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MODERN RETAILING HAS CHANGED WHAT CUSTOMERS EXPECT

The fast pace of innovation has changed what exactly?

And how can travel meet these new demands through modern retailing?

At this point, we all acknowledge that the Internet changed everything, right? So shoppers’ expectations are no exception. In the last 20 years, we’ve seen Amazon and Alibaba create tectonic change that destroyed long-standing, previously innovative companies that didn’t get modern. Blockbuster, Sears, Toys ’R’ Us…many a successful brand didn’t understand the change they were caught up in or failed to adapt to it. Even in the past decade innovation has gone turbo. And these rapid changes happening online have influenced and evolved what people expect: from direct-to-consumer products to instant gratification, to what the physical retailer experience is like too. In other words: no matter where you’re based or what you’re selling, all retailers have new customer demands to contend with.

The time to get modern is now. And that starts with understanding what consumers want. And who better to tell us than shoppers themselves. We asked over 2,000 people globally — aged 18 and over — for their views on retailing to take learnings for the travel industry. Here’s what they said.

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GETTING MODERN IS ABOUT UNDERSTANDING TIME

Time is our most valuable currency. And it’s a great equalizer — no one gets more time in a day than anyone else. So, consumers all have an equal interest in getting the most from their limited bucket of minutes. Modern retailing isn’t just about getting things done faster (although that’s important too). It’s about making things better so the experience of spending your ration of time is a good experience. For retailers, that can be facilitating a research experience, creating a frictionless buying experience, or giving the customer additional ways to feel good about their purchase. It’s providing options, offering things at the right time, and catering to preferences. And our research shows consumers think this is what makes a retailing experience meaningful, modern, and something they want to return to.

FOR CONSUMERS, THAT MEANS...

1. 1.GETTING WHAT YOU WANT, EXACTLY WHEN YOU WANT IT.

This is the age of instant gratification, where people generally want things as soon as possible. We can binge watch an entire series in one go. We can contact anyone, anywhere instantly. We can get a week’s worth of meal prep delivered to our door. The volume of online shopping has accelerated massively in recent years, with 53% now buying online daily or weekly. So, retailers need to understand that people expect and value immediacy.

The ‘now’ factor in buying

The biggest reason customers shop online is because the store is always open (41%) and shopping is always available. But almost the same number of people (44%) shop offline because they have an immediate need. Clearly the nature of ‘now’ depends on what you’re buying and what ‘now’ means to you — the act of buying or the act of receiving. For physical goods, it might mean buying an ingredient for a meal you’re cooking tonight versus buying an exotic spice for a meal you plan to cook next week. It may mean trying on a range of shoes versus ordering and hoping. Is the impulse to shop or is the impulse to have? But some things, like major purchases or experiences, are always in the future and often require more research so the ‘now’ is gathering what you need for a decision.

The ‘now’ factor in browsing

People are spending even more time searching online than buying — consulting reviews, seeking recommendations, and looking into other factors of what’s on offer. We found that 69% of consumers are researching purchases online daily or weekly, with only 2% never researching a purchase online. Browsing is a way of figuring out what we want. Sometimes it’s directed (I want a new television), sometimes it’s less so (where should I go on my next vacation). People spend massively more time researching than buying, which means that some of their purchases are high-consideration, high-research, and potentially quite complex, sometimes with high stakes and fear of making a wrong choice.

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53%

Regularly buy
online daily/weekly

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98%

Research/browse online

2. APPRECIATING THE VALUE OF TIME (AND MONEY)).

Because time is our most precious resource, the message from consumers is clear and consistent. The best modern retailers respect their time and their money, and they show that at every touchpoint of the buying journey. Here are a few things consumers are telling sellers.

THE BEST MODERN RETAILERS MAKE THINGS EASIER AND FASTER

43%

Make returns/exchanges easy

41%

Reward loyalty

40%

Help filter options

29%

Personalize offers

26%

Use videos and graphics

Give me time to reflect and the freedom to change my mind

With any purchase there’s a risk of regret. With big or complex purchases, the risk expands substantially. Shoppers want to know they won’t be stung if they change their minds or if they find something more attractive right after clicking ‘buy’. Online or offline, consumers want flexibility, and 29% say their biggest gripe is with retailers who don’t make returns or exchanges easy. Zappos became the biggest online shoe retailer because they took the risk out of the process entirely.

Reward my loyalty and time spent with you

Everyone wants to feel special. The best retailers show customers they value their business by rewarding them with special offers or points to keep them coming back — and 41% said they like being incentivized this way. A random coupon is nice, but a coupon that addresses them personally— or understands what they might want— from a retailer they recognize is the most effective. You can’t just be the random place from which they bought something once, your brand has to mean something to them for a relationship to form and then the offers and points are quite meaningful.

Don’t waste my time — help me manage choice

Whether shopping online or offline, people (naturally) want the experience to be straightforward. 93% of respondents told us the best modern retailers make it easy to find what they’re looking for. Too much choice can be overwhelming, so while customers want as much choice as possible, they also want retailers to help them quickly narrow down to what they actually want, with 40% of our respondents telling us they want excellent filtering options.

I want to feel understood

They want filtering, but they don’t seem to want pre-curated, or ‘personalized’ offers online; they want to cull the offers themselves. Of the 53% of our respondents who would provide personal information in exchange for more personalized offers, less than half (48%) think that they’re actually getting that. People just don’t believe retailers do a good job of personalization. But, as we will shortly see, in one industry at least (lots of suspense here, we know), personalization is their biggest desire.

Make your sites, apps, and stores easy to buy from

 

Modern retailers are known for being sleek, fun, and easy on the eye — often using video or graphics over long reams of text. 47% of consumers rated easy site navigation as key to them enjoying the shopping experience and coming back there to buy again. They vastly prefer video (26%), especially younger buyers (31%). Video can mean many things, and getting people to select a video is often an exercise in compelling prose, but pulling up a bit it’s clear that more sound and motion experience is compelling, and we’ve seen brick and mortar retailers incorporate more and more video into their physical experiences.

3. DELIVERING A RETURN ON TIME

The more a purchase is going to be a part of your life, the more time you’re willing to spend — wanting to spend — researching it. The research can be the fun. Know someone who has bought a house and then continues to go to open houses? The research is a lot of the fun. Or it can be if retailers do it right. Having content, making it easy to find, ensuring it delivers the value and information the customer wants, letting them stack information in an organized way that allows for comparison, analysis, planning… all make the researching experience easier and more productive. They may take longer to buy, but they feel more confident when they do. And if you can provide everything they need in one place, you’ll be there when the research stops and the credit card comes out— and that is where you want them.

Customers want more than just the cheapest price

We aren’t here to downplay the value of a good deal. While most consumers (54%) said finding the right price for what they want is critical, the emphasis here is on “for what they want.” And that means there are other considerations. 59% say getting what they want is more important than what they pay for it. They’re not negotiating against themselves; they want the cheapest version of the thing they want, and they don’t want to compromise their desires to save a few bucks.

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59 %

say getting what they want is
more important than price

No unpleasant surprises

Consumers want transparency above all else. While it’s pretty obvious what’s included in a tin of beans, some products can be harder to understand. Think about how hard it is to compare specs on a new laptop, how crazy-making it is to know if you’re paying the right price for a mattress, or how many options there are to sort through buying travel with different fares including or excluding elements you can’t really see. Consumers hate that, with 90% saying full transparency on what they’re buying is the most important thing.

Choice over curation

We said it before— travelers don’t trust that curation is done well enough to take the full range of choices out of their hands. They’d rather suffer the work of sorting choices than let the retailer choose for them and maybe get it wrong (78%). But in many ways, it comes down to a single, emotional element. A clear majority (64%) said if they received customized offers from companies they have already purchased from, they would likely buy from them again. That suggests openness to personalization is closely linked to trust, which is built from a previous purchase experience, especially given 80% want offers returned that most suit their individual personality. Something you’d only know if you’ve engaged with them previously.

The right things at the right time

While having wide choice is a key value, customers don’t want to be overwhelmed from the start. Building a shopping cart is like building a home, it starts with a foundation. Getting modern means having empathy with the customer through their journey through your offerings and our respondents told us they want modern retailers to offer them the things they need now, but also make more recommendations later (81%).

4. HAVING THE SUPPORT YOU NEED WHEN THE TIME COMES.

The only way to shop with confidence is to know there’s someone to tell you whether the product you want is in stock, whether it does what you want it to do, and whether it suits you. Good support is a critical part of any type of retailing. But with so much shopping online, what does that entail? Let’s get one thing clear: despite breathless LinkedIn posts, the support people want is not in the metaverse. It’s about having multiple (real) channels to choose from and joining them up seamlessly.

People know how to use chatbots, but don’t always want to

It’s easy to fall into the human vs. robot argument on customer service. And again, it’s not just about what’s faster, though for many retailers it’s about what’s cheaper. It should be about giving people the kind of help they need in a way they can interact with easily and effectively. The vast majority (77%) of our respondents have interacted with chatbots, but there are a lot of different kinds of chatbots, of widely varying quality, and the experience often leaves a lot to be desired. Just a quarter of your theoretically “digital natives,” age 18-41, use them frequently.

Young consumers want more support

Which brings us to a counter-intuitive finding: younger consumers actually want more human support than their elders. Three quarters of all respondents want the option of live chatting with a human, and that number goes up to 83% of those aged 18-41. See that — humans are here to stay, breathless articles on LinkedIn about ChatGPT notwithstanding. Live chat was rated equally useful as a phone call, indicating that people just want a human experience, regardless of whether it’s voice or text.

5. WHAT WOULD THEY SACRIFICE FOR A BETTER WORLD?

Climate change and sustainability are hot topics (literally) and are becoming considerations for modern shoppers. A tantalizingly close to half of respondents (49%) say they would pay more for an environmentally friendly option, while only 30% give that idea a hard pass. And while people won’t always vote with their wallet, they’re willing to pay for greener travel in other ways.

Modern consumers want transparency on sustainability

People want to make environmentally friendly choices, and they want travel businesses to help them. People understand that transport burns a lot of fossil fuel and that the impact of this is a great peril of our time. This means modern travel retailers must be up front about environmental impact. 71% of leisure travelers and 80% of business travelers want more information on carbon impacts to help them assess their journey options.

Who pays for sustainable travel

84% of consumers aged 18-41 are willing to pay more for environmentally friendly travel options. It’s not just about young people, though. 55% of consumers aged 42+ would also pay more for sustainable travel options. In almost every way, business and leisure travelers are the same as consumers. So, this difference shows us that while people would pay, they’d really prefer someone else to.

If not money, what else you got?

While people would pay something for sustainable travel options, they’re more willing to sacrifice time— as we said, their most precious currency, but one that’s self-replenishing. Over 60% are willing to take a longer route to save on CO2 when traveling. This varies by age group, and our results show 33% of 18–41-year-olds would travel 2–3 hours longer just to save on CO2, compared to 19% of 42+ year old’s. It’s not about planes flying in the slow lane, it’s about layovers and less convenient routes.

OVER 60% WILL TAKE A LONGER ROUTE TO SAVE ON C02 WHEN TRAVELING

SO HOW DOES TRAVEL
GET MODERN?

We’ve mainly been talking about retailing in general so far. So, let’s get into what you came here for: what does this all mean for travel? Customers want retailers to create more value — from time spent researching, shopping, exchanging, or looking for support to enjoying the results of their effort. The question is: how can travel agencies meet those expectations, and make travelers feel well-informed, in control, and empowered? When customers benefit, agencies and suppliers benefit. We all get the same 24 hours in the day and so the desire to use time well is something customers, agents, and retailers all have in common.

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Your brand matters – online and off

Like anything else, travel is increasingly bought and sold online. Does that mean offline is done? Not at all, but it must adapt. Offline retailers must stay on top of the changes happening in the online space and offer a customer experience built on the same blocks: transparency, ease, and a respect for the customers’ time. Building a brand presence online is also key, even if you have to bring people into a store to make the purchase. Meanwhile, online retailers must focus on differentiation strategy too, to ensure they’re the chosen provider when people are done researching and are ready to buy. Everything that follows will help with brand building.

Transparency is everything

Nothing wastes time like confusion. The more detail agencies make available about an offer — the cost, what’s included or excluded, how it can be augmented with ancillaries — the less uncertainty for the consumer. Transparency extends to the way your site behaves, how you give people time back in their day. Satisfy their needs all in one place, make products simple to find, sort, and compare, reduce clicks, be quick about delivering search results, and most of all give them confidence, and you’re where the transaction happens.

The shopping cart has a logic you must respect

It is understandable that retailers want to have shopping carts as full as they can be at checkout. But the reality is that, for travel, people make decisions one at a time. Where to go and when, where to stay, what to do, what they need to have a great experience. Travel takes a long time to research, so provide everything customers need in one place (from destination research to booking options) and you’ll reduce the risk of customers navigating elsewhere or picking a retailer at random.

Do that by giving them plenty of choice but make what they turn out to be looking for easy to filter and find. Don’t expect to sell the full trip in one go. When there is a purchase, it’s time to mobilize communication and information channels to bring them back to buy the next item from you. That’s where personalization comes in. We know you’re going to Florence, can we offer you a discount on a Tuscan wine tour? Your knowledge becomes your power to fill smaller carts over time. And yes, that also builds a relationship with the customer (notice a theme here?).

GenZ is coming, and they want your help

Like many industries, travel should focus on what younger customers value. GenZ’s spending power is growing into a tidal wave and the time to adapt for them is now. Because guess what? What they want will satisfy the olds too. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that digital is hard for the olds and easy for the youngs — GenZ grew up with support all around them. Use videos, graphics, and rich media to support decision-making. Provide a choice of multiple, connected support options that are easy to find and truly useful, and you’re servicing both the digital natives and their parents — and setting yourself up well for the spending power transition from one to the other. Also keep in mind that younger people are more nomadic. Travel and mobility are key values for them, so building a trusted relationship between them and your brand is crucial.

The only difference between agents and consumers…

…is which side of the screen they sit on. Agents expect what consumers expect: easy navigation, the ability to sort an infinity of choices down to the right product, transparency that they can communicate to the traveler, respect for their time. Technology can also take a chunk of manual tasks from agents. And when it comes to good support, consumers are happiest when they have a coherent and joined up experience from the moment they begin browsing to when they have received the goods. And the key to that is combining 1) data to drive a coherent experience, 2) a technology interface that’s easy to use, and 3) the choice of a human touch if needed, even if it’s delivered digitally.

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