Unlikely scenario:

A shopper enters a store without a plan, see something she never thought of before, decides she needs or wants it, and buys it.

Logical scenario:

A retailer’s omnichannel strategy includes a strong eCommerce channel that provides consumers with product and availability information they can use to research products before going to a physical store to complete purchases or pick up orders.

Today’s shoppers are more prepared and smarter than ever. The survey we conducted for our Great Omnichannel Expectations report revealed at least half of North American shoppers “webroom,” or research a product online before visiting a store, and 44% will research a product multiple times online before the trip to the store.

It’s not difficult to understand this trend. Consumers’ busy lifestyles leave little time for driving from store to store to comparison shop — and little patience when making a trip only to discover the item they want isn’t in stock. A omnichannel strategy that includes a strong eCommerce component provides the convenience that contemporary shoppers need — whether they choose to buy online, have items delivered to a store for pickup, or research exactly what they want in advance and check availability in a local store.

A New Generation of Customers Has Different Preferences

eCommerce is crucial to reaching the millennial generation, now the biggest demographic in the U.S. The purchasing power of millennials is estimated at $600 million annually, according to an Accenture research report, and that number is expected to balloon to $1.4 trillion by 2020, totaling 30% of retail sales. Those numbers are too big to ignore, and these 20- and 30-something consumers prefer to do their research online before shopping and consider buy online, pick up in store BOPIS offers as incentives to buy.

It’s important to mention, however, that older, baby boomer generation consumers we polled in our survey also are researching products online before they buy. Among North American consumers age 55 and older in our study, 50% said they had researched a product online before purchase, and 38% had done so multiple times.

The habits of a “new generation of consumers,” therefore, is probably is better thought of as based on growing technology use across multiple demographics, not merely based on age.

The eCommerce Stepping Stone on the Path to Purchase

An engaging eCommerce website that is accurate, filled with the information that customers need to make purchasing decisions, and easy to navigate will help online conversions – and will probably boost in-store sales as well. Forrester Research estimates that webrooming will generate $1.8 trillion in sales by next year, up from $1.2 trillion five years ago.

Review your website and make sure it offers an abundance of product details and images, and take away the roadblocks – people should be able to make a purchase with the least number of clicks.

Customers no longer consider “the store” as just a physical retail location; it now encompasses your total omnichannel strategy, including online or mobile channels. A shopper may see an ad in print or on television, go to the retailer’s website for information, read online reviews, and check item availability using a smartphone before driving to a store to make the purchase – and consider that “shopping at a store.”

A retailer with an omnichannel strategy that recognizes the importance of eCommerce in the modern shopper’s decision-making process will ultimately be the most competitive, profitable, and successful. What part does eCommerce play in your omnichannel strategy?

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