From Scrappy to Scale: Connected Shoppers Report Reveals the Evolving Rules of Consumer Engagement

1,600 global shoppers and more than 1,000 retail executives shed light on the future of retail.

November 2021 | 5.5 minutes
 
Michelle Grant
Senior Manager, Strategy and Insights, Retail and Consumer Goods
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, retailers were scrappy — making quick decisions to provide the products and services customers needed — from curbside pickup to virtual styling. These short-term solutions are now scaling as shoppers have more channels, options, and expectations than ever before. Not to mention, they have less patience: In fact, the vast majority (80%) of shoppers will abandon a retailer after three bad experiences.
 
of shoppers will abandon a retailer after three bad experiences.
For the Fourth Edition of the Connected Shoppers Report, Salesforce surveyed 1,600 global shoppers and more than 1,000 retail executives to understand how both rising expectations and the global health crisis are pushing brands and retailers to accelerate digital transformation.
To give brands and retailers the insights they need to move from scrappy to scale, we’ve compiled the top four trends from the report. Findings reveal:
 
  • Shopping journeys are more complex
  • The store has gone digital
  • Experiences and engagement underpin the future of loyalty
  • Retailers and brands unify digital and physical touchpoints
 
 
 

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  • Why shoppers choose different shopping destinations and channels
  • How brands and retailers are accelerating change
  • What the future holds for the store

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Trend #1: Shopping journeys get more complex

Between 2019 and 2021, three types of digital channels grew transaction share by nearly 40%: brand websites and apps, retailer websites and apps, and online marketplaces. Emerging channels like delivery apps, social media, and messaging platforms have also become serious commerce players, with their share of transactions increasing more than 20%.*
 
Three types of digital channels grew transaction share by nearly 40%: brand websites and apps, retailer websites and apps, and online marketplaces.
With the variety of channels continuing to increase, shopping journeys have gotten more complex. There is an acceleration of “shopping at the edge,” where consumers start — and even complete — the shopping journey outside of a brand or retailers’ physical and digital spaces.

“The path to purchase has become fragmented and immersive. Brands must develop one-on-one relationships with consumers across platforms such as social media, messaging apps, and livestreaming to remain relevant.”

 
Social media, influencers, and messaging apps are the most popular methods for product discovery. When it’s time to make a purchase, mobile wallets, email, and social media are the top digital destinations. And when shoppers reach out for customer support, 28% turn to chatbots and 23% use social media.

Trend #2: The store goes digital

While transactions through brick-and-mortar stores decreased 27% between 2019 and 2021 according to our research, the store still plays a critical role in the shopping journey. In fact, 82% of the $23 trillion worth of sales occurred in physical locations in 2020. The top reasons shoppers visit a physical store are to touch and feel the merchandise, access purchases immediately, and avoid shipping fees.

However, many shoppers are blurring the lines between digital and physical channels while in the store. For example, nearly one in three shoppers have researched a product online using a mobile device while in store, and one in four have scanned a QR code to learn more about a product.

In response, brands and retailers are unifying the in-store experience with a growing number of physical and digital touchpoints.

The role of the associate is evolving as well. During the height of the pandemic, associates went from greeting, scanning, and bagging to becoming customer service agents, virtual stylists, pickers and packers, and brand influencers. Many of these responsibilities are here to stay, which makes the role of the store associate more diverse, strategic, and appealing.

“Store associates are our biggest brand ambassadors. We must do everything we can to make them more productive, empowered, and happy.”

 

Trend #3: The loyalty game reaches a new level

Shopper expectations around loyalty programs are evolving. While points-based programs are the most popular type today, data suggests that younger generations are craving experiential programs that instill a genuine and authentic connection. Millennials and Gen Zers value exclusive access to limited products and experiences nearly two times more than Silents/Baby Boomers when it comes to loyalty programs.
 

Millennials and Gen Zers value exclusive access to limited products and experiences nearly two times more than Silents/Baby Boomers.

Shoppers are also interested in earning rewards for more than just transactions. They are willing to take actions such as downloading an app (57%) or writing an online review (47%) and exchanging certain personal information — like their birthday (67%) or phone number for text messages (51%) — for more personalized experiences and benefits.

This data indicates that brands and retailers have the opportunity to revamp their loyalty programs in terms of types of rewards and actions taken to earn them.

Trend #4: Retailers and brands accelerate unified shopping experiences

While 66% of customers expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations, only 32% of retail executives say they have the full ability to turn data into personalized prices, offers, and products in real time across channels and touchpoints. A big reason why? The average retail organization uses an estimated 44 different systems to engage customers across touchpoints.
 

The average retail organization uses an estimated 44 different systems to engage customers across touchpoints.

To overcome these challenges, retail executives are taking a threefold approach:

Hiring more data scientists

Retail executives estimate that they will employ an average of 76 data scientists by the end of 2021. That number is estimated to grow a further 44% through 2023.

“Data’s important, but we’re using it in places that are not accessible, and in today’s digital transformation, it needs to be there for everyone.”

 

Adopting a unified engagement platform

Fifty-five percent of retail executives say their organization is in some form of the planning stage for this type of platform, which enables retailers to access and operationalize customer data across marketing, commerce, and service.
 
of retail executives say their organization is still in the planning stage for a unified engagement platform.

Upgrading the point-of-sale (POS) technology

The next-generation POS will become an integral component of a unified engagement platform, with the majority (54%) of retail executives planning to replace their legacy system with a cloud solution by 2024.
 
of retail executives plan to replace their legacy POS system with a cloud solution by 2024.
 

Get more insights in the Fourth Edition Connected Shoppers Report

These findings are just a snapshot of the trends ushering in the age of unified shopping experiences. Read the Fourth Edition of the Connected Shoppers Report now to dive deeper into what’s impacting shopper expectations and see how brands and retailers are responding.
 
 

About the Author

 

Michelle Grant
Senior Manager, Strategy and Insights, Retail and Consumer Goods

Michelle Grant is a seasoned researcher who helps global organizations build the future of their business. At Salesforce, she blends data and analysis to create thought-provoking content that helps companies understand how new technologies will impact their business.

 

More Resources

 
Report

State of the Connected Customer

Research

The Shopping Index

 
 

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