Customer expectations are changing, Sharon Manikon, at Barclaycard, has some ideas to help the high street, to give online shoppers confidence to buy and then adds the best from both worlds

In an increasingly competitive retail environment, Sharon Manikon, Customer Solutions Director at Barclaycard, shares insights to help merchants succeed in the face of evolving customer expectations

In a world where we can buy what we want at a click of a button, and have instant access to a plethora of information ranging from fashion trends to price points, retailers face a daily dilemma. Despite now having an ever-increasing range of tools at their disposal such as data analytics to online feedback forms to help them understand consumer behaviour, shoppers have also become more demanding and expect their engagement with retailers to be easier and more enjoyable. This puts merchants under a constant pressure to evolve their retail offering in order to keep up with their competitors.

Recent Barclaycard research revealed that consumers like different elements of the online and in-store shopping experiences – and high-tech solutions can help businesses bring the best of both worlds to their customers. By delivering a great shopping experience regardless of channel, retailers have an opportunity to stand out from the crowd. The key is learning how to make shopping more efficient, more immersive and more convenient.

Help for the high street

The high street still remains a very relevant part of the fabric of British shopping; indeed, Barclaycard’s research found that half (50%) of Brits still prefer to buy clothes in store. However, many feel frustrated with this experience, citing concerns such as excessive checkout queues (42%) or long waits for fitting rooms (29%). To help minimise these issues, retailers can look towards new technology; for instance, one in five customers (19%) would welcome apps to scan and automatically pay for items without having to visit a traditional till point. In addition, three in 10 (30 per cent) consumers would be more likely to shop in store if retailers could provide digital changing rooms where they ‘try on’ items virtually, therefore bypassing the queues for the fitting room.

Many customers have also been disappointed with the range of stock found in store. In the last 12 months, almost a fifth (18 per cent) have walked away from a purchase due to a lack of available sizes. To solve this, 30 per cent of consumers would like to be able to check stock availability using in-store technology whilst they are browsing, rather than spend time searching through racks or relying on a shop assistant.

Enabling online shoppers to buy with confidence

The online experience can also be improved with new technology. Although over a third (37 per cent) of people are purchasing goods via digital channels more frequently than they did 12 months ago, some are put off by constraints such as inconvenient delivery times or inaccurate sizing.

To avoid these issues, almost four in 10 (38 per cent) shoppers are choosing to ‘webroom’, or research outfits online before buying in-store, to check the item matches their expectations before making a purchase. Retailers can help shoppers feel more confident about buying online by addressing their need for finding the right fit; three in 10 (30%) customers think virtual changing rooms would help, enabling them to check how they would look in their chosen items before ordering. Providing a range of delivery options, such as click and collect – which 42% of consumers deemed a deciding factor in helping them choose between retailers – can enable shoppers to receive goods at the time and place they need.

The best of both worlds

It is evident that through using new technology, both online and in-store, retailers will be able to rise to the challenge of providing consumers with an even better customer experience. By identifying the most attractive aspects of high street and virtual shopping, businesses can find a solution that helps merge the two, and ensure they meet customer expectations. Whilst the seamless convergence of channels may take some time to perfect, it is unequivocally the future of retail.