Ride in the Shopping Cart


Whatever happened to customer service? It seems more retailers are asking you to serve yourself – and claiming it’s a convenience. The customer is always right, it’s said, but exactly how many customers are clamoring to scan, bag, price match and otherwise do all the work themselves?

While supermarkets and other retailers are eager to show how hip and high-tech they are, with everything from online ordering to scan-as-you-go apps, a new study indicates that customers aren’t impressed.

The newly-released 2013 Shopper Experience Study from Cognizant and RIS News lists what it calls the five most over-hyped high-tech trends in the retail world. All are things that retailers have been pushing, but a survey of 2,500 shoppers found that many customers simply don’t care about. Taken together, the top five “myths” lead the researchers to conclude that “Technology is Cool, But Shoppers Want Service.”

Myth #1: Mobile shopping is the wave of the future
Sure, we’ve embraced online shopping, though the future of online grocery shopping is still a big question mark (read: “Will We Ever Really Order All Our Groceries Online?”). What about when it comes to that tiny little screen on your smartphone – would you use that to select and pay for your stuff?

It’s important to have an online presence and a mobile app, the study says. But its survey found that shoppers make less than 3% of their annual purchases using mobile devices. The rest they buy using a desktop computer or – surprise – in an actual store. Mobile shopping may impress the Millennials, but not so for virtually everyone else.

Myth #2: Price matching is the answer
It’s easy for stores like Target to promote its price matching policy, because they know few people will even bother taking advantage of it (read: “Target: Price Matching is Nice, Because No One Actually Does It”).


And that’s the problem, according to this study. “There is no substitute for getting price right the first time,” the researchers conclude. If a retailer advertises the best prices, then it should offer the best prices – without asking the customer to do the work. “Price matching does not save sales that are lost when shoppers walk out of stores without buying.”

Myth #3: Shoppers want more self-service tools
Walmart is experimenting with letting customers scan their own products as they shop (read: “Walmart Plans to Introduce Digital Coupons”). The grocery chain Fresh & Easy eliminated cashiers altogether and made every lane a self-checkout station – and now the chain is on its last legs (read: “Disastrous Grocery Experiment Was Not So ‘F & Easy’ After All”).

Those surveyed in the Shopper Experience Study said that “inefficient checkout is worse than no self-checkout.” Despite retailers’ investment in self-scan and self-checkout technology, the study found that “personalized experiences rank well ahead of interactive ones.”

Myth #4: Social media’s impact on shopping is increasing
Are you a Facebook fan of your favorite store? Are the customer service reps who staff the page helpful, or kind of clueless? Retailers have been investing a lot of time and effort in their social media efforts (read: “Your Grocery Store Wants to be Your Facebook Friend”). But sometimes all they can tell you online is that they’ll pass along your concerns to the appropriate department – then you never hear from anyone again.

“Shoppers are more likely to want to discuss problems with live people or fill out surveys than they are to post comments on social media sites,” the study’s authors find. Social media is a nice way to interact, they say, but it can’t be a replacement for actual customer outreach.

Myth #5: Cross-channel fulfillment is a key customer expectation
You can save on shipping costs if you order online, then pick up your products in store. But many customers still aren’t impressed with this ability, the study says. “Order online/pick up in-store is easy to get wrong and can result in disappointed customers,” the authors conclude. Customers demand seamless pricing and service that are often missing with such a service.

Ultimately, stores can give us the ability to order, scan, price match, pick up and pay for our purchases on our mobile devices, without ever coming into contact with another human being. But there’s a reason it’s called “customer service”. Customers, it seems, would still actually like to be served.

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