15 Apr 2021
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Virtual shopping, augmented reality could soon replace tactile shopping - study

By Shannon Williams

New Zealanders still prefer to shop in stores, despite the spike in online shopping due to the COVID-19 crisis, a new study has revealed. 

Research by consumer intelligence platform Toluna showed that across the board, the majority of Kiwi shoppers still prefer to shop in store, particularly when shopping for groceries (78%), furniture (75%), home improvement tools (80%) and personal care products (69%), sporting equipment (64%) and clothing (64%), with just over half preferring to shop in store for beauty products (55%) and electronics (59%).  

However, the research, which surveyed 511 New Zealanders between 12-14 March 2021, found the rise of virtual shopping experiences such as augmented reality and online product try-ons may soon replace the need for tactile shopping experiences, with 62% of New Zealand shoppers more likely to purchase product they have tried on virtually. 

Tactile, real-life experiences key 

According to the study, customers said that online shopping is convenient (68%), saves time (57%) and makes it easier to compare prices (55%). But despite its benefits, less than half of the respondents (40%) actually enjoy online shopping, with another 46% on the fence, stating it depends on the store.  

For those who have been shopping more online due to COVID-19, its the tactile, real-life experiences they've missed the most about shopping in stores, such as hand picking items (76%), trying things on (66%), testing items before buying them (53%) and face to face customer service (50%). Interestingly, tactile shopping experiences are more important to women, with 78% stating they miss hand picking items and 71% who miss trying things on, compared with only 73% and 61% for men respectively. On the other hand, 55% of men stated they missed in-person customer service, compared with only 45% of women.  

Virtual experiences sway purchasing decisions 

As online retailers improve their e-commerce sites introducing experiences such as virtual product try ons online shopping may become more enjoyable. Of the 10% who had tried on products virtually online, the majority (70%) were satisfied with their experience, with 62% stating they are more likely to purchase products they have tried on virtually.  

The highest levels of customer satisfaction were found amongst those who virtually tried glasses (58%), clothing (79%), make up (88%), shoes (67%) and watches (75%). Likewise, shoppers were more likely to purchase hair colours (67%), glasses (63%), clothing (63%), make up (81%) and shoes (60%) and watches (75%) after having tried them on virtually.  

Further, almost one in five of all respondents (19%) believe trying on products virtually is as good as trying on a product in real life; with 22% stating they would be willing to spend more on a product if they were able to virtually try it on before purchasing.  

Customer service bots need improvement  

Live chat bots, however, received mixed reviews from respondents. Just under half the respondents (48%) believed chat bots were a useful tool while a third (30%) disagreed. When it came to helping drive online purchases, 36% thought chat bots positively influenced their purchase, while 34% said they were unlikely to make a purchase after using one.  

The biggest complaints about chat bots were that they were unable to solve issues (54%), they continually redirected customers to self-serve FAQs (44%) and respondents felt the chat bots blocked them from accessing a live person (43%).  

Stephen Walker, regional director, Toluna, New Zealand said the research highlights the importance of experience for shoppers, whether in-person or online.  

"We hear a lot about the importance of experiential retail, and these results show us that experience is as important as ever," he says. 

"Shoppers want to touch and feel products, to try them on, to speak to customer support people in real life. Bricks and mortar retailers can take comfort in this and continue to provide the best in store experiences for their customers. 

"For e-retailers, it's clear that price and convenience alone isn't enough to keep people exclusively shopping online post-COVID," Walker adds.

"Customers crave a tactile shopping experience, so the e-commerce sites which are adding experiential features like AR and virtual product try ons, are the ones who will remain competitive long term."
 

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