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Study: Store visits remain critical piece of customers’ buying experience

While consumers still complain in-store shopping is too time-consuming, they aren’t willing to give up their store visits just yet.

This was according to new research from Imprint Plus. The signage provider surveyed 1,000 men and women across the country, and divided into three groups: those who prefer to shop online (32.5%), in-store (29.70%), and a combination of both (37.80%).

According to the data, those who prefer the in-store experience frequent the following stores: discount mass merchandisers, such as Walmart and Target (76%); food retailers, such as grocery stores and Whole Foods (71.2%). These were followed by drug stores, such as CVS and Walgreen's (50%); beauty supplies, such as Sephora (48.9%); consumer electronics Stores, such as Best Buy (48.9%); hardware stores, such as Lowe's and Home Depot (44.10%); and department stores, such as Macy's or Nordstrom's (37.6%).

Consumers who shop in-store reported the need to see, touch, and handle merchandise as part of the buying experience, as well as on-the-spot sales and not having to wait for delivery. When it comes to purchasing food, the majority of the consumers surveyed (86.10%) prefer to shop in-store because of the ability to judge quality and freshness.

Shopping online for food presents challenges, including the need to be home to accept delivery and the inability to use the senses in seeing and handling the merchandise offered. Clothing is another area where customers prefer in-store shopping (60%), with only 17% of those surveyed opting to buy clothing online.

What consumers like least about in-store shopping is that it is too time-consuming with long-wait times to check out or return merchandise. Other key dislikes include difficulty finding sizes, styles and colors, and travel time to and from the store.

"The retail in store experience fulfills the need for using the senses as part of the shopping experience and feeling, touching and even smelling is utilized in merchandise selection," said Kristin MacMillan, president of Imprint Plus.

More than half of customers (52%) reported convenience as the reason they like online shopping. The wide range of merchandise, free shipping and returns, price comparisons and online customer reviews were also positive experiences associated with online shopping. They most dislike not seeing the merchandise in person; the inability to try on for size and fit, and the need to wait for shipping, the study reported.

"Consumers are pressed for time and would be more willing to shop in brick-and-mortar stores if they could shop more efficiently in less time," said MacMillan. "A focus on customer service would help the consumer navigate through long wait times and merchandise selection. The use of technology and retailer apps can also streamline the process of merchandise selection and check out.”

More than half of the consumers stated it was important to establish a personal relationship with a sales associate, whether online or in-store. In fact, when asked if having a personal relationship with a store sales associates would lead to more shopping in that store, nearly 50% of those surveyed responded "yes."

A name badge stating a sales associate's name, title and area of expertise is an introduction to the customer — one that can establish a pathway to develop better customer relations with the retailer, as well as generate more sales and frequent visits.

"Today's consumers want personalized experiences when shopping, and retailers need to blend technology and service to meet their needs," added MacMillan. "A simple add on may be the ability to select clothes online and reserve a dressing room – saving time and creating a new shopping experience."
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