respondents listed an inability to touch or try on an item before purchase as their least favorite aspect of online shopping. The most straightforward way to combat that contention and still make the sale? Investing in an offline channel.

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For those who simply can’t afford to invest in a physical location, the website experience becomes all the more important as it needs to serve as a viable stand-in for the experience a customer would have in store. In addition to authentic reviews and detailed product images and descriptions, consider also showcasing lifestyle imagery or incorporating video to give users a better sense of what the product looks like in use.

Post-Sale Presence

Retailers that believe the transaction is done and dusted once the payment page is completed do so at their own peril. There’s a supreme opportunity to cement the customer relationship and preserve loyalty through the shipping and returns process. With Amazon Prime setting the gold standard in fulfillment and shipping, 15 percent of consumers admitted that waiting for a package to arrive is now their least favorite part of e-commerce. Sticking to the 2-day delivery (or even more immediate) window, no matter which online channel the order is received on, is crucial to meeting consumers’ expectations for convenience, immediacy and customer service.

And even when a purchase doesn’t work out, merchants shouldn’t give up on the prospect. No one enjoys returns, but given their increasing frequency, making them simple and smooth progresses toward that end goal of building the long-term customer relationship and meeting modern expectations. Returns also present a unique, somewhat hidden opportunity for retailers with an offline presence. When consumers go into the store to return an item that was originally purchased online, our study showed that 67 percent browse or shop in that store afterwards, creating the potential for the majority of them to become customers all over again.

The concept of omnichannel can seem overwhelming and tangled, but a little strategy can go a long way. By grounding that omnichannel strategy in data, opportunities arise for merchants to be omnipresent and sell more products to more customers in more places and in better ways across the online and offline universe.

BigCommerce provides the e-commerce platform technology for 15 of the Internet Retailer Top 1000 online retailers in North America, according to Top500Guide.com.

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