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A new retail battleground: Pricing and the rise of smart shopping

by Alejandro Mondragon , 15.12.2016

With more than a third (38%) of consumers globally concerned about having enough money to “live right” and pay the bills, and almost the same proportion (37%) worried about inflation and higher prices, it’s perhaps not surprising that saving money is a top priority for many shoppers.1

However, our FutureBuy 20162 study shows that this is particularly true for those who shop online compared to in-store (52% vs. 26%). If we look closer still, we see that searching for the best price online is common practice regardless of age group. It seems we’re all “smart shopping”, from Millennials to Baby Boomers.

But are consumers only concerned with lower prices?

Recent economic uncertainties have changed consumers’ definition of value. They’re reassessing and redefining what products and services justify a premium. Our most recent Roper Report study, which covers 27 countries, shows that almost a quarter (23%) of consumers would pay more for a product that makes their life easier, for example. But value is also associated with the actual process of shopping. By being shrewd, shoppers can obtain the best deal for a product. There is value in getting a deal, but there is also value in feeling like a savvy or “smart” shopper.

Shoppers are increasingly savvy

Our FutureBuy 2016 study shows that consumers are shopping smarter, with an increasing number of them indicating that they are checking store circulars for deals/coupons, comparing the prices of stores, and researching products online more than they did a year ago.

A growing number of consumers are also using the internet to find and purchase products more than they did a year ago. Online channels bring transparency to the shopping experience, which could explain this trend. With a choice of online and offline shopping channels, almost two thirds (63%) of consumers indicate that they are learning how to shop more efficiently than before. And a similar proportion (62%) feel more in control than ever before when choosing the best products to buy.

Online shopping heralds greater pricing transparency

The transparency of online shopping has generated two phenomena and further challenges to retailers’ pricing strategies: showrooming (the act of checking out a product in a physical store and then buying it online from a different retailer) and webrooming (the act of checking out a product online and then buying it in-store). Although these previously growing trends (showrooming and webrooming) have stabilized in the past year, they are here to stay. One quarter of all respondents practice showrooming in their journey whilst equal number of respondents (ca. 25%) webroom.

The impact of these trends on consumers’ shopping habits marks the death knell of dynamic pricing strategies, whereby near identical products are sold to different consumers at different prices. Today’s consumers, as we’ve identified, are price savvy. 61% (up from 58% in 2015) indicate that it’s important to them that the price of an item is the same whether they buy it online or in-store. Although some shoppers are prepared to pay more for convenience and to accept price differentials between channels on this basis, we don’t believe this will be the case in the future. And with the ability to air their dissatisfaction with a retailer via social media just a few clicks away for today’s Connected Consumer, woe betide any retailer who ignores such shifts in shoppers’ attitudes.

In summary

The picture painted by these findings makes clear the enormous challenges to retailers’ pricing strategies brought about by the convergence of offline and online shopping. The transparency created by the online shopping channel means that consumers simply won’t accept paying a different price for the same product based on where they buy it. Pricing intelligence is currently used more often by retailers to ensure competitiveness and it is proving effective, but it will never replace a well-thought-through pricing strategy and positioning. Indeed, with the rise of “smart shopping” we could see a new retail battleground emerging soon.

Alejandro Mondragon is a Global Lead of Retail at GfK. Please email alejandro.mondragon@gfk.com to share your thoughts.

1GfK Roper Reports Worldwide Market Brief: Germany, 2015; 27 countries
2GfK FutureBuy 2016, an online survey with 20,000 consumers 18+ in 20 countries across key categories (FMCG, services, consumer durables, automotive, toys, apparel, home improvement, home and garden, furniture etc.)