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A.T. Kearney Study Finds Brick and Mortar Stores Still Key to Consumers in the Omnichannel World

A.T. Kearney Study Finds Brick and Mortar Stores Still Key to Consumers in the Omnichannel World

Consumers want to shop across multiple channels, but failing to position the store at the center of the customer relationship could have costly implications for retailers.

14 October 2013 (Chicago)—Consumers in the U.S. and U.K. value the retail store experience on multiple levels and continue to make the vast majority of their purchases in stores, according to a new study from global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney.

The study, titled “Recasting the Retail Store in Today’s Omnichannel World,” surveyed more than 3,000 consumers in the U.S. and U.K. to understand how and why consumers use different channels at each stage of the shopping process. The paper provides recommendations for retailers to strategically deploy their brick and mortar assets and integrate these assets with their other channels to drive increased customer traffic, brand loyalty, and improved performance.

Michael Brown, A.T. Kearney partner and study author noted, “Stores are important to consumers, but it is critical that retailers with brick-and-mortar assets understand the new role the store network plays in optimizing sales, profits, and loyalty across all channels. Despite the dramatic shifts in consumer shopping behaviors enabled by e-commerce and mobile, very few retailers have transformed the physical shopping experience to efficiently and effectively support the new behaviors. Retailers must know how and why their customers shop and then retool and redeploy the store network accordingly.”

The study found that consumers spend the majority of their time shopping in stores (61 percent), followed by online (31 percent), catalog (4 percent) and mobile (4 percent). The physical store is the channel of choice across all ages (from Millennial to senior citizens) and household income levels (from less than $25,000 per year to more than $100,000 per year).

The survey results clearly point out that having physical stores is more important in some categories than others. Amazon and other online retailers have a lock on books, CDs, movies, etc., but cosmetics, apparel, grocery, and office suppliers are sectors where brick-and-mortar outlets are still imperative.

Consumers shop in different stages beginning with research, followed by testing, purchase, pick-up or delivery and after-sales experience. Digital channels play the largest role in the research phase of the process, as shoppers read online reviews and find recommendations through social media. While stores can and should play some role in all shopping stages, they needn’t play a central role in each to generate sales across channels.

The study pegs the significance of brick-and-mortar across multiple product categories, and recommends that retailers strategically assess and recast the role of stores along the following five dimensions—discovery, entertainment, relationship, transaction, and fulfillment.

Dan Farmer, A.T. Kearney principal and co-author of the study stated, “Regardless of where a product is purchased—via online or mobile channels—the product can be tested, picked up, or returned to the store. Here again is an opportunity to capitalize on impulse purchases during these customer visits. Operationally, shipping or pickup from stores expedites delivery and optimizes inventory across the store network, which does much to improve efficiency and cost savings.”

The results of the consumer study show that while there is some variation in the role of the store  by category (less for books, more for grocery and home improvement), the study results make it clear that stores can and should play key roles for customer engagement across every product category.

The study found that 40 percent of consumers spend more money than they had planned in stores, while only 25 percent reported online impulse shopping. Strategies that drive consumers to stores whether it is to shop or pick up a product purchased online will drive impulse purchases.

The paper provides four strategies to ensure that retailers’ stores and store networks remain at the heart of the customer relationship. Retailers need to innovate to create new formats, optimize locations based on new shopping behaviors, integrate operations across channels to create a channel-less operating model, and redefine a new set of customer-centric performance metrics to break down channel barriers that inhibit peak performance.

About the Study

Study data and insights were derived from the 2013 A.T. Kearney Future of Stores survey. More than 3,000 consumers from the United States and UK responded to the survey.

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