Here’s what customers don’t like about stores

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
theatro
Customers have issues with unprepared store staff.

Shoppers are returning to stores, but it doesn’t mean they’re happy with the experience.

According to the new “2023 Retail Customer Service Survey” from mobile communication platform Theatro, 63% of surveyed consumers are doing most of their shopping in-store now that the COVID-19 pandemic has eased. However, results also indicate the recent holiday shopping season offered several key warning signs about the in-store experience.

Four in 10 (41%) respondents said their in-store shopping experiences are “less enjoyable” than they were prior to the pandemic. Almost two-thirds (64%) of these respondents cited poorly trained or prepared retail staff, and 60% blamed inadequate staffing levels. Another 21% said in-store shopping is “more enjoyable,” and 38% said it is about the same as pre-pandemic.

When asked to rate their in-store shopping experience by retail category, shoppers said they were most likely to have an unenjoyable experience at supermarkets (38%), followed by department stores (34%), and convenience stores (30%). Respondents said they were least likely to have an unenjoyable experience at clothing stores (16%), furniture stores (14%), and mattress stores (12%).

What frustrates in-store customers

When asked what aspects of shopping at physical retail stores they find most frustrating, 71% of respondents cited long lines and crowds, followed by 39% who cited high prices, and 32% who cited limited product availability.

In addition, three in 10 (29%) respondents cited “difficult or rude staff,” and one-quarter of respondents (24%) complained of “unknowledgeable or unhelpful staff.”

When asked to specifically identify the most common problems they encounter with the employees at physical retail stores, 41% of respondents complained about lack of helpfulness or willingness to assist, and 41% cited rude or unprofessional behavior.

More than one in three (35%) respondents complained about lack of product knowledge or expertise, and 33% cited lack of knowledge of where products are located in the store or whether they are in stock. Half of respondents said they have stopped shopping at a specific retail store because its employees were unknowledgeable or unhelpful, while 45% said they have not and 5% weren’t sure.  

When asked if they shop at physical retail stores more often, less often, or about the same amount today as they did pre-pandemic in 2019, 39% of respondents said they shop “less often” and 24% said they shop “more often.” The remaining 38% said they shopped in-store about the same amount today as in 2019.

Consumers prefer physical

The survey also compared the frequency of consumer in-store and online shopping, finding most respondents favor visiting brick-and-mortar stores. Nine in 10 (91%) respondents said they do at least half of all their shopping in physical retail stores compared to online, with nearly two-thirds saying they do most (37%) or all (27%) of their shopping in stores. Close to three in 10 (28%) respondents said they do about half of their shopping online and half at physical stores. 

Close to nine in 10 (87%) respondents said they shop in retail stores at least once weekly, with nearly one-third saying they shop in retail stores either once (19%) or multiple times (13%) per day. 

Among those respondents who said they do most or all of their shopping at physical stores, 76% said they prefer in-store shopping because they like being able to see and touch the product, while 44% said they like the immediate gratification of taking the products they buy home with them.

In addition, 25% of respondents who favor brick-and-mortar stores said they like the social aspect of shopping; 21% said they like being able to ask questions and get help with purchases from in-store employees; and 20% said that it’s easier to return items at a physical store.

Among the 9% of respondents who said they do most or all of their shopping online, the majority (62%) cited convenience as a reason for this preference.

Theatro used the third-party survey platform Pollfish to conduct an online retail customer experience survey of 600 U.S. adults on Jan. 9, 2023.

[Read more: Here’s what consumers want from in-store shopping]

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