Money Talks, So Should You

3 things retailers need to learn fast

With 78 percent of all U.S. shoppers online, retailers' next steps are becoming clear.

Brian O'Connell
by Brian O'Connell, MainStreet contributor

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Consumer confidence is on the rise, especially after the resolution between Congress and the White House to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff in early January.

“This is likely related in part to the resolution of the fiscal cliff issue early in 2013. While the improvements are moderate, this shift in views does signal that American consumers are entering 2013 with an overall improved economic outlook,” Ipsos/RBC says in a report released Thursday.

One area of growth is the online shopping market.

In a study from Cisco, Catch and Keep Digital Shoppers, the technology giant says that 78 percent of all U.S. shoppers now use the Internet to research and buy goods and services. But Cisco says 60 percent of online consumers “expect more value in their shopping experience,” and of that group, 53 percent expect greater price visibility, 37 percent want easier ways to find products and 39 percent want faster and easier ways to buy.

READ: Big retailers team up on mobile payment plans

But what is driving the seismic shift to digital commerce, and what do increasingly engaged consumers want from their online shopping experience?

Cisco took a good look at that issue, too, and came up with these key consumer trends:

  • Stores should be as good as their websites. Consumers expect retailers to match their bricks and mortar shopping experiences with their online experiences. “A majority of shoppers, categorized as ‘Digital Mass Market,’ have advanced beyond the capabilities of many retailers,” Cisco says. “These shoppers expect stores to operate with the same information, transparency and speed as their favorite website, and two-thirds are interested in personalized shopping experiences when visiting a store.”
  • There should be more bricks-and-mortar access to digital content. Online shoppers are very clear on another point: Even if they are in a bricks and mortar store, they expect that store to provide digital content access through touch-screen kiosks or via smartphone or tablet computer access, mostly for product availability, price comparisons and coupons. Cisco says 71 percent of respondents say they want direct access to digital content in the store.
  • Online reviews of stores and products matter. Consumers are latching onto online customer reviews as a dependable way to gauge a product or a service. Online ratings and reviews are especially popular, with 52 percent of online consumers depending on them before making a purchase. Interestingly, consumers favor online ratings and reviews 4 to 1 over advice from store employees.

READ: Do the math on "bucks" deals from retailers

The bottom line? Retailers better get cracking on the digital front if they want to attract more shoppers.

"It's now very clear: consumers prefer to shop through bits and bytes, with the majority of shopping behaviors and expectations shaped by online sources,” offers Dick Cantwell, vice president of the Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group, which produced the study. “To shift shoppers into buyers, retailers need to merge online and physical services to meet the demands of today's digital shoppers."

Retailers should do that sooner rather than later, or risk falling behind as increasingly picky online shoppers choose to go elsewhere with their renewed confidence.

And their money.

Brian O’Connell has 15 years of experience covering business news and trends, particularly in the financial, health care and career management sectors. He has written 14 books and appeared on CNN, Fox News, CNBC, C-Span, Bloomberg, CBS Radio and other media outlets and in such publications as The Wall Street Journal and The Street.com. He is a former Wall Street bond trader.