As retailers digest reams of digital data and launch segmentation strategies aimed at keeping loyal customers while attracting new ones, the most important way to win the hearts of consumers in the long-term is to focus on their shopping experience.

And that includes elements focused on sales, easier returns and earning points that can later be redeemed, according to Synchrony Financial’s just-released 2015 Customer Experience and Impact Study. The report, which surveyed 1,000 consumers in the U.S., concentrated on the specialty apparel, department and mass-market retail segments and examined 27 key customer experience elements.

From a consumer behavior perspective, the results showed that people continue to respond well to deals. But it also showed they craved a deeper connection to the retailers they frequent. “More than half of shoppers say they would pay a higher price for the customer experiences they value most, and 77 percent of shoppers would be more loyal to stores that provide their personal top three customer experiences,” the researchers stated.

Synchrony Financial said of the over-two dozen elements that were examined, four were identified as the “most valuable to consumers and indicate the importance of simplifying and easing the shopping experience.”

Topping the list was “pick your own sales items,” which 42 percent of those polled cited as a valuable shopping feature. Next was “hassle-free returns” with 41 percent saying it was a top benefit, and coupon-free shopping to get a marked-down price at 40 percent. Hassle-free returns included a consumer desire for “benefits such as no time limit [on returns], no need for a receipt and free postage on returns,” the researchers noted.

Thirty-three percent of respondents ranked redeeming points for extra savings as a top benefit, which would also “lead them to spend more with the retailer when rewards are easy to accumulate and redeem.”

Toni White, chief marketing officer, Synchrony Financial, said, “Retailers that build lasting loyalty know their customer’s preferences and integrate these elements into the shopping experience. This study reinforces the finding that purchase decisions are driven by positive, practical and personalized experiences, in addition to a compelling price/value equation.”

Regarding the differences between retail segments, 73 percent of those polled said they would more frequently shop at specialty apparel stores “as a result of: helpful, attentive associates; clothes they like and a variety of merchandise; and good value and prices.”

For patrons of department stores, 62 percent said helpful associates, attractive sale prices and sizing were key factors in whether or not they would shop there more often. And at mass retailers, 57 percent of those surveyed “want a one-stop shopping experience and good discounts, deals and prices” as well as easy-to-find merchandise that they want.

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