There was a time when the majority of retailers would have baulked at the idea of getting involved in debates about politics and social issues. The very idea was a PR minefield. And besides, surely it makes better business sense not to take sides, to remain politely neutral and keep everyone on side?
Well, that was then. In recent years, retailers and consumer brands have had to reassess their position for one very pressing reason. Consumers have begun to demand it.
Two-thirds of consumers now say that their personal beliefs and values play a key role in the purchasing decisions they make. As with so many things in the modern world, the internet is at the centre of it all. The truth is, people have probably always wanted to buy from companies that they feel align with their own values. But they’ve always had to take brands’ word for it, such was the control organisations had over messaging.
The internet, and especially the era of social media, has blown all of that out of the water. It has empowered consumers to find and share information beyond what corporate media campaigns tell them. It has amplified debates. It has raised awareness. It has shifted the balance of power, so brands now have to tell consumers what they demand to know about their products and operations and culture, rather than sharing what they feel it is prudent to share.
Knowledge is power
One of the most visible ways in which this has shifted consumer behaviour is the amount of research people do online before making a purchase. A staggering 99.5% of people research purchases at least some of the time, and 87% do so regularly or always.
Of course, much of this will be doing things like comparing prices, features or reading user reviews. But increasingly, such research will cover things like provenance, who made/produced the product and where, what the materials are whether they were ethically sourced, what the product’s carbon footprint is, whether it and/or its packaging are recyclable, whether it contains substances which may be detrimental to health etc.
These things matter to a lot of consumers, and the internet empowers them to find answers before they buy. But what about in store? Should retailers simply assume that ‘conscious’ consumers will do their research before they head into store?
That’s a dangerous assumption to make. A lot of people still like the in-person shopping experience as an opportunity to browse and get purchase inspiration. Or they may head into a store with one product in mind, and see something else that grabs their attention.
Impulse purchasing is still a thing. People don’t always want to go away, spend some time checking out a product meets their expectations and then make a decision. They still like to buy there and then. As a retailer, you want them to buy there and then. But, from the customer’s perspective, all the better if they make that impulse purchase, and still be confident they know exactly what they are buying.
And they will expect to get some help in making that decision quickly and conveniently.
Making information accessible in-store
So what can physical retailers do? It all boils down to how you make the information customers want available and accessible in store.
For one, you can shout about your brand values and credentials in-store, too – it doesn’t all have to be left to blog posts and social media campaigns. Whether it’s locally sourced, ethically sourced, organic, fairtrade, whether you support local community projects or tree planting or waste reduction initiatives – make sure that’s all visible to your in-store shoppers. Have videos and slideshows playing on digital screens. Use signage to communicate your core brand message. Just make sure everything is sincere, honest and cannot be contradicted by a thorough online search later!
As for product information, consumers are now used to getting more detail on an online product page than you can fit on standard packaging or labels. Even being able to scan this information quickly can give consumers the confidence to buy. But nothing is stopping you making this information available in store, too. Kiosks can be deployed as information points for consumers to look up product details, as well as to complete self-service transactions. On-shelf digital touchscreens can serve a similar purpose.
You can also make sure your sales personnel are armed with the right information to answer any questions customers may have. In-depth product details are available at the touch of a button through any modern POS system, and should be aligned with the information on your web store. Using mobile POS tablets empowers clerks to take this information with them as they assist customers wherever they happen to be.
In summary, no retailer can afford to ignore the fact that consumers are more curious about their purchases than ever before. But that curiosity comes from being better informed than ever before, from having access to better information. That’s what consumers now expect, wherever they shop. As a retailer, providing that information to help your customers make informed purchasing decisions is part of establishing brand trust in the modern world.