Holiday shopping in New York.

Despite available data, retailers remain under the pressure of rising consumer expectations for both in-store and online experiences. IBM’s “2017 Customer Experience Index Study” revealed the extent of how severe the majority of brands are failing to meet shoppers’ demands.

As part of the study, IBM surveyed more than 500 companies and analyzed seven areas belonging to the omnichannel journey that included personalization, social media and mobile experiences. The investigation surfaced that retail and consumer product brands need to work harder to meet consumer expectations, the report said.

The index revealed that most brands are falling short in answering shopper demands. As part of the research, IBM rated customer satisfaction on a scale of zero to 100 — the average score was an underwhelming 33, the report said. Only 3.4 of surveyed brands received the leading edge ranking — 23.5 percent fell into Fast Followers segment and 33.5 percent of brands met the Middle of the Pack standard. Approximately 40 percent of brands were discovered to be Falling or Lagging Behind.

Quality of performance was somewhat correlated to region, however overarching challenges appeared to be interacted across markets. “The U.K. was the highest performing country with a score of 42 [out of 100] among brands surveyed. The U.S. with a score of 36 and Brazil, 35, were the next highest performers. The report noted that both established and emerging markets averaged a score of 33, pointing to sub-par performance overall.

IBM investigated into the contributing factors resulting in brands’ poor performance rates. The researchers constructed seven pillars of the omnichannel experience: Personalization, digital experience, omnichannel supply chain, physical and digital integration, social media, mobile experience and store experience.

With the exception of social media, all seven components posted disappointing results. “Brands struggle to personalize the omnichannel shopping experience and to provide self-service customization capabilities. Only 19 percent of brands offer more than a basic level of personalization of the online experience,” the report said.

Despite the complete digital overhaul on the shopping journey, retailers are faltering to deliver robust online experiences. “Forty-seven percent of brands offered only basic search functionality, or none at all. Seventy-one percent of brands offered no product comparison functionality,” said the report. What’s more brands aren’t tapping readily available technology to share relevant inventory information with consumers. The research found that “seventeen percent offered more than limited in-stock, out-of-stock information. Thirty percent of brands offered inconsistent or no supply chain data across channels.”

gross margins apparel retailers

Retail sales fell for the second month in a row.  Shutterstock / Ivan Kurmyshov

This was further observed in the lack of alignment between brands’ brick-and-mortar and online presences. “Sixty-four percent of brands did not allow customers to specify their preferred delivery day or time slot, while 39 percent of brands did not provide Buy Online Pickup In Store services,” said the report. Indicative of this was brands’ lackluster mobile experience for consumers. “Thirty-eight percent of brands provided either a poor mobile experience or none at all. And only 31 percent of brands allow customers to access and manage their account details through a mobile app,” the report said.

Of all the sections, store experiences scored the worst. The research found that a number of variables ranging from greeting customers to assisting with product comparison tools all fell well below consumer expectations and preferences. “Eighty-four percent of brands did not offer any in-store mobile services, and 79 percent did not give associates the ability to access customer account information via a mobile device,” the report said.

Social media was one of the only redeeming aspects of brands’ current consumer experiences, but even here brands failed to maximize on the opportunities the platforms offer to its corporate users. The index said, “While 76 percent of brands offered a social media experience rated good or better, and 71 percent of brands were active in four or more social channels, we found that the social media experience needs to be more responsive. Forty-five percent of brands took more than 24 hours to respond to customer inquiries or didn’t respond at all.”

In order to bridge these gaps, the index suggested aligning consumer experiences across touch-points and platforms. “Consumers do not recognize channels; they only see your brand. An inconsistent experience frustrates consumers and may cause some to switch their loyalty and spend,” the report said. But more than simply improving current offerings, the index takes it one step further in recommending that brands apply new technologies to their suite of services for their shoppers. Among these features, the index implied that considering self-service customization, a redesigned supply chain and blockchain technologies will enforce these changes.

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