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New Research Shows Why Retailers Must Harness Digital to Turn Off Shopper 'Auto-pilot'

17/02/2014 13:54 GMT | Updated 18/04/2014 10:59 BST

A recent US study by Catalina, investigating the shopping habits of more than 32 million consumers across nearly 10,000 stores has revealed some interesting and impactful results. For example, it found we each buy less than one per cent of a store's products each year, purchasing just 260 different products annually - or just five different products per week.

The results make interesting reading from a human behaviour perspective but should also set alarm bells ringing for retailers nationwide. Consumers are buying a tiny fraction of what is being put before them in-store and the onus should be on retailers to assess how they can change this in order to increase profitability in what is an increasingly competitive marketplace.

The research noted that shoppers were found to be "on a mission to get in and out as fast as possible", which clearly shows that for them the food shop is a routine, or worse still a necessary evil, rather than an event they look forward to. They buy the same products, take the same route around the store and leave feeling a task has been completed rather than an experience has been enjoyed. If retailers are to be more successful, they must work to change this.

It is essential that retailers realise we are now living in a post-digital marketing era and the consumer path to purchase has changed forever. Viewing technology as a nice-to-have doesn't cut it any longer. Instead it should be used as an essential 'enabler for channel convergence' - the conductor that influences shopping behavior.

Technology facilitates journeys and allows us to make connections with brands, both online and in-store. Done well retailers can ensure these journeys are seamless, invisible, immersive and pre-emptive. The key decision now for retailers is to work out which is the best digital enabler from a vast array of technologies that will engage with customers, maximise the relationship and turn off auto-pilot.

The good news is we have at our disposal all means of new technologies to have real conversations that will matter but only if we can navigate through the right digital enablers to win consumers' hearts as well as their minds.

Retailers must create new experiences that are interesting and engaging to drive new rituals through interesting tangible events. For example, a shoe retailer could remove all their expensive stockroom areas and use this space to host a catwalk for potential customers to record their experience, connect with friends and family digitally using beacon technology before ordering in-store for home delivery. This reversed 'brick to click' approach turns routine into a fun experience and is a great way of turning off auto-pilot and encouraging shoppers to return to the store because they want to, not because they have to.

This new era means that the customer is in total control and will treat standard operating procedures with disdain. Catalina's research shows retailers and brands alike must embrace this new dawn, innovate around these new digital enablers and create enjoyable, meaningful shopping experiences.