Zebra's Global Shopper Study Reveals Retailers' Omnichannel Struggles

Zebra's Global Shopper Study Reveals Retailers' Omnichannel Struggles

Zebra Technologies Corporation announced the findings of its 16th Annual Global Shopper Study which confirmed retailers are feeling the omnichannel squeeze, particularly with managing online returns and reducing shrink caused by theft, fraud and other contributing factors.

Globally, eight in 10 retailers agree minimizing fraud/shrink is a significant challenge (82%), and the ability to forecast demand is important to their organization (86%). In APAC, including India, retailers’ responses stand at 74% and 89% respectively. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), retailers lost US$112 billion due to shrink in 2022, up from nearly US$94 billion in 2021. The Zebra study indicates 36% of global retailers (40% in APAC, including India) believe better analytics on shrink could help drive profitability. Many retailers expect to deploy loss prevention analytics (49% globally, 55% in APAC, including India) and demand planning and forecasting (54% globally, 61% in APAC, including India) by 2026.

While omnichannel shopping causes challenges for retailers, most shoppers prefer options. Nearly eight in 10 global and APAC, including India, shoppers favor a blend of online and in-store shopping, while 75% global and 72% of APAC, including India, shoppers choose to shop with online retailers that have a brick-and-mortar location.

As omnichannel shopping continues to grow, the volume of returns increases along with it. Around seven in 10 of global and APAC, including India, retailers say the pressure is mounting to improve the efficiency and expense of managing online orders, returns, and the fulfillment process. Six in 10 retailers say they are upgrading their returns management technology by 2026. In APAC, including India, more retailers are in the process of upgrading at 74%, 12% higher than global retailers surveyed.

Store associates will be pleased with this technology investment. Among associates managing returns from online orders, nearly three-quarters (74% globally and in APAC, including India) cite frequent returners as their top challenge. This year, the ease of making returns has moved ahead as a leading reason shoppers choose to shop in stores, outpacing comparison shopping. Where easy returns for global shoppers have increased slightly (32% in 2022 to 33% in 2023), APAC, including India, shoppers reported the greatest increase of 7%, from 32% in 2022 to 39% in 2023. The increase of returns has impacted retailers globally, growing to US$1.8T according to the IHL Group.

“Retailers are recognising that technology needs to be smartly employed when dealing with returns,” Subramaniam Thiruppathi, Director of Sales for India and Sub-Continent, Zebra Technologies. “While consumers have higher expectations to easily return items more frequently, retailers find themselves in a tailspin trying to manage the increased expenses associated with inventory visibility, reverse logistics and a high-level of returns.

The returns conundrum also impacts related industries, particularly warehousing. Retailers are tapping into the power of technology to help manage returns with 62% globally (68% in APAC, including India) saying they plan to deploy reverse logistics technology by 2026 to better manage fulfillment pressures. Nearly three in 10 (31% globally, 32% in APAC, including India) of retailers think charging a fee for online orders from frequent returners could potentially improve the overall profitability of online orders.

Consumers Dialing into Digital Checkouts

Since 2020, the number of shoppers who favor digital payment applications have increased substantially; solutions like Zebra Pay align with this trend. Those preferring pay/checkout anywhere in-store almost doubled from 15% to 26%, mobile payments jumped from 33% to 50% and “just walk-out” to avoid a long checkout line doubled from 14% to 30%. In APAC, including India, shoppers who preferred pay/checkout anywhere jumped from 16% to 28%, opted for mobile payments went from 46% to 58% and walked out due to long queues soared from 17% to 33%. Meanwhile, more than 4-in-10 (48% globally) of consumers opt for self-checkouts, with three quarters (75% globally) saying it helps improve their experience. This is also true for 45% and 74% of APAC, including India, shoppers respectively.

Hence, there is a clear signal that consumers want to settle their shopping experience quickly and will adopt any means to get to the end of line. Unsurprisingly, most retailers agree self-checkouts deliver value. In fact, eight in 10 of them agree the investment in self-checkouts is paying off (87% globally, 88% in APAC, including India), as this technology allows associates to work on higher value tasks and improves the customer experience. However, around eight-in-10 of retail decision-makers and associates agree store shrinkage and theft is a major issue with self-checkouts. These sentiments are similarly echoed in APAC, including India by 85% of decision-makers and 79% of associates.

Moving Modern Retail Forward

In anticipation of the advancement of retail offerings, consumers understandably have high expectations for technology. In fact, eight in 10 of surveyed consumers (80% globally, 81% in APAC, including India) expect retailers to use the latest technology, and seven in 10 (74% globally, 77% in APAC, including India) say it improves their shopping experience. In alignment with this trend, over half of retailers plan to deploy handheld mobile computers (56% globally, 64% in APAC, including India), scanners (54% globally, 61% in APAC, including India), RFID (61% globally, 69% in APAC, including India) as well as task (54% globally, 62% in APAC, including India) and workforce (56% globally, 62% in APAC, including India) management software by 2026.

Store associates will favor this outcome as the study shows 84% of both global and APAC, including India associates feel more valued–and view their employer more positively (81% globally, 79% in APAC, including India)–when they have technology to help them do their work. Today, 77% of associates–up from 67% in 2022–feel shoppers are better connected to information than they are. There is a similar increase for APAC, including India associates, from 64% in 2022 to 73% in 2023.

“To successfully operate a modern store today, it is critical retailers invest in technologies like mobile computers (TC53/TC58), tablets (ET40), printers (ZQ600 Plus, ZD421, ZD411), scanners (SP72) and software (Zebra VisibilityIQ Foresight, Workforce Communication, Workstation Connect), etc. that elevate the customer experience, engage associates and optimize inventory,” added Thiruppathi. “Consumers demand the way they browse, acquire, consume, and return merchandise to be seamless wherever they shop. To effectively build brand preference, retailers will need to adapt and work in new ways with technology to deliver the shopping experiences consumers expect, more profitably.”

KEY REGIONAL FINDINGS  

Asia Pacific (APAC including India)

More retailers in APAC, including India(87%) believe they need better inventory management tools to improve accuracy and visibility compared to 84% globally. 

Latin American

Over the next 12 months, 64% of Latin American shoppers say they plan to shop in-store and 71% will shop online more over the coming year compared to five in 10 shoppers across both channels in other regions. 

Europe

Retailers in Europe are prioritizing sustainability, with 51% saying it plays an increasing role in their business strategy compared to 45% globally. 

North America

Over three-fourths of retailers (77%) in North America say accepting returns of online orders is a significant challenge, compared to 81% globally.

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