UK consumers to retailers: We need to talk

It might be a stretch to say that consumers in the United Kingdom are from Mars and the retailers that cater to them are from Venus. But recent polling shows that the two really do need to talk.

Retailers and their customers are suffering from something of a disconnect when it comes to the perceived significance of brand loyalty and the value of personalizing consumers’  shopping experience.

 “There is clearly a gap between what UK consumers are looking for in an online experience and what UK retail brands think consumers are looking for,” says Raj De Datta, CEO of BloomReach, which sponsored complementary surveys of consumers and retailers released today.

 The surveys of 1,000 consumers and 122 online retailers in the UK, conducted by Redshift Research was part of the run up to today’s formal launch of BloomReach’s London office, found a number of places where what consumers want and what retailers are giving them appear to be misaligned. For instance:

  •  While 34 percent of retailers said their brand’s reputation was the most important reason consumers choose to shop with them, 85 percent of consumers said brand reputation was not an important factor in their choice.
  • And while 59 percent of consumers said that online shopping is better than in-store shopping when it comes to providing experiences that are tailored to their personal needs and preferences, 60 percent of retail marketers said an in-store shopping trip provides a better opportunity for a personalized experience. Another 28 percent said online and in-store provided the same level of personalization.
  • Fifty-four percent of retailers said they didn’t offer a customized or personalized experience on their websites. But 31 percent of consumers said they’d be more likely to make a purchase if they were given a personalized experience, such as product recommendations or content tailored just for them.

UK-Great-Divide-Infographic

The attitudes and practices of shoppers and retailers in the UK are especially significant because the UK is an e-commerce powerhouse, as indicated by the consumer survey’s finding that 24 percent of consumers buy online at least once a week and that 79 percent make an online purchase at least once a month. In fact, the region boasts the most developed online retail market in the world, according to Cushman and Wakefield and the percentage of retail revenue attributable to e-commerce far outstrips bigger countries, such as the United States.

 Meanwhile, projections call for robust growth.

 “It’s easier and easier for people to shop online,”  says Julia Cook, CEO of Change Management, a London-based business consultancy that works with retailers among others. “It’s really taking off.”

 Online shopping is clearly interwoven into many consumers’ lives. It’s how busy working people buy their groceries. It can be a hedge against expensive gasoline in times of rising fuel prices. Great Britain’s compact geography also plays a role, with many outlets offering next day delivery for less than £4 pounds, or about $6.50, says Adam King, of Media Lounge, a Bournemouth-based firm that runs and designs websites and helps e-tailers with digital marketing.

 “Look at the early adoption of mobile e-commerce by UK businesses, which has seen around 27% of online sales in the UK now being conducted by a mobile or tablet device,” King says in an e-mail interview. This adoption and embracing of e-commerce technologies has helped the UK achieve 13% of total retail sales via e-commerce, against just 6.4% in the U.S.”

 Click-and-collect pick-up stations have been popping up at tube stations and car parks, another sign of e-commerce’s growing popularity in the UK. Tesco, Waitrose and InPost are among the big names delivering to tube stops. Oh, and another big name is employing click-and-collect, too: Amazon.

 The online giant has impressed UK shoppers, according to BloomReach’s surveys. More than 80 percent of the consumers polled said no one offers more personalized service than Amazon. The online giant is no doubt one of the factors that has shaped and raised the expectations of consumers when they shop on other sites.

 Tony Stockil, CEO of the Javelin Group, a London retail strategy consultancy, talked about the high standards held by UK consumers at Virtually There, an online retail forum, as reported by the Startups website.

 “Customers now want different things from us as retailers,” Stockil told the crowd. “They have less time and patience than ever before. They’re more demanding of information, service and speed. They’re becoming increasingly tech savvy, more competent and better informed, and they’re no longer willing to make sacrifices to shop from retailers who aren’t willing to make sacrifices for them.”

 Consumers now follow a circuitous path to purchase, maybe starting on a smartphone, before visiting a store to actually buy an item. Or maybe they start on the phone, visit the store and return home to ultimately purchase on a laptop or tablet

 Showrooming and Webrooming are both a thing now. It’s created the sort of fast-twitch environment that the majority of retailers recognize. About 60 percent of retailers in the BloomReach-sponsored survey, in fact, said it’s important to provide a personalized experience for shoppers across devices and in their stores, even when consumers haven’t signed into their digital sites.

 Providing that sort of cross-device personalization is no doubt key for retailers competing with Amazon. And no doubt the ability to personalize will only become stronger as big data and the tools available to analyze it become more sophisticated.

 “I know what technology can enable,” Cook says, “but I think the X factor is how consumers want to shop. Shopping can be a necessity and it is also entertainment.”

 Good point —  and another powerful argument for the importance of retailers really getting to know their customers.

 Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.