eCommerce & Merchandising

IBM Consumer Expectations Study Insights: Yesterday’s “Good Enough” Is Today’s “Not Even Close”

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As many as 10 years ago, consumers were already clear about their expectations for a seamless brand experience across all channels with retailers. [85% percent said they “expected” such a seamless experience, and ­­­­­­­­82% said they expected that experience to be consistent regardless of the number of channels involved.] Last year, we completed our IBM Consumer Expectations Study of 1,500 U.S. consumers that probed consumers’ present-day omni-channel expectations and compared them between genders and across six age brackets (13-19, 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60+).

IBM 2016 Consumer Expectations Study Image

The 2016 study is a reprise of a study we conducted five years ago. In 2011, we found fairly significant differences between those 29 and younger and those 30 and above. In this year’s study, we were anxious to see whether those in their 20s—who had held such diverse views from those in their 30s and above—would, now, carry their expectations from five years ago into their 30s… with approximately half of our respondents who were in their 20s in 2011 now in their 30s. Indeed, in the 2016 study, we generally see a shelving of common attitudes from those 39 and below versus those 40 and above.

As a general statement, nearly everything that we studied 5 years ago has, at least, remained as important in 2016. But, it’s worth noting that the importance of several of the areas studied in 2011 has increased substantially since then…elevating those capabilities from “nice to haves” to “have to haves.” In fact, we chose to force the issue in this iteration of the study. Rather than simply asking consumers how important each capability is to them, this year, we asked how important each capability was for “choosing to shop one retailer over another.” Said differently, we wanted to know which capabilities were so important that they would cause the consumer to abandon a retailer that did not have a particular capability in favor of a retailer that did. In so doing, we are now able to call out those retailer characteristics and capabilities that are competitive differentiators.

Over the weeks to come, we’ll be highlighting key findings from the IBM Consumer Expectations Study. Those findings broach a variety of pivotal topics… each of which we tested for how competitively differentiating they were for consumers. Where differences in age brackets and genders revealed themselves, we’ll call those out. And, where significant shifts from 2011 exist, we’ll highlight those areas of evolving consumer thinking, as well.

As a preview of what’s to come, consider the following areas that the study revealed as valuable to consumers—and, therefore, important to retailers:

  • Retail Out-Of-Stocks (OOSs) – Consumers’ impatience with OOSs has not abated since we probed the topic 5 years ago. In fact, how consumers respond to encountering an OOS has escalated sharply in terms of severity of reaction. It’s important to note, however, that there is light at the end of the tunnel for those able to quickly and efficiently recover from that OOS.
  • Stores and omni-channel shopping – Based on what consumers consider important in a retailer they’ll choose to shop, most stores are woefully behind in their ability to deliver a seamless brand experience across channels during the shopping (i.e., pre-purchase and purchase) phases of the brand experience. Now, more than ever before, consumers expect to effortlessly navigate across channels as they investigate possibilities and finalize their purchase decision. And, stores can no longer remain islands of isolation from other channels and still live up to current consumer expectations.
  • Stores and the post-purchase experience – Numerous retailers are capable of supporting in-store pickup or return of online purchases…but, at what level of consistency and convenience to the consumer? With consumers having experienced these capabilities for well more than a decade, the question is no longer whether or not you offer these options—that’s table stakes, now. Instead, consumers have evolved in their expectations for what the post-purchase experience should be.
  • The “brand relationship” vs. the “brand experience” – In a world where consumers’ allegiance to one retailer over another are so significantly influenced by a retailer’s capabilities, the study shows the critical importance of the brand experience and its ability to deepen the brand relationship to strengthen loyalty and ward off competitive incursions. But, the aspects of the brand experience that consumers consider most influential for the brand relationship might surprise you.
  • Social interaction – The interaction of consumers via social channels has absolutely exploded since our 2011 study. And, the influence that consumers have over each other’s perceptions of retailers is stronger than ever. But, consumers have also made it clear that they want to interact with their favorite retailers via social channels. And, they’ve provided clear insights into where they’d like that interaction to focus.
  • Marketing interaction – Consumers provided clear indicators about the marketing channels through which they’re most comfortable receiving promotions. And, they weighed in on the degree to which the offers they receive effectively reflect past brand interactions.
  • How critical sis expedited delivery? – The study revealed clear differences in sensitivity to shipping charges and/or the importance of reduced delivery windows? It also showed who is most willing to pay extra for heightened service levels.

The IBM Consumer Expectations Study provides several highly relevant views into consumer preferences and expectations and how they’re evolving over time. I look forward to sharing key insights from the study in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, for those wanting to explore the results of this study in greater depth, the study’s complete findings are available via an on-site executive briefing that can be scheduled for your senior management team. This gratis briefing can be tailored to cover the portions of the study you deem to be most relevant to your company. In addition, content can focus on the age range and gender(s) closest to your particular target market. To inquire about scheduling a Consumer Expectations Study Executive Briefing contact: Cindy Thierry (  or speak with your IBM sales representative.


Learn more about Watson Commerce


Senior Omni-channel Strategist, IBM

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