January is a time to look forward, but also a time to take stock – to review the year just passed, and to assess what we have learned, what has changed, and what we can take forward into the 12 months ahead.

If I look at 2016 from a retail omni-channel point of view, there are 5 key trends that I think defined 2016 and on which retailers will continue to build in 2017. Firstly, the customer is very firmly in control. The days of the retailer dictating how and where their customers shop were well and truly put to bed in 2016. Customers are more savvy than ever; they know how and where they want to shop and are not backward in coming forward to make their demands known. Customers vote with their wallets – and in 2016 we have seen successful retailers take an ever-larger share of consumer spend, and those who haven’t listened to their customers suffering the consequences.

Secondly, whilst we have seen online shopping continue to grow, rumours of the death of the store are greatly exaggerated. The store is still very much the preferred place to shop. Research commissioned by CitiXsys found that 85% of Australians and New Zealanders have shopped online, but only 1% use online exclusively. So 99% of those surveyed still love visiting the bricks and mortar store.

This combination of shopping approaches brings us to the third key trend of 2016 – which is that shoppers visit the store in a different frame of mind than in the past. Rather than going to the store to browse, research and maybe buy, they have already done one or more of those steps online. They use social media, comparison and review sites, competitors’ websites and the stores own online presence to thoroughly research products, price, service and terms. Our research found that 63% of Australians and 71% of New Zealanders have carried out at least one form of online research before visiting the physical store. They are walking through the retailer’s door possibly having already bought, and certainly with more knowledge than ever before.

The fourth trend of 2016 that I have observed comes from this changed shopper mindset – and is that once shoppers get to the store, they want different types of service. They may have bought online to collect in-store (in our research, 40% of Australians and 37% of New Zealanders surveyed have used this service) and want a highly efficient collection service; they may have chosen their item but want to check the size and colour; they may have done their basic research but want more detailed information not available online. In our research findings, consumers identified that they would like to see staff with tablets to look up information on the spot and they would like to use their smartphones and/or in-store kiosks to get more information.

Finally, we saw a distinction between ‘personal’ and’ personalised’ – and the need to combine them. Our research identified that 63% of Australian and 72% of New Zealand consumers find shopping in the store more personal, and they like the face to face interaction of the store and its staff. However, they also said that online shopping was more personalised – they love the tailored offers and recommendations that are made online. More shoppers than ever (85%) are members of loyalty schemes and the majority (58% and 62%) say that it is important to have the same personalised service in the store as when they shop online. They want retailers to have a single view of their combined online and in-store shopping habits and drive offers on that basis. Retailers are gaining and understanding that they need to recreate the personalised approach in the store – without losing the personal touch.

Looking back, I see 2016 as an exciting year for omni-channel retailing, as retailers focussed on these key trends, and laid the foundations for strategies for success in 2017.

If you’d like a copy of CitiXsys’ Omni-channel Consumer Research report, please click here

If you’d like to discuss how to address these trends in your business, do come and meet with us at NRF Retail’s BIG Show, January 15-17, 2017. Click here to reserve a time

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