holiday shopping

Retailers are missing the mark on customer expectations, and many don’t even know it, according to a new global study from Oracle.

The enterprise technology behemoth surveyed 15,800 consumers and 210 retailers, and the findings illustrate a surprisingly disjointed view on the state of shopping today.

The issues ran the gamut, from in-store experience to delivery and returns. Overall, the companies offered a more optimistic view of their performance, features and services than did the consumer respondents.

According to the study, 57 percent of the participating retailers described product returns as “very easy.” On the consumer side, the same percentage, 57, believes the process is either a “complete hassle” or in need of improvements to make it easier.

As for the in-store experience, the disparity continues: Fifty-six percent of consumers said convenience, like having their sizes in stock, is the top priority, but only 34 percent of retailers agreed.

When it comes to trust, about one in five Generation Z and Millennial consumers said they believe what retailers say, at 21 percent. Meanwhile, nearly double the share of retailers, at 39 percent, thought shoppers trust their information on products and services.

“Consumer expectations are perpetually in flux, with each positive experience setting a new bar for success in retail,” said Mike Webster, senior vice president and general manager, Oracle Retail. “No matter if they’re enjoying the convenience of ride-sharing, browsing through a seamless in-app experience or walking into a brick-and-mortar storefront, customers expect the same caliber of service in all interactions.”

Those expectations are “upping the stakes for retailers,” he said, particularly in light of brand rivalries and intense competition from newer business models.

A lot of these changing attitudes go back to the tech revolution, as those advancements accelerate new features and services.

For instance, it’s stoked the fire for faster shipping. Shoppers — at a rate of more than double, compared to last year — made their demand for free one-day delivery clear to Oracle. More than 90 percent said they want it, and through whatever mode is fastest, whether drone, autonomous vehicle or messenger services. Last year, 43 percent said such deliveries would be “awesome.”

The shift casts fast and free delivery, which may have been seen as a perk or bonus before, as an essential. That expectation is certainly driven by giants such as Amazon, Walmart and Target, all of which announced same day or free one-day delivery.

Merely promising fast and free delivery isn’t enough. Retailers have to deliver, and the stakes are high for some shoppers. In the Oracle survey, 13 percent of consumers said late deliveries would prompt them to never buy from the retailer again.

When asked if “the delivery option they want is always available,” less than half of the consumer participants, at 46 percent, answered positively in regards to direct-to-consumer brands. Traditional retailers nabbed 52 percent, while only 61 percent said the same for online-only retailers.

Loyalty programs and customized promotions also matter. Forty-eight percent of consumers said that their customer loyalty should give them better deals than anyone else.

In fact, they called it “absolutely essential.”

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