By Michelle Graff
New York--Shoppers included in a recent focus group said they get a better retail experience online than in brick-and-mortar stores, according to WSL, a research firm that provides information on shopping behavior and retail trends.

Consumers said buying online gets them better service, more perks and rewards, and the ability to make smarter purchasing decisions.

But there are certain perks that can draw them into a store to shop, including a “fun” environment where they can touch and try on the products, and seasonal decorations that put them in the holiday mood.

“Shoppers have learned how to find what they want quickly online, searching by category, brand and style, while accessing product information, comparing features, checking prices, finding coupons and getting help on the spot,” said WSL CEO Wendy Liebmann. “Retailers now have an opportunity, and a challenge, to create a brick-and-mortar environment that cannot be duplicated online.”

WSL’s data on online shopping trends was derived from the company’s digital shopper focus group, which gathered 11 frequent shoppers of both online retail websites and brick-and-mortar stores for a conversation about how 10-plus years of online shopping has changed consumer in-store expectations.

Here’s what the shoppers had to say.

“Shopping online is so clean and simple; shopping in-store feels chaotic.” WSL says shoppers described online stores as clean, straightforward and easy to navigate, particularly around Black Friday and during the holiday shopping season.

Consumers seeking a specific item and working within a tight timeline said they are frustrated with the experience of traditional stores, having to sort through aisles and racks to find their desired item.

“It’s so much easier to click through checkout (online) than to stand in line.” Shoppers, however, applauded the ability to purchase an item via mobile device while in stores, allowing them to skip the checkout line.

“Sales associates are either too pushy or nowhere to be found.” Shoppers said they want knowledgeable sales associates who can offer informed recommendations without being too pushy. They want to be left alone to browse, but know that someone will be there to help if needed.

They said that online, personal shopper pop-up windows make it easy to ask a question or get a recommendation and move on.

“I get better deals, and better rewards shopping online.” Sale-seeking shoppers said they find better prices and receive better rewards shopping online, with benefits listed as higher credit card reward points and the freedom to choose perks most meaningful to them.

“I still love to shop in stores that are fun.” Shoppers did note that the brick-and-mortar retail world has the unique opportunity to deliver engaging experiences that cannot be duplicated, such as “destination” environments where they are free to touch, try and play with products.

Despite the convenience, efficiency and selection on the Internet, meeting Santa, listening to Christmas carolers and browsing nostalgic department store windows are key holiday attractions that draw shoppers to stores each year.

“The ability to create a meaningful in-store experience, especially at holiday, is a key factor that gives brick-and-mortar stores an edge over the Internet. Creating a retail environment that reflects the magic of the season … gets shoppers in the holiday spirit, a feeling they just can’t get online,” said WSL President Candace Corlett.

WSL’s digital shopper focus group was conducted in June and included 11 participants ages 24 to 50 who shopped a minimum of three categories online and three categories in store over the preceding six months.


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