Consumer habits changed drastically last year as people went online to shop. According to McKinsey, 75% of consumers tried a new shopping behavior due to economic pressure, store closings and changing priorities, and the data we are seeing internally shows 50% of shoppers now intend to shop both in-store and online. That’s more than double the historical average. These new blended shopping habits are evolving and will be key to building brand loyalty in 2022 and beyond.
As retailers race to increase their ecommerce capabilities to meet this blended opportunity, those that seamlessly offer consumers what they want, when they want, regardless of how they are shopping — whether on mobile, social, or in-store — will win. These expected omnichannel shopping experiences will fuel the brand relationships that consumers crave and will keep them coming back for more. Knowing the customer and their preferences, and connecting that vital data to what’s in stock near them, will shape their shopping journey and relationship with retailers, ultimately ushering in the next generation of retail and brand loyalty. It’s already beginning.
Consumer-centric data is critical to transforming the retail sector and driving more immersive and personalized experiences. For example, searches for “available near me” increased globally by over 100% in the last year. And leveraging technology like machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) to aid in more personalized product discovery and delivery will be imperative as retailers look to invest in their digital capabilities to meet the moment.
Product Discovery is Transforming
Informed more and more by what they see on social media, consumers search for specific products not only with keywords but images, and if the results don’t show what they’re looking for, they move on. Consumers now expect a holistic view of what is in-store and online. They want to know what is in stock in-store, and accurate search allows retailers to understand their own product catalogue and inventory. Search provides a unified view and helps retailers bridge an omnichannel experience.
According to research conducted by The Harris Poll, commissioned by Google Cloud, “search abandonment,” when purchase intent is not converted due to inadequate search results, costs retailers more than $300 billion a year. Search abandonment is not only a costly problem for retailers as a lost revenue opportunity but also a lost brand loyalty-building opportunity. It’s reported that 94% of global consumers received irrelevant results while searching on a retailer’s website in the last six months, and 85% say they view a brand differently after experiencing search difficulties.
Retailers That do More Than Just Help Consumers Find What They Want Will Win
Whether in-store, in-app or online, helping consumers find what they want faster leads to higher conversion rates, happier consumers and establishes brand loyalty. Machine learning-based approaches to search not only improve search results with every query but help retailers build better search experiences that include auto-suggestions, personalized results and relevant promotions.
Leading retailers including Macy’s, Walmart, Etsy and many more rely on AI and ML products to enhance their shopping experiences with consumers. These easy, relevant and value-added search experiences will continue to be a competitive differentiation cornerstone and set the stage for the consumer shopping journey.
It’s a uniquely different experience for a consumer to simply receive a search result for pants, or to get a robust search serving up pants alongside shoes, accessories, style guides and videos with information about local store hours and what’s in stock. These contextual, personalized and game-changing value-added product search and discovery experiences will set retailers apart.
Retailers that deliver the best experiences will be poised to foster lasting connections with consumers, especially those that unlock more sustainable business practices by leveraging personalization technologies. Consumers, especially Gen Z, care more about sustainability than about product and price, making sustainable practices vital to earning brand loyalty today and in the future.
Delivering products to consumers based on where they live and what’s in stock near them not only contributes to inventory efficiency but better optimizes how far that product has to travel to get in their hands. That’s a sustainable business practice powered by the use of personalization technology.
As sustainability continues to drive consumer choice and omni shopping expectations increase in 2022, competitive differentiation will be earned by retailers that can not only sustain consumer engagement across the purchasing journey — from search to sales — but serve up personalized value-added experiences along the way.
Retail brands that leverage technology to personalize product discovery and blend the conveniences of both online and in store experiences for consumers will create deeper brand equity today and in the future.
Jose Luis-Gomes is the Managing Director, Retail and Consumer at Google Cloud, where he oversees business in the U.S., focused on the retail, consumer and travel industries. He brings a wealth of retail, brand and consultancy experience, and a deep understanding of the complex retail market. Luis-Gomes spent 12 years at dunnhumby, partnering with retailers and brands to leverage data and analytics to put their customers first. Most recently, he was President of North America, where he worked with Kroger, Macy’s, Hilton, McDonald’s, Meijer, P&G and Kraft, centering the customer across strategy, loyalty, personalization, merchandising and supply chain decisions.