“The consumer-purchase journey is neither linear nor predictable. The situation today is that there is a growing number of ways consumers interact with brands that is both physical and digital.”

This story first appeared in the September 26, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

So said Robert Willms, chief executive officer of the Optaros digital e-commerce company. Pulling from a variety of sources — film interviews, industry research and professional experiences — Willms painted a portrait of today’s consumers and how technology and the digital world affect their shopping behavior.

Consumers came across as believing that with technology, shopping gets easier, since mobile point of sale eliminates waiting on checkout lines, and retailers have a better sense of their needs and wants so they’re no longer anonymous entering a store. Consumers also want a mobile phone app to appear similar to the Web site, and that they often venture online first to learn about products and compare prices before going to stores, since they still see a risk of not getting the style, fit or cut they expect when shopping online. Citing eBay ceo John Donahoe, Willms said that in 2011, U.S. retail sales exceeded $10 trillion and that consumers accessed the Web 50 percent of the time at some point during the course of those transactions.

“It’s very true that consumers are spending more than 40 percent of their media time online and on mobile devices but retailers are spending less than 20 percent of their customer-influence investments in those channels. The gap is very large,” Willms said. “Retailers must catch up to reach consumers where they are.”

At the same time, Willms suggested “thinking beyond a single URL, providing rich, branded channel-relevant content, and really getting an organization out of channel silos.…The greatest change we have seen is a growing partnership between a cio [chief information officer] and a cmo [chief merchandising officer].”