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Oracle’s Netsuite division recently put out the Future of Retail report (free with registration) in partnership with Wakefield Research and The Retail Doctor.  The global study of 1,200 consumers and 400 retail executives across the U.S., U.K. and Australia found a huge disconnect between what retailers think shoppers want, and what shoppers actually want.  Major differences are found in areas spanning the overall retail environment, social media, personalization and the use of advanced technologies such as chatbots, artificial intelligence (AI), and virtual reality (VR).

Bob Phibbs, better known as The Retail Doctor, shared with me some of his more interesting takeaways from the study, and why the gap is so wide between retailers’ perceptions of what customers want, and customer expectations for experiences they want retailers to provide them.  Below is an edited transcript of our conversation. To see the full convo, watch the video, or click on the embedded SoundCloud player below.

Small Business Trends:  Give us a little of your personal background.

Bob Phibbs:  I work with brands, big brands typically, like Lego and Yamaha and a bunch of other people, to how do I maximize the customer engagement level at a brick and mortar store? I’ve been doing this in my 25th year. I started off in the trenches with working retail. I’ve also been an entrepreneur and I’ve been a franchisor.

Small Business Trends:  One of the things that jumped out to me when I first saw an email was the headline, ‘Alexa, 95% of consumers don’t want to talk to a robot when shopping’.

Bob Phibbs:  95% of retailers think VR and robots and all this stuff, when planning for the future, that that will make people feel more comfortable. Shockingly, what is it? 13% [of consumers] actually said that would make a difference for me going in a store. I think that really was an interesting point.

Yes, one can say, “We need to go to the cutting edge,” but it’s not like an iPhone. It’s not like people are saying, “Yeah. Give us this.” It’s more like, “This seems like a good idea, right? This seems like a good idea. Will customers come after it?”

There’s another recent survey not that long ago, Brent, that was talking about yes, voice is really important. However, they’re not shopping by voice. In fact, what most people use an Alexa and that stuff for is play music and what’s the weather? People don’t feel comfortable and confident in shopping on a voice-enabled device.

Small Business Trends:  What were some of the other main takeaways from the study that you find would be of interest to a lot of folks?

Bob Phibbs:  97% of people said that there remains to be a need for a brick and mortar retail store. I think that points to obviously the health of brick and mortar. We have left behind the 2017 retail apocalypse. “Stores are crappy, no one will ever go there again. We’re all just flying cars and eating avocado toast”.

The other disconnect I took out of the survey is that, in general, when you polled retailers, I think it was like 53% felt that they were providing an experience that made consumers feel more confident and less stressed and less alone. That’s what it is.  But less than 13% of consumers said that.

They actually said the opposite, “I feel more stressed, more alone and more anxiety when I go into a brick and mortar store.” How does somebody feel anxious and alone? You’re not talking to anybody and you’re left in these, essentially, warehouses of products that all look the same. In fact, I was just at the new Nike store in Soho the other night. It’s fascinating seeing the way they have remerchandised the store.

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