The nation?s retail industry is in the process of making itself over to better cozy up to smartphones and other digital devices that have turned humans into perpetual shopping machines in need of an entirely different support system than the old-fashioned model dependent on feet, cash and cars.
Selling Americans on the merits of using computers ? whether PCs, laptops, tablets or phones ? to shop is done. They get it.
A recent survey by consulting firm Accenture found 63 percent of consumers plan to use a laptop or home computer to make purchases or research items this holiday season, up 16 percentage points from last year.
The smartphone, in particular, is gaining ground. As of August, 174 million people in the U.S. owned one ? 72 percent of the mobile market. Research found that mobile devices generated more than half of online retail visits that month, up from 4 percent in 2010.
Retailers are investing big money in things like inventory tracking systems that can accommodate the needs of digital shoppers. It?s a given that retailers need to hire lots of workers to pack online orders and ship them to customers pressing ?buy? as they relax on the couch or as they wait for middle school basketball practice to end.
Merchants have also equipped employees to check customers out on tablets ? even if that means placing an order to be delivered to a home ? with the idea that sales won?t be lost when impatient shoppers see three people in line at the checkout.
And retailers have overhauled pricing systems in an effort to cope with customers standing in Aisle 13 and checking competitors? offers. Because while recent economic uncertainty might seem to discourage Americans from signing up for costly data plans and ever fancier mobile phones, it?s not hard to rationalize the purchase by focusing on the smartphone?s ability to chase deals.
A subsidiary of accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers recently identified three types of shoppers embracing the new ?omnichannel? retail systems being built by merchants trying to be everywhere for everyone.
The firm said 39 percent are tradeoff shoppers hunting around and buying online if it?s cheaper; 29 percent are transitionalists dabbling in online offerings but preferring traditional stores; and 32 percent are digitalists using online tools as their main shopping venue.
Merchants will need them all if the industry is to achieve the 4.1 percent increase to $616.9 billion in holiday sales that the National Retail Federation is predicting for the 2014 season.
Regular announcements streaming from retailers in recent weeks touting their innovations are an indication that the chains want both Wall Street investors and consumers to know how ready they are for the digital future.
Source: MCT Information Services