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July 8, 2016

I recently interviewed a friend of mine who is a baby boomer and a self-proclaimed shopaholic, to get her views on the current state of shopping. While my sample size of one may not reflect statistically significant trends, there are a few interesting takeaways that retailers may find useful.

Q: Retailers are exploring many new payment optionsEuropay Mastercard and Visa (EMV) chip cards; magnetic strip cards; Near Field Communication (NFC) payments such as Apple Pay, Android Pay and PayPal; and more. Are more payment options important to you?

A: No, not to me. I only use two credit cards and thats for security reasons. I get notices from my bank if there is any unusual activity. And, if a card is stolen, my bank will take care of it for me.

Q: Do you use your smartphone to shop?

A: I primarily use my phone to look things up, but I rarely make purchases using my phone.

Q: Do you browse online and then purchase in store? What is your most common purchase path? Does it depend on the item?

A: I mostly shop online and have my purchases delivered. The stores return policy affects my decision. I like the ability to order online and make store returns if the item does not fit or is not what I expected. Not all stores let you purchase online and return in store and I dont like to have to make an extra trip to the post office to send things back.

Shipping charges also impact my decision of whether or not to order online or buy in store. Some retailers have a minimum online order for free shipping. I refuse to pay for shipping, so sometimes, I order enough items to make the minimum order requirement and then return any unwanted items the next time I visit the store. Its a workaround to avoid shipping fees. I have to really love a product to pay for shipping.

Q: Do you or do you plan to use things such as Amazon Dash button to reorder things?

A: Yes, I already do. I use services that make reordering things I need on a regular basis– nutritional supplements, dog food, etc.automatic. There are, however, some nuances that still need to be worked out with these services. For instance, I ran out of my supplements early one month and wanted to move the delivery date up. Instead of being able to adjust the delivery date, the system scheduled two ordersone for the earlier date requested and one for the scheduled date. In addition, one time I tried to add another item to my order and had to wait a month for the next ship date. That kind of inflexibility is a wrinkle that will need to be addressed.

In the case of the dog food, I had a very unsatisfactory experience. I am on a plan to have a 50 lb. bag of dog food delivered monthly. One month, the order simply did not arrive. I did not receive an email notice and had to go online to learn that the dog food was on back order. I went into the store and they were very unhelpful. They simply said they would talk to their general manager, who comes in once a month, the next time they see him. I left feeling frustrated and unheard. I didnt appreciate having to drive to the store to get the dog food and carrying the 50 lb. bag to my car. The next month, the same thing happened. Needless to say, I no longer do business with that company.

Have you purchased in-store from store associate using an iPad?

A: Yes, its nice, but not a deal breaker for me. Anything that makes shopping more convenient is a good thing. I appreciated being able to checkout without having to wait in a long line.

Do loyalty programs matter to you?

A: Yes, I like loyalty programs that provide real value i.e. for every so many dollars you spend, you get some kind of credit, or an extra % off on your next purchase.

I dont like loyalty programs you have to pay for, unless I can recoup the cost with the first purchase I make. I dont like having to pay to get a discount. A loyalty program alone, however, will not win me over. I also want convenience, relevance, and great products.

Have you received any compelling personalized offers?

A: I dont know if retailers have this down to a science yet. For example, after buying Christmas presents for my nieces and nephews last year, I started getting all kinds of offers and emails about childrens clothing and games. It was actually rather annoying as I am only interested in those kinds of items around the holidays.

I do, however, appreciate messages that let me know when my rewards are about to expire.

I also get inundated with emails after I have made purchases asking about my experience. I understand retailers are trying to learn what they can do to better serve me, but I would prefer not getting surveys for every purchase. In fact, I tend to ignore them unless they are about travel. I am more interested in other peoples reviews and recommendations about a $2,000 trip than a $40 skirt. Sadly, the only time I break down and complete a survey for a minor purchase is when the customer experience was really bad.

Q: Can you give me any examples of good and bad omni-channel experiences you have had?

A: I really like a feature a well-known clothing store I shop at provides. I am able to view items online, check availability and put them on hold for up to 48 hours at a store near me. I like knowing the items I have selected are waiting for me in my size and preferred color.

It is surprising to me, however, how many large retailers still do not have online and in-store systems that are in sync. Many times, offers and discounts available online are not available in the store or vice versa. One time, I had tried on and decided to purchase a number of sales items from a major active wear retailer. The checkout line was very long and my husband was getting impatient, so I decided to leave the store and order the items online. Unfortunately, the same sale prices were not available online. I was left feeling exasperated and ended up not ordering anything from that store.

Q: Are you concerned about fraud and having a secure shopping experience?

A: Yes; thats a huge concern and its why I use two Visa cards and no additional cards. I am afraid of identity theft and have set an alert with my bank to let me know of any charges over a certain dollar amount so I can verify that its my purchase. One of my credit cards also offers 1.75% back on purchases, so in addition to the alerts I receive, thats an added bonus.

Here are a few takeaways from my interview with my shopaholic friend:

  • Convenience isnt the only factor consumers evaluate when determining their preferred channel. Take for instance what my friend said. Her purchase path is determined by other factors including a stores return policy and whether or not there are shipping charges.
  • Convenient reordering is attractive, but there are still kinks in the system that need to be worked out i.e. the ability to change shipping dates if items are needed sooner or add items to an order and not have to wait until the next scheduled shipment date to receive them.
  • Loyalty programs need to deliver real value. People appreciate programs they dont have to pay for and ones that deliver true value, i.e. discounts, points that earn real dollar savings, etc.
  • The art of personalization needs to be perfected. For instance, personalized offers are great, but there are issues here too. Sometimes, a gift purchased for someone else can trigger offers that are inaccurately targeted and often annoying.
  • Omni-channel experiences are still not the norm for a number of large retailers. Online and in store offers and promotions are often not in sync.

In order to deliver the personalized experiences that customers value, it is important to develop strategies to understand them on a much deeper level. Developing buyer personas is one important way to do that. While this blog does not touch on buyers personas, the interview with my friend does offer insights into some of the things that affect a baby boomer shopaholics buyer journey.

Kathleen Holm is Marketing Director of the TCS Digital Software & Solutions (DS&S) Group. She has more than 25 years of experience marketing technology software and services to enterprises worldwide. She leverages her extensive background in enterprise software technology to help organizations develop effective marketing strategies, create targeted messaging and positioning, and implement effective go-to-market plans to improve corporate performance. Prior to joining TCS, Kathleen was a Senior Principal of technical product marketing for Oracle Fusion Middleware where she was responsible for defining the marketing strategy based on industry maturity and customer trends. She also held positions at IBM including Market Manager for WebSphere Developer Programs, Market Manager for Tivoli Integrated Service Management and Tivoli Brand Specialist. Prior to joining IBM, Kathleen worked with four high-tech startups.


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