While the local mall used to be the main destination for getting your retail on, today’s multichannel marketplace means never having to step foot in the food court again. But are contemporary consumers really eschewing in-store shopping for online channels, or is the call of the storefront–not to mention the curly fries —still strong despite our increasingly technology-driven society? Let’s take a closer look.

The Many Meanings of Multichannel

Every discussion about contemporary consumerism begins and ends with one word: multichannel. And while it initially brings to mind the many ways today’s consumers can make purchases, the concept involves much more than merely acknowledging brick and mortar, mobile methods, and everything between. Why?  Because the channels themselves are not as revealing as how consumers choose to use them.  In fact,  multichannel reflects an amalgam of consumer behaviors, including shopping across different channels depending on the type of purchase or occasion; using multiple channels even when buying from a single retailer; and using multiple channels when making a sole purchase.


Not yet familiar with the terms “webrooming” and “showrooming,” meanwhile? You will be.  According to one report, the former behavior — engaged in by 88 percent of consumers — involves performing online research before making an in-store purchase while the latter — engaged in by 76 percent of consumers — involves scouting out products in a brick and mortar store before making an online purchase.


Need more proof that multichannel is where it’s at? How about that internet retailing juggernaut Amazon just opened its first physical store, or that Walmart recently debuted online grocery shopping with in-store pickup? What to make of it all? These companies aren’t leaving anything to chance. It’s not just about brick and mortar stores attempting to compete in the digital space, or about e-retailers staking a claim on the storefront. Rather, it’s about maneuvering to address all points of distribution.


Multichannel and Considered Purchases for the Home

It’s important to note that all multichannel experiences are not created equal. In fact, according to research from PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PWC), the degree to which multichannel factors in directly relates to the products and services sought. For example, while just under 50 percent of shoppers prefer to do their grocery shopping in-store because they want to inspect their own avocados and peruse the gourmet cheese selection first-hand, near-60 percent are content to buy movies, music and books online because there’s no perceived benefit to trying before buying.


So where do homeowners contemplating big ticket items, renovations and upgrades fall in the mix? According to PWC, consumers on the journey to purchasing furniture, home goods and electronics are most likely to utilize multiple channels before slapping down their credit cards. Why? Because the investment involved in making these purchases mandates advance research.


Some specific takeaways for the consumer furniture and home goods markets?

  • A near-even mix of consumers prefer online (44 percent) and in-store (47 percent) research channels.
  • 68 percent prefer making in-store purchases compared to just 26 percent who prefer buying online.
  • A mere 16 percent have purchased directly from the manufacturer online.
  • More than half (57 percent) made at least one online purchase in the past year while five percent exclusively made online purchases.


Now let’s look at the breakdown for the DIY/home improvement market:

  • Shoppers are evenly split (44 percent each) between preferences for online and in-store research.
  • 64 percent prefer making in-store purchases compared to 28 percent who prefer to buy online.
  • Just 12 percent have purchased directly from the manufacturer online.
  • 59 percent made at least one online purchase in the past year while six percent exclusively shopped online.


And yet again the numbers yet stack up differently when it comes to the consumer electronics and computer market:

  • 68 percent prefer online research compared to 27 percent who prefer in-store research.
  • 44 percent prefer to purchase online compared to 49 percent who prefer making in-store purchases.
  • 49 percent have bought directly from manufacturers online.
  • 61 percent have made at least one online purchase over the past year while nine percent have exclusively made online purchases.


The One Thing All Retailers Need to Know

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again:  the one thing that matters more than anything else when it comes to courting today’s consumer is delivering an experience. For e-commerce, this means using technology to streamline the consumer’s path from research to purchase by being available and proactive when it comes to meeting their needs.


But the concept also applies to augmenting the in-store experience through technology. For example, while in-store demonstrations may have traditionally been facilitated by a sales associate, retail industry watchers predict that the product demos of the future will increasingly include technology, such as digital displays, touch screens, beacons and RFID in order to deliver more dynamic and personalized interactions.


And speaking of product demos, are they still an effective means of reaching the 21st century consumer? Indeed. In fact, a staggering 96 percent of consumers prefer to make purchases at stores which offer in-store product demonstrations over those that do not, according to one study. Not only that, but an equally impressive 95 percent of shoppers want more non-food product demonstrations in stores. Want to prompt an impulse buy? Foster brand loyalty? Even charge more for the same product?  Product demonstrations, along with other live events aimed at cultivating the consumer experience  (as opposed to triggering a mere transaction) are the way to go.


Want to really sweeten the deal, meanwhile? Offer a free or discounted trial of a product or service. According to Contemporary Marketing, Update 2015,  doing so is a proven way to increase conversions.


We’d be lying if we didn’t say it was a lot to take in. In fact, today’s retailers have their work cut out for them when it comes to keeping up with how consumers are researching and buying, along with the complex relationship between the two. One thing, however, comes in loud and clear: With multichannel here to stay, the more you know, the more you can leverage this knowledge into actionable insights for navigating the changing terrain and staying ahead of the curve.