The 4 Things Successful Retailers Know About Today’s Consumer

New report identifies the changing shopping behaviour of Canadians—and suggests how retailers can adapt

Written by Deborah Aarts

Shoppers today aren’t just pleased to shop with retailers that offer several ways to buy stuff—they expect it. In fact, former nice-to-haves (such as an easy-to-access storefront, an
e-commerce-enabled website and a mobile shopping app) now are becoming table stakes for Canadian store operators.

This is one of the key takeaways of a new survey of retail expectations conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). The survey polled more than 15,000 consumers (located in Canada and around the world)  to get a sense of what, exactly, today’s shopper wants when opening his or her wallet. According to the report detailing the research: “The bar is now much higher for retailers with world-class aspirations.”

This is not exactly news to any retailer struggling to compete in 2014. Changing customer expectations have made it extremely difficult for store operators—especially independents—to thrive. So, what is the solution? In PwC’s view: “A new approach is needed, and retail customers are pointing the way.”

Here are the four key things that PwC believes consumers want today—and some tips on how your business can adapt to them.

1. A distinct and compelling brand

The term “brand story” isn’t just for marketers anymore. Contrary to popular belief, today’s consumers are becoming more and more loyal. In fact, data show that consumers want to shop at fewer retailers. For example, in 2013, 59% of Canadian shoppers patronized just five or fewer national non-grocery retail chains, up from 46% a year earlier. (Multi-channel shoppers are even more loyal, with a whopping 97% shopping at fewer than five major retailers.)

Read: Can You Pull Off DIY Branding?

When choosing which of the select few stores they’ll buy from, shoppers look for compelling, clear and engaging branding. When asked why they buy from their preferred retailer, the top answer was not price or selection; rather, it was “I trust the brand”—as this infographic shows:

Up next: Customized offers

2. Customized offers

We live in a world in which customization is king, and that concept has permeated shopper expectations. Canadian consumers want retailers to understand and appreciate their individual tastes—and to provide offers that complement those preferences. Big data and analytics tools are making it easier for store operators to meet these needs (mostly by reviewing past purchases).

Read: How to Help Today’s Overwhelmed Consumer

At the same time, however, consumers are skittish about retailers knowing too much about them—especially if they believe their personal information may somehow be compromised. For instance, as the infographic below illustrates, more than half of Canadian shoppers who don’t buy online cite security concerns as their main reason.

A good way to ease their worries, according to the PwC report, is to to be “absolutely transparent” about how you plan to use the customer data you collect: “It’s essential to clearly communicate what data is being collected, how it will (and won’t) be used, how long it will be retained and how it will be protected. Everyone with a customer-facing role—right down to the clerks at the cash desk—should be able to explain the company’s data usage policies to customers.”

Such candor builds trust, the researchers say, which encourages shoppers to share more information.

Read: Are You Protecting Your Customers’ Data?

Up next: An amazing digital experience

3. An amazing digital experience (on all devices)

Today’s consumer is buying in more ways than ever before. Along with buying in-store and by using a computer, 26% of Canadian shoppers bought products using a tablet in 2013 (up from 22% in 2012), while 29% did the same using a smartphone (up from 23%). Mobile shopping was up even in categories you wouldn’t expect, such as household appliances. (See info graphic below.)

Read: 4 Ways to Turn “Showroomers” Into Customers

PwC claims consistency is crucial to success in this multi-channel environment. When a customer visits to your website, Facebook page, mobile site and, yes, your store, they want an easy to navigate—and easily recognizable—experience.

Up next: Transparency

4. Transparency

Your stockroom should no longer be a place of mystery. Shoppers today want to know exactly what you have available, and when. And if you don’t have it, they’ll check out whether your competitors do. When survey participants were asked to identify what type of in-store technology would most enhance their shopping experience, the most common response (with 47% choosing it) was the ability to check other stores or online stock quickly. (The infographic below details the second, third and fourth choices.) Such once-buzzworthy tech trends as QR codes and video walls barely register.

Read: The Future of Retail? Robots, Drones and Driverless Cars

Giving customers access to your inventory levels has other benefits, too. It’ll force you to up your own inventory-management game, which is likely to improve your broader supply chain. And, as the report says, giving customers a window into your stockroom will give you even more valuable data about their shopping preferences. “The more retailers can learn about their customers’ buying habits,” says the report, “the better they can understand and engage them.”

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Are these trends in line with the consumer behaviour you see? What are you doing to adapt to changing shopper demands? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

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