Never before have shoppers had higher expectations than today. As economic pressures persist, they’re becoming more discerning in the brands they engage with, and why. But spoilt for choice in a vibrant, saturated industry, it’s very easy for them to look elsewhere if their needs and desires aren’t met. A positive experience is a major driver of retention, while a poor experience has a big impact on churn.

Providing the customer experiences they need and demand isn’t a set-and-forget, it’s an always-on commitment to reviewing and refining your operations as their expectations do. Lightspeed’s Retail Insights and Shopper Sentiment research sought to understand what Aussie consumers are looking for, and how retailers can meet and exceed their expectations. Here are a few key considerations.

Bricks-and-mortar remains a sturdy foundation

During, and in the wake of, the pandemic, the already growing shift towards eCommerce exploded. It shows little sign of slowing down, too. According to a report released earlier this month by Australia Post, Aussies spent $63 billion online in 2023. One in seven households shop online every week. But don’t let that fool you that the highstreet is dead. Far from it, in fact.

The tangible experience that brick-and-mortar retailers provide still holds a fundamental attraction for customers. People still like and want tactile, human experiences. In fact, three in four Australians shop in-store at least once a month. Over half (56%) say the ability to see products in real life encourages their decision to shop in-store over online, while 46% also want to compare items in person. The key, though, is treating in-store and online not as two separate channels, but two halves of the same strategy.

Clicks-and-mortar: Unifying physical and digital

Shoppers today truly are ‘omnichannel’; they frequent numerous channels, online and offline. Unifying both your online and offline strategies in one seamless approach is crucial to create a consistent experience, and cater to as many shopper habits as possible. According to our research, almost half (45%) research an item online but then proceed to buy it in a physical store.

What’s more, a further 42% of shoppers said their decision to shop in-store is dependent on whether they are able to check the products’ availability online, prior to their in-store visit. Tying these two formerly disparate channels together is essential. Being able to use your online channels to, for example, find your store location, check in-store inventory and register for any experiential experiences (more on that later!) is essential.

Rethinking loyalty beyond discounts

When consumer spending is down, as it has been for much of the last 12 months, being able to rely on a loyal customer base is important. Two in five shoppers say the availability of loyalty schemes is the important factor when it comes to their decision of which brand to engage with. Discounts and loyalty schemes aren’t the only driver of loyalty, though.

Flexibility, choice and convenience are also major contributors. For example, 19% said options like click and collect were important, 15% want payment flexibility, like buy now pay later options, while a further 14% valued additional services like repairs, alterations and personalisation. And don’t forget about the post-purchase experience. Over half (53%) consider free returns as standard practice now. All this suggests that customers no longer merely want a transactional experience, and that retailers who provide more of a holistic experience that meets their needs could earn their long-term loyalty.

Build engagement through community and experiential retail

Irrespective of the challenges they face, Aussies are still unwavering in their support of local businesses. However, in a competitive market, you do still have to incentivise them through the door.  One in four shoppers are more likely to visit a local store if it offers unique and locally-made products, while 34% say their heads are turned by special deals for locals. One in four (24%) say they’re looking for businesses who have shared values with them, so identify ways that you can connect with them on a more meaningful level.

And finally, use your store as a place to connect, not simply transact. Immersive or ‘experiential’ experiences, like DIY workshops, demonstrations, or classes can be low-cost ways to incentivise customers in. Not only does it encourage people to stay longer in your store, it enables you to build the relationships that are so important for retention.

There are many elements that retailers need to succeed, but two of the most important are understanding and adaptability. Understanding what your shoppers want is essential to drive loyalty and build deeper relationships, while adaptability allows you to evolve as their needs – and the industry around you – evolves.

Andrew Fraser is managing director for APAC at Lightspeed.