Channel Surfing: Adapting Your Business for the Modern Shopper 

By Baillee Perkins
May 15, 2024
A phone and mouse sit on either side of a computer to represent online shopping and retail.

The phrase “times are changing” might be cliché. But, this phrase does ring true for the ecommerce space. While things seem to be on the rebound, the economic climate is still fragile. Times are hard for both online sellers and shoppers. 

We’re optimistic, though. Consumers are continuing to shop, but where and how they shop is changing. Not to mention expectations around delivery and delivery communication are higher than ever before. The key is to understand the modern shopper’s journey, from search to purchase. In ShipStation’s new research report, they uncover how to ensure a smooth shopping experience for every customer. 

Learn more in ShipStation’s 2024 Ecommerce Delivery Benchmark Report

Key Takeaways

  • Hybrid retail is no longer optional. 
  • Unified commerce is the future of ecommerce. 
  • Out-of-home delivery options are seeing a rise in popularity. 
  • Expectations around shipping notifications vary by generation. 

The evolution of retail

Retailers used to sell products through a single channel. Now, retailers need a unified approach across all platforms. In fact, 75% of shoppers will have both physical and digital touchpoints. This means focusing on a single platform is no longer an option. 

The past three decades of ecommerce can be broken down into four major eras. Each of these eras represents a milestone in the world of ecommerce. For this reason, revisiting the past of ecommerce helps us better align with the future. 

  • Single channel (before 1992): Products were originally only sold through one channel.
  • Multichannel (1993 – 2006): Retailers began selling products across multiple channels. This included both physical and digital spaces. 
  • Omnichannel (2007 – 2022): A seamless shopping experience across devices and platforms. 
  • Unified Commerce (2023 – present): A consistent shopping experience across platforms and touchpoints. This is an expansion of omnichannel. 

Know your audience

With ecommerce shifting to a unified approach, knowing your customer base is crucial. Shoppers fall into one of two groups: digital natives and digital adopters. Digital natives are under 45 and include Gen Z and Millennials. Digital adopters are those over 45 and include Baby Boomers, Gen X, and older Millennials. 

In addition to digital natives and adopters, ShipStation created five buyer personas. These personas include: 

  • Online-First Flexers (33%): These are shoppers who favor out-of-home delivery and return options. This group also tends to shop online more than in-store. However, they love convenience and a variety of products and services. 
  • Store-First Flexers (21% – typically older consumers): These are shoppers who primarily browse online but prefer to purchase in-store. 
  • Omnichannel Maestros (19% – younger digital natives): These are shoppers who shop both online and in-person and also utilize out-of-home and home delivery options. 
  • Online-Only Shoppers (16% – Millennials and Gen X): These are shoppers who only shop online. They also opt for home delivery and carrier pickup/drop-off return options.  
  • Store Loyalists (11% – over 65): These are shoppers who only purchase products in-store and prefer physical retail. 

Customer segmentation

Identifying your online consumer base can be tricky. With ShippingEasy, you can see when, where, and how shoppers are buying products. This information is valuable because it helps your business understand the buyer’s journey. 

For example, say you notice most consumers are shopping from their phones. You can then optimize your website for mobile. Or, say consumers are purchasing more products in the morning. You can then send out promo codes earlier in the day. A little insight into a shopper’s journey goes a long way. 

Browsing vs buying

Imagine that you need to buy a new lamp. Where’s the first place you turn? A search engine or social media, right? Consumers are following the same pattern. 57% of digital adopters and 53% of digital natives use search engines for product research.

However, there are two big differences to note: 

  • 37% of digital natives said they use social media for product research. Only 10% of digital adopters agreed. 
  • 7% of digital natives said they use AI/chatbots for product research. Only 1% of digital natives agreed. 

These differences show how unified commerce is vital to your business growth. Digital natives and digital adopters are using different mediums for their browsing. This means your business needs to focus on social media and optimization.

Online vs in-store browsing

Where shoppers browse and buy depends on the vertical. For example, 34% of consumers mostly browse for DIY and gardening products online. However, 40% said they mainly buy those same products only in-store. 

Compare this to furniture and housewares. 38% of consumers said they mostly browse online for these products. However, 28% said they only buy furniture and housewares in-store. Another 28% said they mostly purchase these products in the store. But, they sometimes make online purchases. Take your products into consideration when perfecting your selling strategy. 

Tips for avoiding cart abandonment

Browsing allows your business to reach more shoppers. The catch is that shoppers need to complete their purchase. Here are a few tips to help avoid cart abandonment: 

  • Provide multiple delivery options. 
  • Make your website easy to navigate.
  • Offer free shipping over a specific threshold. 
  • Be transparent about additional fees upfront. 
  • Include a clear and concise returns policy for shoppers. 
  • Simplify the amount of clicks/screens in your checkout process. 
  • Add an FAQ section to your website so shoppers don’t need to contact support.

Download the full report

Meet your customers where they are (literally)

2024 is all about meeting your customers where they are, be it online or in physical spaces. And honestly, your business needs both a physical and digital presence. Consumers are browsing both buying online and in-store. That’s why having both a storefront and an online marketplace is essential. 

Retail is shifting to a hybrid experience. Additionally, retailers have reported a “halo effect” when opening new locations. The halo effect is when retailers see increased online sales when a new location opens in that area. So, a physical store is worth the investment

Alternatives to renting or buying a storefront

We understand that buying or renting a storefront may not be possible. The past few years have been tumultuous for ecommerce retailers. It’s okay to remain cautiously optimistic. While it’s important to have a physical space, there are other ways to incorporate hybrid retail.

If you can’t afford a storefront, you can show your products at:

  • Fairs 
  • Markets
  • Bazaars  
  • Special events 
  • Stalls in stores with multiple retailers 

Also, some stores and service-based businesses will allow small displays in their spaces. You can even connect with other businesses in your area online. Use this opportunity to see if they’re interested in sharing the cost of a space. Splitting the cost of a storefront is cheaper and still gives you the option for hybrid retail. 

Delivery options matter

When it comes to delivery, home delivery still reigns supreme. In fact, 77% of consumers stated they preferred home delivery for nonfood goods. But, there are still geographical and generational factors to consider.

86% of Boomers prefer home delivery, while only 60% of Gen Z prefers home delivery. Another key factor lies within location. 79% of those in rural areas prefer home delivery. However, 67% of those in major cities prefer home deliveries. 

Out-of-home delivery options like Amazon lockers are also gaining popularity. Out-of-home delivery is convenient to those in larger cities and towns, in particular. Shoppers can easily pick up packages while running errands or on their lunch break. This way, packages aren’t left unattended and run the risk of porch piracy.  

Shipping insurance

Whether home delivery or out-of-home delivery, it’s always good to add security. Most carrier services provide insurance or declared value. But, higher-cost items need more coverage. That’s why ShippingEasy partners with Shipsurance

Shipsurance provides additional coverage on eligible shipments of up to $10,000. Simply select the amount of coverage needed when creating your shipping label. ShippingEasy customers don’t need to create a separate login account. Shipsurance also has a straightforward claims process. All claims are also paid out within 7-14 business days. 

Real-time communication is key

There’s a disconnect between shoppers and online retailers with shipping updates. 42% of online retailers think updates should only be sent after a package is shipped. However, 42% of shoppers said they’d like periodic updates with 38% stating they’d like daily updates. Shifting your communication strategy is an easy way to rise above the competition. 

Shoppers are also making their notification preferences known. 44% of consumers want real-time notifications for orders. Surprisingly, all four generations say email notifications are their preferred means of communication. 

Branded tracking

Shoppers prefer real-time email shipment notifications. It might not always be possible to provide real-time updates. But, you can provide customers with customized tracking links. This way, they can track their shipment as it moves through transit. 

Branded tracking sends customers automatic emails whenever their package is:  

  • Confirmed 
  • Given an estimated delivery date 
  • Out for delivery 
  • Delivered 

Consumers can also click the link included in the email for any additional updates. 

Additionally, SMS branded tracking is available for domestic shipments. Like branded tracking, consumers will receive text notifications when their shipment is: 

  • Given an estimated delivery date 
  • Out for delivery 
  • Delivered 

The ecommerce landscape is constantly evolving, and customer expectations are higher than ever. But, you can ensure your business delivers a winning customer experience. Understanding the history of retail and your audience helps you meet them where they are.

This report provides the insights and strategies you need to thrive in 2024. Don’t get left behind. Instead, unlock the secrets to ecommerce success. Download the full 2024 Ecommerce Delivery Benchmark Report today! 

Download ShipStation’s full 2024 Ecommerce Delivery Benchmark Report

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Baillee Perkins

Baillee Perkins is a writer of shipping by day and pop culture by night, so her Google search history is an actual nightmare.

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