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Today’s Empowered Shoppers and Opportunities to Reach Them
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Today’s Empowered Shoppers and Opportunities to Reach Them

Shoppers have never been more empowered than they are today. They’re connected, aware of where the deals and best products are—and they have a more complex path to purchase to navigate. As a result, retailers are challenged to stay on top of trends—and understand what they mean for their businesses.

Today, there’s no bigger trend for retailers than the evolving path to purchase. And with that as a backdrop, the onus is on them to know how consumers are shopping and where. If they don’t, consumers may shop elsewhere, find another vendor’s products more easily or decide to make a purchase because one option is easier than another.

Digital is a big factor affecting the consumer’s evolving path to purchase. App usage in 2013, for example, grew 115%, and tablet usage increased 141% since 2010, both of which highlight the impact digital is having on consumer behavior. Nielsen expects online consumer product goods (CPG) sales in the U.S. next year will be 2.5 times greater than they were in 2010 ($32 billion vs. $12 billion), impressing upon retailers the growing importance of understanding the interplay between online and offline shopping trends.

Touch Points are Expanding

In addition to exploring new digital avenues, consumers are broadening the number of touch points—sources they refer to before and during shopping—and most of them are digital. And this is good news because shoppers who engage with more touch points are more loyal, and retailers that embrace more touch points will command a higher share of wallet and gain higher brand equity scores.

Nielsen research recently analyzed 11 key marketing touch points and found that eight are digital; the other three are print. Today, half of U.S. consumers use between four and seven touch points. The country’s newest group of consumers, Millennials, however, use between eight and 11 touch points. And what’s more, the incremental touch points are typically digital—an added reason why retailers should be growing their touch point offerings.

When we compare this research with the same research from three years ago, it’s clear that digital demand among shoppers is growing, especially among younger generations. As a result, retailers have taken notice. When asked about the role of digital in retailers’ strategy in five years, 54% of retailer respondents replied “critical.”

Print Isn’t Dead

Despite current trends, Nielsen research has found that more retailers believe print marketing is more important than digital. And this belief is not unfounded. According to Nielsen research, today, more than half of all U.S. shoppers still leverage print at least once a week to seek product and sales information. This is nearly 20 points higher than the next-closest digital touch point, emails.

And retailers know the circular is still very much alive. In fact, 68% said print is critical in their strategy, while only 8% said digital is critical. It’s important to note that print has a higher reach than digital, which means retailers will need to balance their strategies rather than simply abandon one for the other. Shopper engagement with product and sales circulars (mailed, in-store, newspaper) is significantly higher across all generations than digital—clear evidence that print is not going away.

Even with the growth of digital, Nielsen research shows that print isn’t dead. Nor will digital be replacing print anytime soon. That’s because consumers are embracing digital alongside print. For example, consumers use print more than digital for product and sales information, while digital is a stronger driver of store choice. On the digital front, Nielsen research found that money-saving websites, money-saving apps, store social media sites and text messages from retail stores have been particularly effective in influencing consumers on where to shop.

In looking at the change over the past three years, shopping engagement with mailed and newspaper circulars for all generations fell 18%. Engagement with Millennials alone, however, dropped 23%, 4 points lower than among Gen X (down 19%). Comparatively, engagement with text and apps increased 26% among Millennials between 2011 and 2014, well above the 12% for all generations.

So while print is and will remain a vital avenue for retailers, digital can’t be ignored. Understanding who the consumers are and how they’re connecting with the various aspects of their lives will drive success going forward. And this isn’t news for most operators. In a recent Nielsen survey, the percent of retailers considering digital going forward is significantly higher than just a year ago. And in that respect, they’re planning to spend more on digital over the next five years—and across all viable touch points: social media, apps and email.