Smart shoppers – armed with smartphones – usher in a new era in retail


As the latest UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study finds, digital connectivity is set to shift the retail landscape dramatically in the years ahead.

Tech-savvy shoppers are transforming retail at a rapid rate, according to the newly published UPS Pulse of the Online Shopperstudy. For the first time since the annual study began five years ago, online shoppers surveyed said they made more than half of their purchases entirely online (excluding groceries). The driving force: smartphones.

"Retailers need to be ready for this, monitor customer expectations and think shopper first." – Lauren Freedman

"Technology has become the enabler," says Lauren Freedman, president of the Chicago-based e-tailing group Inc., who helped UPS develop the study and analyze the results. "That's particularly true for millennials, for whom anytime, anywhere access is second nature."

The study found that among millennials, 63 percent made a purchase via smartphone (versus 41 percent of GenXers). Overall, one in four online shoppers said they expected smartphone and tablet purchasing to increase.

Profound changes ahead

The retail landscape is likely to change dramatically in the years ahead, says Freedman, as technology plays an increasing role in everyday life. “You will see more sophisticated technology empowering shoppers in advance of store visits and supporting their in-store needs, ranging from kiosks to interactive tools and mobile POS (point of sale). At the same time, new models such as retail showrooms – stores that showcase inventory that you order for delivery – will find strong reception among consumers.” 

Further evidence: One in six shoppers showed interest in purchasing wearable devices in the next year, and 32 percent of those surveyed already owned at least one connected home device.  

“Retailers need to be ready for this, monitor customer expectations and buying patterns, always thinking shopper first,” Freedman says. “Watch other retailers and see those who are pushing forward on the digital side, setting up for things like in-store pickup of online orders, and put the right inventory plumbing in place to handle it.” In-store pickup is already popular, the new survey shows, with 50 percent having ordered an item online for pickup at a store.

The best bet for small retailers is to optimize the shopping experience, Freedman says. “Put your best foot forward when it comes to service. In both retail and e-commerce there’s a lot of emphasis on self-service nowadays, so giving people extras like unique products they can’t find elsewhere, or gift wrap, or just being kind to people will go a long way to improve the customer experience and get people coming back.”

About the survey

This is the fifth annual UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study. More than 5,300 U.S. online shoppers were surveyed by comScore. For details on the many ways digital shoppers have evolved, and insights on some of the new challenges retailers face as a result, download the full study in an easy-to-read e-book format.


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