Key takeaways

  • The contemporary customer expects to engage with retailers across multiple channels and touch points.
  • The PwC ‘Customers take control’ report reveals that clothing, books, film and entertainment are the most popular categories for online shopping, with 90% of all respondents opting to make these purchases on the internet.
  • Chinese shoppers are the most e-commerce savvy, shopping online at least once a week.

In the last few years, dramatic advances in the online space have helped shape a new kind of customer. This new shopper is time-poor, hyper-connected and prone to swinging seamlessly between channels – whether browsing their tablet to buy new shoes during their morning commute, pre-ordering groceries online and picking them up via a click n’collect kiosk on the way home, or using a smartphone to research a competitors’ offers while shopping for a new TV over the weekend. These shifts have set the stage for a retail landscape, where customisation and a focus on innovative multi-channel models are central to maintaining a competitive edge.

Interestingly, geographical boundaries are no match for the multi-channel revolution. PwC’s Customers Take Control report, has identified that shoppers around the world are moving online in droves, trading in bricks and mortar experiences to embrace stores without walls. The research, surveyed the shopping habits of over 7000 online users across eight international retail markets* and offers powerful insights into the state of multi-channel retail worldwide, serving up vital clues for retailers who want to adopt a global outlook.

The research found that books, music, film and clothing were the biggest drawcards for most respondents, with 90% of all surveyed regularly hunting the internet for their entertainment and fashion needs. But when it comes to online, all product categories weren’t created equal – most customers still prefer shopping offline for everyday items such as groceries. The regularity of online shopping also varies country to country, however, Chinese customers are the most accustomed to e-tail, buying online at least once a week. China is also the current boom market for e-commerce and multi-channel retail, making digital purchases nearly four times more often than their European counterparts.

Although price is often assumed to be the catalyst for online shopping, the report discovered that customers are actually motivated by the convenience offered by shopping online. Although this finding might fly in the face of conventional wisdom, it also invites retailers to adopt a customer-centric strategy. The quality of internet offers and the logistical advantages of buying online versus shopping in-store were also cited as the major reasons for embracing online retail.

The research discovered that though customers’ locations may differ, their multi-channel journey generally remains the same – customers from every market embrace mobile, off and online channels for pre-purchase research, transacting, delivery and after-sales. This means that retailers need to ensure that the customer journey works is fluid across all channels, by adopting a seamless returns process that allows customers to obtain a refund across multiple channels.

New developments in the multi-channel space have also had a powerful impact on customer loyalty, with more shoppers consolidating their favourite destinations and spending money with ‘preferred retailers’. Unsurprisingly, the retailers lucky enough to gain this status are those that have effectively integrated their channels; proving that making it as easy as possible for customers to shop is the best way to drive customer relationships and foster long-term growth.

Respondents also nominated ‘product choice’ and ‘trust’ as important factors when choosing a retailer to shop with, a factor that is consistent both online and offline. Tech giant Apple offers a powerful case in point. The brand’s focus on product innovation and a consistent multi-channel experience has helped foster a credibility that’s a precursor to successful customer relationships.

Despite obvious trends in shopper behaviour, there is only one tried-and-true formula for multi-channel success – the ability to spin a sharp understanding of your customer into a seamless experience across every channel.

*Surveyed markets included: the US, UK, China, Germany, Switzerland, France and the Netherlands.



John Riccio

John is a former partner at PwC Australia and the founder of Digital Pulse.

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