I now live in a world where robots can pack my groceries. I can get them delivered to my home by drone the same-day I order them and if I can’t be bothered to unpack them to make dinner I can go ahead and order takeout through my TV. Everything seems perfect! At least that’s the line I’m being fed by the marketers and technologists behind some of the leading retail brands.

I, along with billions of other consumers, have become the kind of futuristic shopper I used to watch in Sci-Fi movies but, the moment something’s a bit off… it’s more ‘B-movie’ when I want ‘Oscar Best Picture.’

New research from Elastic Path, drawing on data from over 1,000 consumers and 300 B2C brand marketing professionals, validates this underwhelming sense I’m feeling. It highlights that the flashy experiences marketers are working their socks off trying to create are miles away from the features today’s consumers actually need and want. The reality is that shoppers are excited about more futuristic experiences but not at the expense of convenience.

The likes of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and facial recognition receive a lot of hype when people consider ‘futuristic’ retail. But, what people like me really want is to quickly pick something up on the school run from a location of our choice or specify a time that we’re in the area so we can get our hands on what we want at a time convenient to us. Oh, and order and pay the way we want. This shouldn’t be too much to ask.

Where the Disconnects Lie

Brands throw $210B per year at the problem of trying to create sparkly new tech-savvy retail experiences and as a result have over-inflated egos about how well they’re doing. In our research, when asked how well brands are delivering futuristic retail experiences, customers give a score of just four out of ten. Marketers? They give themselves a solid seven. Right there is your first clear disconnect.

Looking deeper into why it seems that retailers are preoccupied with gimmicks and have stopped trying to solve real problems for their customers, (57%) of customers report that they don’t think brands are doing enough to solve their most common pain points.

In particular, brands are undervaluing the role that convenience plays in a great customer experience. When we asked consumers what they expect brands and retailers to offer within the next year, consumers overwhelmingly chose options related to more convenient experiences such as same day delivery and to make payments through smartwatches. Over two-thirds of consumers want checkout less payments but only 18% of brands are offering this.

The common thread: the desire for faster and easier delivery, browsing and, checkout experiences. No typing of passwords or account details, and one-swipe purchases and reordering.

Poor Experiences Continue

Age-old shopper pain points remain and brands still aren’t getting it. We all hate long checkout lines, sitting in traffic to then find out the item we drove to get isn’t in stock, or inexperienced unhelpful staff when you just need to know what aisle the chilled wine is in after a long day at work. We shouldn’t have to take this s*** anymore. We’re all still feeling it and that’s because a lot of brands don’t recognise these pain points as issues.

These figures illustrate the disconnect between marketers and customers even further:

Customer pain point  Percent of shoppers who experience this issue Percent of brands that believe this issue is a pain point
Long checkout lines57%35%
Lack of inventory55%32%
Customer service wait times42%36%
Uninformed staff38%20%

Experiences quickly become disjointed and frustrating. Understanding where customers buy, what they buy and when they buy is critical. The most successful brands build customer centricity and convenience into their foundation.

Getting it Right

There is so much potential if brands get the ‘futuristic’ experience right. For online shopping, 57% of people already use or want to use voice commerce to make purchases and of those that already are, 22% use it multiple times a week and 21% use it at least weekly. That’s a huge opportunity for brands that shouldn’t be ignored.

As customers grow confident and comfortable using voice technology to purchase, it becomes habitual – now that’s something to jump on. Otherwise brands will be missing out on consumers that are up for buying groceries (69%), healthcare & beauty products (67%), books, movies & music (59%) and clothing & accessories (43%) through voice.

As long as brands continue to prove that voice technologies improve day-to-day experience it will only become increasingly integrated into customers’ lives. The same goes for other methods of purchase.

It’s Time to Catch Up

Before you start pouring money into any channel though, you need to start with your backend technology. This must support the fundamentals and the latest innovations without sacrificing customer experience. Today’s shopper doesn’t view the ways they interact with your brand — be it in store, through Amazon Alexa, in a smart dressing room mirror — as separate channels. You can’t treat them that way either.

If, for example, a customer has to enter their payment information or billing address each time they order via a voice device, the point (more seamless, convenient experiences) becomes redundant. They want you to connect their purchasing history across channels, know their address and payment details and have simple sign-on and profile management.

So, when it comes to the more hyped technologies like AR and VR, brands aren’t necessarily wrong – but they have to prove to customers they can deliver on the basics and that this type of tech can really deliver the best experiences possible. Brands have to convince customers they will provide convenience and simplicity.

The Bottom Line

Today’s shopper wants new technologies to solve long standing pain points, not do a fancy trick.

When it comes to new technology, brands continue to chase shiny objects. However, consumers just want to buy the products they need with as little effort as possible. Brands need to make any experience shoppable and second nature to do so. With the right tech, they can enable consumers to purchase almost without thinking, anytime and anywhere. This is a powerful position to be in and I challenge brands and retailers to push convenience together with customer experience to the top of their goals for 2019 and beyond.

With unified customer data across every touchpoint, you set yourself up to adapt quickly to futuristic ones that don’t even exist yet. Don’t you want to be able to do that? I know I do.

Darin Archer

Darin Archer


Darin Archer, CSO at Elastic Path.