There’s a “huge disconnect” between what shoppers want and what retailers provide.

And investments by retailers into the customer experience are by and large not paying off.

Those are two of the more dire findings from a new study by Oracle NetSuite in conjunction with Wakefield Research and The Retail Doctor consulting firm.

The study of 1,200 consumers and 400 retail executives in the U.S., U.K. and Australia, conducted from Dec. 5 through Dec. 17 of 2018, found a wide gulf between shopper demands and what retailers deliver in such areas as retail environment, social media, personalization, chatbots, artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

“The results of this survey show that while the retail industry is often considered to be at the forefront of consumer experience innovation, there’s still a long way to go to meet shopper expectations,” said Matthew Rhodus, director of retail, Oracle NetSuite, which supplies companies with cloud-based applications for financials, enterprise resource planning, human resources, professional services automation and omnichannel commerce.

“These findings point to a clear and urgent need for better customer service,” said Bob Phibbs, founder and chief executive officer of The Retail Doctor. “No retailer wants their customers to be confused or anxious, yet more than half of respondents have felt that way while shopping.”

Consumers view on the impact of social media. 

Among other key findings:

• 73 percent of retail executives believe that the overall environment in stores has become more inviting in the past five years, but only 45 percent of consumers agree, with 19 percent stating it has become less inviting.

• 80 percent of retail executives believe consumers would feel more welcome if in-store staff interacted with them more. But only 46 percent of consumers agree, with 28 percent noting they would feel more annoyed.

• 79 percent of retail executives believe chatbots are meeting consumer needs. Two-thirds of consumers disagree, with respondents noting that chatbots damage the shopping experience, rather than enhance it.

• 98 percent of the retail executives think engaging with customers on social media leads to stronger relationships with them. But only 12 percent of consumers think it has a significant impact on how they think or feel about a brand.

 

Here’s another disconnect: Forty-two percent of the consumers overall, including 63 percent of Millennials, would pay more for improved personalization. But only 11 percent of the retailers surveyed “fully believe” their staff has the tools and information to give consumers a personalized experience.

Overall, 80 percent of the consumers surveyed don’t feel they’re getting a personalized shopping experience either in-store or online; 58 percent are uncomfortable with how stores use technology to improve personalization; 45 percent cited negative emotions upon receiving personalized offers online.

Simply put, many consumers don’t have a very high opinion of stores. Fifty-three percent of those surveyed “felt negative emotions when they last visited a store; 39 percent felt confident in stores.

The good news for retailers is that 97 percent of consumers still see a need to visit stores to purchase items and 70 percent believe the most appealing stores streamline the shopping experience.

While there’s plenty of buzz around AI and VR, 90 percent of the retail executives aren’t confident these advanced technologies customize the shopping experience to meet consumers’ needs, though 79 percent believe AI and VR in stores will increase sales. Only 14 percent of consumers believe these technologies will significantly impact their purchasing.

What do shoppers look for most in a store? Simple layouts and staff who are equipped with mobile devices for ordering products. Also, 38 percent said they want self-checkouts, 23 percent want VR try-ons, 15 percent want mobile payments, and only 5 percent of consumers selected robots and chatbots as the technologies they most want.

Wakefield is a market research firm.

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