From mall to mobile: Adjusting to new consumer habits

PwC’s Global Consumer Insights Survey 2018

In PwC’s Global Consumer Insights Survey, we explore where habits are developing and changing the most – channels used to shop, delivery speed of online orders, and inspiration of purchases – and how companies can benefit by adjusting their businesses accordingly.

  • The past three years have seen increases in weekly bricks-and-mortar shoppers, from 40% in 2015 to 44% in 2018. The rise in physical store shopping could be attributed to a desire for a more sensory and social experience.
  • Consumers want to know what their peers think: social media was the #1 choice when asked where respondents went online to get inspiration for purchases.
  • Companies can address these trends by paying attention to smartphone dynamics, making investments to artificial intelligence and focusing on store experiences.

How channel habits are shifting

Since we first surveyed in 2010, it seemed people were buying from physical stores less often. By 2014, only 36% of respondents said they shopped at bricks-and-mortar at least weekly. But since then we have seen increases in weekly bricks-and-mortar shoppers, from 40% in 2015 up to 44% in this year’s survey. Physical shopping is, in fact, not falling out of favour as an activity. Why have weekly store visits been on the rise? It’s likely that shoppers are seeking something else. Instead of a practical errand, they’re seeing shopping increasingly as a sensory and social experience.

The main drop-off has been in purchases by personal computer (PC), which fell from 27% to 20% over the six-year period. Tablet buying rose only slightly, from 8% to 12%. But mobile commerce more than doubled, from 7% to 17%—and will likely soon surpass PC-based buying.

Sources of inspiration: the new influencers

Another new habit has major ramifications for how companies communicate sales messages: consumers want to know what their peers think. When asked where they went online to get inspiration for purchases, a plurality (37%) chose social media, with individual retailer websites at 34%. Perhaps most interesting was that emails from brands or retailers were named by just 14% of global respondents, meaning that that mode of outreach doesn’t resonate with consumers who reject intrusive sales pitches and searching for authenticity.

Addressing new consumer behaviour

Together these new habits — smartphone-based shopping and the in-store experience — offer an opportunity for savvy retailers and manufacturers. They can reduce their on-site inventory and free up space for a more engaging showcase of their products, offering brand-complementary activities. And thanks to the ubiquitous smartphones, these investments may not be so capital-intensive. Instead of making room for large in-store video screens, for example, stores can simply invite shoppers to access videos on their smartphones from the cloud.

Ambitious retailers can go further and offer virtual reality, but this trend is still moving slowly. More than a third of respondents still had not experienced this technology in stores, and of those who did, only slightly over half were satisfied.

Companies should respond to these new consumer habits by shifting their focus and investments accordingly. That means more attention to smartphone dynamics, as well as investments in AI and store experiences. New business practices to support these investments can help companies go with the flow of new consumer behaviours, rather than fight the current.

Contact us

John G. Maxwell

Global Consumer Markets Leader, Partner, PwC United States

Tel: +1 (646) 471 3728

Oz Ozturk

Global Advisory Consumer Markets Leader, Partner, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7703 563 054

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