Retail Evolution

We Know Shoppers Want Instant Gratification. Now what?

Kate Silver

Looking back through today’s lens, it seems that in the past, "impulse" shopping wasn’t necessarily that impulsive. To be an impulse shopper, you first had to be standing in a store that was selling goods, and you had to have funds available. Today, however, impulse shopping—and even eating, listening to music, watching videos, ordering a car service—can happen anytime, anywhere, with the help of services such as Alexa, Google Express, Uber Eats and other right-at-your-fingertips sites.

Thanks to technology, the concept of instant gratification is more instantly gratifying than ever before. “The impulse to buy things hasn't changed, but expectations surrounding the actual act have,” writes Doug Straton, Hershey’s chief digital commerce officer, in a column for Entrepreneur. “We've always wanted things now — but now we can actually get them.”

That brings retail opportunities into a whole new era. Leaders in retail know that customers want a convenient, stress-free shopping experience — but their competitors know that, too, and are delivering. Moving forward, the key is to offer not just that convenient, stress-free shopping experience, but that extra something that will keep customers coming back. Here are three things to consider as retail evolves beyond instant gratification:  

Omnichannel is a given. Today, the best retailers are dedicated to shopping experiences that blend digital and physical platforms, seamlessly. Walmart and Amazon have made strides in this realm, and there are plenty of lessons to learn from Warby Parker, which started as a digital-only outfit and then began building brick-and-mortar stores, to the delight of customers. To offer prime convenience, retailers must strike a balance between their online and physical presence. “I prefer to think of a frictionless retail ecosystem as a step up from where we are now,” says Straton. In doing so, they’re giving customers the convenience and access that they’re asking for.

Service is imperative. Data-driven service is an area to watch in the coming years. Subscription businesses, whether they’re meal preparation boxes, shaving packages, pet gear or other items, have a unique opportunity to establish a relationship with a customer through regular, ongoing contact. These businesses get to know their customers in a personalized way — to the point where it’s not just the products being sold that stand out with these companies, says Straton. It’s more than that. “Yes, they sell physical products, but they are really selling services — and they can iterate those services to you much faster than they can a physical product. This provides a different type of value to the shopper,” he says.

What’s old is new (and it delivers). When it comes to food, it sometimes feels like we’re returning to our roots. We want to know where our food comes from, and that means developing a relationship with, say, our local farmers, butchers and dairies. But, lest we step too far back in the past, there’s this: data-driven technology is making it easier than ever to connect with those small businesses and purchase, for example, a burger made from a single Wagyu cow via Amazon, milk from a local dairy, or organic fruits and vegetables farmed just a few miles away, without ever leaving your house or talking to a single human being. “Because data can and increasingly does underpin supply chains from farm-to-table (or sustainable sourcing or ethical practice-to-home), interesting opportunities are arising,” says Straton. Today, companies can drive loyalty by offering customers easy access to these specialized businesses, while also adding value to their service.

In the marketplace of the future, convenience is a given. To stand out amid the sea of subscription services and on-demand delivery buttons, retailers must focus on stellar service. In this 24/7 world of access, what can you extend to your customers that will keep them coming back? Your answer to that question may be the gateway to your success.