May 30, 2008, 12:00 AM

Consumers peer into the future and see more ways to connect

By 2015, consumers expect more ways to connect with online retailers, including via mobile phones and online shopping communities. But consumer preferences for such options vary widely among international markets, TNS Retail Forward reports.

What will shopping be like in 2015? Consumers overwhelmingly expect there will be more ways to communicate with one other and to connect to online retailers via the web and mobile phones. But whether they will use these services is another matter.

While U.S. consumers have mixed feelings about new technologies, shoppers in some other countries-especially China and Spain-tend to be far more enthusiastic, according to a survey of primary shoppers in eight countries by retail research and consulting firm TNS Retail Forward.

For instance, while 30% of U.S. respondents like the idea of joining forces with other online shoppers to increase their buying power, and 11% say they would likely take advantage of the opportunity, 62% of Chinese and 37% of Spanish shoppers like the idea, and 40% of Chinese respondents and 21% of Spaniards say they would likely use such a service.

Consumers universally believe such collaborative shopping networks are likely to exist by 2015, with 79% of the respondents in the eight countries taking that stand, including 75% from the U.S.

Influencing the source

The idea that most appeals to U.S. consumers is addressing manufacturers directly about how products can be improved through web sites and online surveys. 38% find the idea appealing, 16% say they’re likely to do it and 80% expect to see it within seven years.

“Consumers will not wait to be invited by manufacturers to collaborate-they will become vocal advocates of change,” says Mary Brett Whitfield, senior vice president of TNS Retail Forward. “So R&D; will actively engage the customer at a very early stage.”

Four of five U.S. respondents expect that by 2015 there will be online social networks where shoppers share information about the hottest stores, designers and trends. Among U.S. consumers, 14% find the idea appealing, 5% say they are likely to participate in such networks.

As these networks develop, retailers and manufacturers will jump into the conversations, which will help to shape new product development, says Arnaud Frade, a regional director at TNS. “Smart retailers and savvy suppliers will learn from what they hear shoppers talk about, and they’ll provide more of whatever makes their customers happy,” Frade says.

As for using a mobile phone to place orders and arrange delivery, 22% of U.S. consumers find the idea appealing, 3% say they are likely to use such services and 74% expect to see them by 2015. The concept has much greater appeal in Asia and Europe where consumers are more accustomed to advanced cell phone features: 47% of Chinese and 36% of Spanish consumers call the idea appealing.

No rush for texting

Somewhat less attractive to U.S. shoppers is the idea of opting in to receive sale and product information by text message to a cell phone when walking near a favorite store. Only 13% of U.S. consumers find that idea appealing, 5% say they’re likely to participate and 77% expect to see it by 2015.

“Retailers looking to rush ahead with mobile marketing should take note as there appears to be a lot of resistance out there,” says James Sorensen, executive vice president of TNS Retail & Shopper Insights. “This also raises questions of invasion of privacy, but I’d expect shoppers to accept more intrusive marketing techniques and strategies from retailers in future years.”

TNS conducted the survey in Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.

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