Astound Commerce Finds Significant Gaps in Capabilities Between Specialty Retailers and Brands in New Report

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The mystery shopping study finds specialty retailers lead brands in almost all categories of the commerce experience

The variety of retailer choices for shoppers grows every day, putting increased pressure on brands and retailers to stand out in the crowded market. Consumer habits and preferences continually evolve, and data shows that consumers are trending towards shopping and purchasing directly from brands and marketplaces like Amazon – a departure from the traditionally retailer-dominated landscape. This has forced specialty retailers to invest heavily in unique digital and in-store experiences to maintain their edge.

To take a closer look at how specialty retailers and brands are adapting to these new conditions, Astound Insights evaluated the desktop, mobile, and in-store experiences of 50 specialty retailers and 50 global brands in a new report, Specialty Stores Invest to Survive, released today. Astound Insights measured brand and specialty retailer experiences across 206 metrics and eight shopping scenarios, and visited Chicagoland physical stores when available, to identify how their offerings stack up in the heated retail landscape.

“In our most recent research, it’s clear that brands and retailers are in a race to differentiate their shopping experience across all channels in a way that both inspires and keeps customers coming back,” said Lauren Freedman, SVP of Digital Strategy and Chief Merchant of Astound Commerce. “Our research found that specialty retailers in general are providing more advanced technologies at every touchpoint to survive. Many have been in the game for a decade or more and have honed their selling skills, putting them in a powerful position.”

Specialty Retailers Take an Omnichannel Approach
Fast delivery, on-the-go shopping options and strong benefit programs are becoming increasingly more necessary to maintain a loyal customer base. Overall, specialty retailers are much more advanced when it comes to these omnichannel shopping options:

● Specialty retailers lead the way in robust delivery options: Just nine percent of brands offer ship to store options, as opposed to more than a quarter of specialty retailers (26 percent). More than half of specialty retailers offer in-store pickup (52 percent), compared to just 17 percent of brands.
● Mobile shopping applications are much more common with specialty retailers: Three in four specialty retailers have a mobile app. Less than a quarter of brands can say the same (24 percent).
● Brands are behind in loyalty programs: Only 22 percent of brands have a loyalty program, compared to 60 percent of retailers.

Brands and Specialty Retailers Have Different Product Content Strengths
Today’s consumers want to know everything about the things they buy. From pictures with multiple views to videos to sourcing information, the demand for content is at an all-time high. Astound Insights found that specialty retailers and brands take different approaches to product information:

● Specialty retailers integrate reviews and pictures: Almost all specialty retailers integrate user reviews (92 percent) compared to 78 percent of brands. More than a third (34 percent percent) of specialty retailers feature customer pictures, compared to only 18 percent of brands.
● Brands fall behind on contextual content: 46 percent of specialty retailers offer product guides and “how-tos,” while just 34 percent of brands offer this content.
● Brands provide more video offerings: Only ten percent of specialty retailers offer videos on product category pages, while almost half (48 percent) of brands use video to provide additional content on these pages.

Stores Aren’t Just for Purchasing Products
The role of the physical store has changed from purchase to research and product display, which has led companies to adapt what they emphasize within their four walls. Key findings from the study highlight specialty retailer advantages in technological capabilities:

● Specialty retailers heavily promote omnichannel features: 52 percent of specialty retailers display omnichannel features like buy online and pickup in store, but only 17 percent of brands emphasize these same features in their stores.
● Brands haven’t adapted to in-store technology: While 40 percent of brands provided digital kiosks in store, 88 percent of specialty retailers use this technology in their locations.
● Store return options are almost universal for specialty retailers: While 71 percent of brands offer store returns, 98 percent of specialty retailers offer that convenience.

“Each retail segment has its strengths and weaknesses,” furthered Freedman. “Both specialty retailers and brands need to emphasize their key points of differentiation, whether in merchandising, buying experience, or others, to stand out in the eyes of today’s consumers. These features must be front and center to meet consumer demand.”

To learn more about the top performers and view the full results, click here.

About Astound Commerce
Astound Commerce, the world's largest privately held digital commerce agency, combines strategy, technology, creativity, insight and a proven methodology to deliver exceptional digital shopping experiences. Through a forward-thinking, results-driven approach, Astound Commerce serves leading global brands such as adidas, L’Oréal, Under Armour, Jimmy Choo, Lacoste and Versace. Founded in San Francisco in 2000, the passionate team of nearly 700 dedicated, diverse industry and technology experts has decades of ecommerce experience and more than 400 implementations under their belt to address the complex challenges, advancing technologies and unique needs of global markets. To learn more, visit

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Rachel Gulden
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