Holiday shopping in New York.

Recall the terror when a teenager first learned how to drive. Feeling a similar heart palpitation at the thought of the consumer behind the gearshift? Buckle up. Salesforce’s recent “Connected Consumer” study revealed that the shoppers’ influence on supply chain decisions, retail management systems and thirst for disruption will only continue to shake up infrastructure and technology solutions for the foreseeable future.

To investigate the current attitudes and shifting habits of today’s consumer, Salesforce Research surveyed 4,000 adults in Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. The study found that consumers are overwhelmingly in control, empowered by the ability to research products prior to an in-store experience. Expectations only continue to rise for bricks-and-mortar locations as point-of-sale checkouts are updated with the use of Apple Pay and Stitch Fix.

Think Tank

Millennials don’t distinguish between digital and in-store shopping.  Shutterstock / Shutter_M

Consumers aren’t afraid of a little research — especially if it will find the best deal. The survey found that 80 percent of shoppers research products before purchasing them online. Though web site reading is the preferred source for these investigations, Millennials lead the charge with taking shopping cues from other online sources, most notably social media — 48 percent of Millennials refer to social to inform spending decisions compared to 14 percent of Baby Boomers.

Though the survey didn’t poll Generation Z-ers, anticipate the same (if not more) reliance on social among the demographic. Compounded by the shared priority of authenticity, retailers and brands will benefit from tapping micro-influencers with high engagement levels to spark a grass-roots(ish) level of spending.

The consumer is in the driver seat, and wants to be rewarded for controlling their shopping journey. The survey concluded that “more than three out of four shoppers — 79 percent — like it when they receive complementary product offers or promotions based on their purchasing histories from a retailer.” This is where data collection and analysis becomes integral.

Holiday shoppers in New York.

Holiday shoppers in New York.  Andrew Morales/WWD

One misstep or overly aggressive e-mail strategy can turn shoppers off the brand entirely. “Retailers should be wary about how seamless their communications to customers are, as shoppers who purchased an item in-store and received an online offer via another channel for the same product felt annoyed (47 percent) and cheated out of a better price (43 percent),” the report said.

Using a platform that collates and discerns consumer preferences, shopping frequency and communication style will enhance the customer experience and will provide surprise and delight.

Millennials have tilted the retail axis — no news there. The survey discussed their specific influences, especially regarding mobile shopping while in a store, marking the importance of aligning e-commerce with brick-and-mortar experiences. The survey found that 38 percent of Millennials research a product online on their mobile device while in-store and 23 percent went as far to purchase a product from a mobile device while in a store.

A few things here: ensure inventory levels are accurately stocked and merchandise can be seamlessly sent to a bricks-and-mortar should a particular item be unavailable during the customer’s visit. They’ll shop somewhere else if they need to wait. Look to same-day delivery from another store location for premium customer service that invokes a concierge sensibility.

Jessica Szohr

Jessica Szohr shopping at the Kenzo x H&M party in West Hollywood, Calif.  Michael Kovac/Getty Images for H&M

Speaking of customer service, it’s time to revamp the role of the sales associate. Instead of often seasonal, part-time employees who might have very little buy-in, empower these employees as brand ambassadors who are boots-on-the-ground engagement assets. But they need to be purposeful — not gushy, fake friends who push stock — only 38 percent specifically went to a store to receive help from a sales associate. The consumer won’t fall for those tricks.

Until recently, the role of the sales associate has been a neglected corner of the business as all eyes have been on digital. The truth is, shoppers still want to check out the goods in person before biting the bullet — the survey found that 66 percent of those polled visit a store to touch and feel the merchandise and 61 percent go to a shop to get the item immediately.

Arm the sales associates with comprehensive data on the shoppers to facilitate a seamless, understated shopping experience that still leaves them feeling like they’re in control. Consumers are ready for this: 56 percent said they would be willing to share data in order to receive faster or more convenient service once they’re in the store.

Gentle in-store partnerships with consumers informed by robust data will deliver shoppers with the desired personalized experience that’s short of suffocating.