Shoppers these days are as likely to get blisters on their thumbs from swiping a screen or clicking a mouse as they are to get them on their heels from traipsing around crowded streets.
The culture around how we shop has changed immeasurably since the internet became a part of our daily lives and computers first took us to the digital high street.
The subsequent widespread adaptation of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets has further rewritten the rules of retail. Brands striving for success need to understand and navigate an entirely different culture and landscape to the one that existed even just a few years ago.
A simple path for one, a baffling maze for the other
The proliferation of mobile devices has generated a major headache for retailers and marketers. In the early days of ecommerce it was relatively simple to follow a customer's path online.
Most people used desktops and did all their online shopping on this single device. It was easy for marketers to trace if a visitor had come from an online ad, via organic search or a marketing email.
Similarly, if a purchase was not completed it would be simple to see where customers logged out and, additionally, if they resumed a purchase later - all valuable feedback for marketers to fine-tune their tactics and strategy.
However, now consumers flitter between devices, often even using more than one device at the same time. Research started on a phone may be continued on a website, followed up on a tablet and perhaps even finalised in a physical store.
Statistics back this up. A 2014 survey from Google on cross-platform shopping behaviour revealed that 90% of people switch between devices to 'accomplish a goal'.
The confusion in the journey, however, belongs only to the retailer. The customer neither considers or cares how complicated this process is to follow - they see no difference between on and offline shopping. The onus is on retailers to understand and anticipate this journey as much as they can and make the purchase path as smooth as possible.
For every mood a different toy
Unsurprisingly, mobiles tend to be the starting point of most online journeys. Perhaps more unexpectedly, Google found that 59% of smartphone shopping happens in the home, rather than on the go. People's reluctance to let their phone out of their sight no doubt plays heavily into this figure, as does the finding that 77% of people use a secondary device whilst watching television.
Purchasing rates also vary across devices as does the type of purchase. 81% of mobile shoppers have made impulse buys compared to 58% of desktop shoppers.
Tablets meanwhile have a higher conversion rate for shopping than mobiles. Research from IDG found that 73% of people have purchased with a tablet compared to 56% with a mobile.
Marketers believe that the larger screen size of a tablet can make it a more enjoyable browsing experience than a mobile and thus has a positive influence on purchasing decisions.
The larger screens of desktops still have their role to play too. Whilst some major retailers now report mobile traffic as superseding desktop , traditional computers still tend to be favoured for more complex or expensive purchases.
Furthermore, keyboards are still preferred by many when it comes to navigating the final purchasing stages (particularly when retailers have not made mobile friendly checkouts).
Confusing matters even more for the retailer trying to mine all this information, there is an increasing trend for brick and mortar stores to be involved in digital journeys - most obviously either as part of 'showrooming' (where people check out items in store but buy online) or by 'webrooming' (the polar opposite).
More and more people expect their mobile device to be part of their physical shopping experience. This can take the form of anything from special offers in store to customers logging on to a brand's website for directions or contact details.
Even a cursory glance at how people shop in the digital age illustrates that consumers expect a store to meet their needs and preferences whenever and wherever. As Google's Sridhar Ramaswamy says: "In our constantly connected world, a device is just a proxy for what really matters - getting to know your customer."
Every journey has a destination
Understanding customers' journeys and how they use their devices is paramount - UK retail giant Tesco has spoken on the importance of understanding the 'rhythm' of customers' habits. Digital is not just a single experience and a customer's journey is no longer linear.
Brands must consider not only how people interact with their devices, but how they may use these platforms in differing combinations, in differing order and even whether they will use them inside physical stores.
Retailers need to ensure they have user friendly, responsive web design across all their platforms. No single format can be neglected and left to languish behind another.
Most importantly, retailers must see the new digital shopping culture as an opportunity. A chance to be creative and improve their offerings.
The potential pitfalls for retailers are enormous. But then so are the opportunities.Suggest a correction