July 10, 2012, 3:28 PM

Online shoppers see the future, and what they envision are showrooms

Most shoppers expect physical stores to become giant display cases, a survey finds.

Lead Photo

Bricks-and-mortar stores have long existed as places where money changes hands and consumers walk out with products. But according to a new global survey, such thriving centers of commerce face a future in which more of them will serve as oversized display cases for all sorts of consumer products.

A Capgemini survey of 16,000 online shoppers around the world found that 51% of them expect that by 2020 many physical stores will exist merely as a place to show products available for online order. The survey report, “Digital Shopper Relevancy,” polled web consumers in 16 countries to arrive at its findings. Those countries include the United States, China, Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Russia and Turkey.

While the report offered little additional detail about the nuances of consumer expectations for bricks-and-mortar retailing, it says that consumers in developing markets seem more likely to consider physical stores as showrooms for products available on the web—and that a third of consumers in more mature markets hold the same view.

The expectation  of more showrooming comes as most consumers envision a shopping experience that combines various channels, including social, web, mobile and physical stores.  60% of global respondents say that by 2014, the “convergence of retail channels will be the norm,” according to the report from the consultancy. “However, achieving this will be a challenge, as more than half of shoppers said that most retailers currently are not consistent in the way they present themselves across channels.”

The web—not e-mail, mobile or social media—remains the most important way for the online consumers who were surveyed to research products and shop. 80% of respondents in developing countries, along with 63% in more mature markets, put the Internet at top. In second place was e-mail. 

In the two big Asian consumer powerhouses, digital shoppers are bypassing traditional retail. 72% of survey respondents from India, and 69% from China, say they buy more products in a single online transaction than in one conducted inside a store. That compares with 31% from the United States who say the same thing.

That doesn’t mean one should sound any funeral bells for physical stores, though. Globally, 56% of respondents said they would spend more money at bricks-and-mortar retail locations if, prior to going there, those consumers had researched products digitally.

Still, 73% of global respondents expect to find lower prices online than inside stores.

E-retailing also beat physical stores in another area. When visiting bricks-and-mortar stores, 41% of global respondents say they would want to be identified via their smartphones. Online, 61% of global respondents welcome the idea of online stores keeping track of browsing and purchasing histories to speed shopping.

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