Retailers are grappling with growing pains as e-commerce grows

Retailers are grappling with growing pains as e-commerce grows
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New parents will tell you that having a baby changes everything. And they’re increasingly telling you online—plenty of people’s social media feeds are full of posts from proud moms and dads.

Little bundles of joy change parents’ online shopping and sharing habits alike, according to new research from Deloitte Digital. Fifty-six percent of consumers in the baby/toddler category use social media while they shop, and 86% read digital product reviews before they buy.

These numbers may not surprise anyone who’s seen loving parents preoccupied with their child’s every need or experienced the child-rearing challenge firsthand. No amount of information is too little when it comes to finding the best products, and the web is full of parents and other experts happy to share their experiences and preferences.

Yet too many retailers offer a shopping experience that fails to integrate and capitalize on these digital trends. Online and offline strategies are still carried out separately, and there is often less attention paid to the way products are presented online as in-store. It’s a sizable misstep—shoppers who use social media are four times more likely to spend more on their purchases.

Though the baby products space is particularly vibrant, online engagement is rising in other categories, albeit at different rates. Digital interactions are expected to influence 64 cents of every dollar spent in retail stores by the end of 2015, or $2.2 trillion. Nearly 8 in 10 consumers (76%) surveyed interact with brands or products before arriving at the store, and are therefore making digitally influenced decisions much earlier in the shopping process.​

It’s not just a teen-driven trend, either. Whether they’re new parents or new homeowners or simply new smartphone obsessives, 23% of online shoppers are between 35 and 44, and 24% are between 45 and 54, significantly more than their share of the US population.

Agile retailers are responding to these changes in numerous ways. Simple nods to the digital consumer like free in-store Wi-Fi can help build trust. Sales associates can combine personalized in-store assistance, which will never be fully displaced, with a working knowledge of product information that the customer may have seen online in advance. Marketing departments must also commit to new tools for measuring, targeting, and customizing their promotions and communications. And if a product isn’t being well received online, design and strategy teams ignore such influential feedback at their own peril.

Just as the social media age allows individuals to broadcast their lives and personalities, retailers can offer an authentic (perhaps even entertaining) window into what they make, how it stacks up to the competition, and why consumers should care about it.

Such lessons are far from just kid stuff, and retailers still struggling for a digital rebirth will need to grow up fast indeed.

This article was produced on behalf of Deloitte by the Quartz marketing team and not by the Quartz editorial staff.