Astound Commerce Report Analyzes the Role of the Physical Store During the Holidays In an Ecommerce-Dominated Environment

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New research finds that the physical store still provides a compelling retail experience, and offers a different value for consumers than digital commerce

With the rise of digital commerce, the role of the physical store has become unclear, and even obsolete in certain cases. However, according to a new report by Astound Commerce, stores are still important for shoppers: 73 percent of consumers visit stores to touch and feel products. When it comes to driving consumers to purchase, stores can still have an edge over ecommerce if done right.

The report, "S.O.S," or "Save Our Stores," combines the results of a 1,000 U.S. consumer survey with a mystery shopping analysis of 24 top retailers. To analyze the 24 retailers, which spanned eight categories, Astound Commerce Insights looked at 23 different metrics to assess retailers’ in-store strategy during the 2017 holiday season.

“The overwhelming narrative in retail today is that the physical store is on the decline, and that selling on Amazon and investing in ecommerce is the only way to be profitable,” said Lauren Freedman, SVP of Digital Strategy of Astound Commerce. “However, our report found that from a consumer standpoint, a brick-and-mortar presence is still valuable for retailers. Retailers that have shifted their strategy to provide an engaging retail experience will stay afloat in the shifting tides toward digital.”

After analyzing both surveys, several key themes emerged. Retailers that best met customer expectations offered a mix of inspiring shopping experiences, valuable promotions, engaging customer service, and an efficient shopping experience.

Stores Must Be Inspiring
To maintain foot traffic in physical stores, retailers must ensure shoppers have compelling reasons to visit. Apple, Nike, Sephora, Victoria’s Secret, Crate and Barrel, and Gap received the highest “inspiring” scores when surveyed for a strong mix of digital signage, welcoming storefronts, and a focus on products.

Additional tactics to drive customers in store over the holidays involve a mix of technology, gifting capabilities (67 percent) and themed areas (29 percent). Savvy retailers also integrate loyalty programs into the physical store checkout process. Forty-one percent of online shoppers purchase more from a particular retailer if they are a member or part of a rewards program.

Customer Service Is a Critical Differentiator
Service is a key component of a brick and mortar strategy, but the results in this category were mixed. Unfortunately, poor service can drive many shoppers away: 64 percent of consumers reported poor customer service as the top reason to leave a physical store. In the mystery shopping survey, shoppers were only greeted at 42 percent of stores upon arrival.

However, certain stores offered a better customer service experience, with eleven stores achieving the top score. Those included (alphabetically) Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Coach, Crate and Barrel, Dick’s Sporting Goods, GameStop, Gap, Nike, Sephora and Urban Outfitters, all leading the service charge. As an example of what made service “excellent,” Sephora had associates who offered samples of product to try at home before buying and engaged with customers to discuss beauty tips and make suggestions.

Stores Gain Ground with Offerings Tied to Efficiency
While ecommerce offers an unparalleled ease of experience, with purchases only clicks away, physical stores have made strides to speed up purchase and returns processes. The average time to checkout was only 2.21 minutes, and 21 percent of retailers offered mobile point-of-sale systems in hopes of expediting transactions. Similarly, retailers have improved the returns process, which is often a source of frustration for consumers. The average time to return a product was 1.92 minutes, and several retailers offered a dedicated returns section to further improve this process.

“The role of the brick and mortar store has never been under more scrutiny, so it’s encouraging to see retailers employing a strategic mix of service, branding, efficiency and promotions to make the most out of the in-store experience,” Freedman furthered. “In 2018, retailers must be vigilant and ensure their stores have a clear purpose and inspire shoppers, otherwise they risk joining the more than 5,000 stores that closed in 2017.”

To download the full S.O.S. report, 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 astoundcommerce.com.

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Rachel Gulden
Walker Sands Communications
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