Study: Digital Options Key to Holding On to Brand Fans

Companies approaching the market with out-of-date digital technology risk falling out of step with consumers, particularly the younger ones.

Brands approaching the market with out-of-date digital technology risk falling out of step with consumers, particularly the younger ones that so many companies covet.

This story first appeared in the March 26, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

That is among the conclusions of a study conducted for InContact Inc., a provider of cloud-based contact-center software, by Harris Interactive. Nearly 2,200 U.S. adults were surveyed and more than half — 56 percent — said they would be “at least somewhat likely” to switch brands or companies if a competitor offered more shopping and contact options and channels than the one in which they were engaged.

While the Baby Boomers and their elders showed greater signs of enduring brand loyalty, with 45 percent of those 55 and older saying they’d make such a switch, the number rises to nearly two-thirds, 64 percent, among those in Generations X and Y, ages 18 to 44.

The study also demonstrates a more tentative embrace of e-commerce than of brick-and-mortar retailing. Customers are more inclined to feel brand loyalty towards retail store brands than they are toward e-commerce players by a margin of more than two-to-one, 41 percent to 19 percent.

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As a marketer of cloud-based software used by call centers in retail and other industries, InContact has a vested interest in encouraging businesses to get on the cloud bandwagon, which allows easier integration of devices covering the digital landscape from telephones and smartphones to personal computers and tablets.

Even so, the study shows some clear trends in the precarious nature of brand loyalty in the 21st century. For instance, Harris found a greater propensity in men than women to have an attachment to a brand or other established nameplate, with 79 percent saying they feel loyalty to brands versus 71 percent of the women.

For nearly two-thirds of respondents, a 1-800 number simply won’t cut it any longer. Sixty-three percent indicated that brands which don’t offer other options for communication on matters of sales and service seem “outdated or old-fashioned,” and almost seven in eight, 86 percent, expect brands to offer multiple options and flexible timing to interact with customer service.

Seven in 10 consumers consider the availability of a mobile app at least somewhat important as a service feature, a figure that is highest among those 18 to 24 (84 percent) and lowest for those 55 and up (58 percent).

“The survey results are clear,” said Paul Jarman, chief executive officer of Salt Lake City-based InContact. “Consumers expect more choices and more ways to interact with business today. The smartest companies are quickly adapting to changing consumer behaviors and needs, extending customer service beyond just phone and e-mail to mobile apps, text messaging, chat and social media.”

The age correlation pattern in the brand loyalty data is understandable in light of the higher rates of high-tech device ownership among younger consumers. In a recent survey on plans for Easter purchasing by the National Retail Federation, the percentage of tablet and smartphone owners was in inverse proportion to age, with just 15.3 percent of those 18 to 24 not owning either a smartphone or a tablet, versus 16.9 percent for those 25 to 34, 21.5 percent for those 35 to 44, 35.1 percent for those 45 to 54, and 46.6 percent for those 55 to 64. The only demographic bracket in which a majority — in this case 61.8 percent — didn’t own either device was the group over 65.