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Consumer Trends
Consumers want to find what they're looking for, and say online shipping should be quick and free
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January 16, 2018

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"Consumers today want what they want when they want it."
NRF Vice President Mark Mathews

NEW YORK – When consumers shop – in stores or online – they are usually looking for something specific and want to be able to find it easily. And when they shop online they expect to get their merchandise delivered quickly and for free.

Those are among the findings released today in the latest issue of Consumer View, a quarterly report issued by the National Retail Federation that gauges consumer behavior and shopping trends related to stores, online channels, customer loyalty, technology and other topics.

“Consumers today want what they want when they want it and they don’t expect to pay a premium to get it fast,” NRF Vice President for Research Development and Industry Analysis Mark Mathews said. “When they walk into a store they want to find their item, and find it easily, especially if they’ve researched it online beforehand. And whether it’s next-day or pickup-in-store, quick delivery of online purchases at little or no extra charge is growing so fast that it’s something shoppers are coming to expect.”

“These findings provide important insights for all retailers into consumers’ shopping behaviors and expectations,” Mathews said. “Reliable research is important because retailers who want to be here tomorrow need to meet consumer demands today and anticipate needs in the future.”

Mathews discussed the report during a session on developing trends in consumer behavior held today at NRF 2018: Retail’s Big Show, NRF’s annual conference in New York. The session was moderated by NRF Director of Retail and Consumer Insights Katherine Cullen and also featured IBM Global Managing Director and General Manager of Worldwide Consumer Industries Laurence Haziot and Prosper Insights & Analytics Executive Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Phil Rist.

Whether shopping in-store or online, consumers are typically seeking to buy a certain item rather than just browsing, with 73 percent surveyed saying that’s the case with stores and 54 percent online, according to the report. And in either case, 58 percent rated being able to find what they want quickly and easily as their top factor in determining where to shop. Shopping “just to browse” has shifted to being more popular online (done by 46 percent of those surveyed) than in stores (27 percent).

Among those shopping online, 68 percent expect free shipping even on purchases of less than $50, with 47 percent saying they typically back out if shipping isn’t free. And 38 percent expect two-day shipping to be free while 24 percent expect free same-day shipping.

“Retailers are literally racing to consumers’ doorsteps to meet rising expectations,” Mathews said.

The quality of customer service is also a top factor in deciding where to shop, cited by 44 percent, along with speed and simplicity of checkout (42 percent) and the ability to try out products (20 percent). Consumers said their overall experience with a brand or retailer is important in determining which to buy from and how often (79 percent each) and how loyal or connected they feel (77 percent).

The survey found 59 percent of consumers are interested in special events retailers hold to draw customers into stores or onto websites, including the ability to try out products, exclusive access to sales, demonstrations and product tutorials. Millennials are particularly enthusiastic about special events – 44 percent said they were “very interested” compared with 25 percent of consumers overall. And Millennial men (60 percent) were more likely to be “very” interested than Millennial women (28 percent).

The report said fewer than a third of consumers were aware of technological innovations such as 3D printing or making purchases through social media (29 percent each), in-app store navigation (28 percent), in-store digital displays (25 percent) or retail messaging apps and online chat (24 percent). But among those that were, messaging apps and chat were the technology that had most often been tried (65 percent) while in-app store navigation was most-cited as improving the shopping experience (63 percent.)

NRF is the world’s largest retail trade association, representing discount and department stores, home goods and specialty stores, Main Street merchants, grocers, wholesalers, chain restaurants and Internet retailers from the United States and more than 45 countries. Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer, supporting one in four U.S. jobs – 42 million working Americans. Contributing $2.6 trillion to annual GDP, retail is a daily barometer for the nation’s economy. NRF.com