If you've ever felt as if your suggestions to or complaints about stores were ignored, changes coming in 2011 might actually make you a believer. You want convenience, lots of choice and lower prices, right? It's on the agenda.
We've tracked down five big improvements coming up in retail, based on reports from Retail Customer Experience and from talking to other retail experts. Here's what you can expect:
An iPad for Every Clerk
Plenty of shopping apps came out in 2010, and now that customers are coming in armed with the tools to check prices, availability and, most importantly, prices at other stores, retailers are going to stock the other side of the information arms race. Expect to see a tablet device such as the iPad in the hands of every clerk, who can check inventory and help customers find what they need. If that mauve shirt you wanted isn't in stock, or you want it in a darker shade, a salesman can pull out an iPad, analyze the inventory and help you order it.
Platform Agnostic Shopping
A lot of consumers have found the downside to tight inventory control — more often these days, the item they want is not in stock in a physical store or the item they want online is going to take a longer time, or cost more, to ship directly to their homes. Retailers are going to make this easier in 2011 by increasing site-to-store shipping options and by offering free shipping for items that you can't find readily in stores. Stores that already supply these options will expand their offerings, giving you the choice for local store-to-home delivery.
Common Shopping Carts
Have you ever abandoned an online shopping cart? Yes, there are lots of us out there. Retailers are desperate for more people to follow through and wondering what they can to get people to complete purchases they start. A top strategy for 2011 includes allowing shopping carts across different brands to be combined online. Also, stores will start to more clearly mark prices and delivery dates, take payment options other than credit cards, list clearly their return policies and offer checkout without registering with the seller.
Social Media Coupons
Coupons for customers who follow businesses on social media — Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc. — are already available but should get bigger play in 2011, said Lauren Polinsky, a consultant who runs marketing and advertising campaigns for retail stores. "I see more and more retailers heading that way, and the stores I do advertising for all have a coupon tab on their Facebook page that is only visible to their fans," Polinsky says.
Putting Kids First
Online shopping is already big, with e-commerce sales representing 3.7% of total retail sales in 2009, but it is forecasted to make up 8% of total retail sales by 2014, according to Elliot Moskow, CEO of the Internet Marketplace Pricefalls.com. The growth will come from young shoppers who are dissatisfied with brick-and-mortar stores. According to Richard Gottlieb, CEO of USA Toy Experts, a toy industry consultancy, and publisher of Global Toy News, stores will be competing with smartphone shoppers who comparison shop in their stores and then walk out when they find a better price somewhere else.
"Younger shoppers who grew up on the Internet and with cell phones are impatient with going to a store and not being able to purchase what they want due to out-of-stock items and limited product selection," says Gottlieb. "In addition, the younger shoppers drive less than older shoppers, and this will impact any retail structure that is based on heavy drive-in consumption."