NRF And Forrester: Digital Touchpoints Impact Nearly Half Of All Retail Sales

"Smartphones are driving retail sales more than ever, and retailers have found that even modest investments in mobile initiatives can result in huge returns,” NRF Research VP Artemis Berry said about the study conducted by Forrester.

For those retailers still not sold on whether omnichannel programs are worth the cost in return for vague promises of “enhancing the in-store experience,” a joint study by the NRF and Forrester suggests that the ROI for digital touchpoints are clear.

In keeping with the stable dynamic that notes 90 percent of all consumer purchases are made in a physical store, Forrester’s 2016 forecast projected direct online sales of 11.6 percent of total U.S. retail transactions ($394 billion).

But the figure that brick-and-mortar brands might want to take notice of: digital touchpoints actually impacted an estimated 49 percent of total U.S. retail sales, the Forrester/NRF report says.

How Key Are Smartphones?

Still, some numbers make strike some digital retail advocates as exasperating. For instance, 54 percent of retailers — a glass half full or empty? — say  that mobile is one of their top initiatives in 2017. That’s followed by marketing (46 percent), site merchandising (42 percent), and omnichannel efforts (22 percent).

“Smartphones are driving retail sales more than ever, and retailers have found that even modest investments in mobile initiatives can result in huge returns,” NRF VP for Digital Retail Artemis Berry said. “This is no longer a new way to reach customers, but it has certainly become a highly effective method and one that boosts the level of customer engagement across the brand.”

Among retailers surveyed, smartphones, on average, drove roughly 30 percent of online sales and 47 percent of online traffic. Meanwhile, sales made on smartphones were up an average of 65 percent year-over-year.

VR And AR Can Wait

Augmented reality and virtual reality are often pitched to retailers as part of making their stores showrooms more exciting. The idea is for brick-and-mortar businesses to become destinations that can entertain and dazzle consumers by cloaking store items in the latest tech toys.

But as Neiman Marcus’ Innovation Lab head Scott Emmons told GeoMarketing during CES, despite the curiosity about AR and VR, the clear customer use case hasn’t materialized.

The Forrester/NRF study bore that view out. Most stores are “foregoing flashy emerging technology” like VR and AR. Instead, they’re putting money into tools that directly impact the customer experience.

Technology Must Directly Impact Sales

About 45 percent of retailers surveyed said mobile initiatives generally improved their overall digital customer experience. Customer service topped the list of new initiatives retailers will invest in over the next year, with features like live chat offering them an opportunity to connect with their customers.

Those findings indicate that Intel’s announcement at the NRF Big Show that it would devote $100 million to retail technology appears perfectly time. In a presentation with Levi’s, Intel highlighted its Responsive Retail Platform and how it would solve the perennial store problem around inventory management.

“Today’s customers are empowered with information and technology,” Forrester VP and Research Director Fiona Swerdlow said. “To grow, retailers know they have to operate with a customer-obsessed mindset to deliver the experiences that consumers now expect at every touchpoint. It’s about having all aspects of the business — stores, mobile, merchandising, customer service, fulfillment and more — work together to deliver total value to your customers wherever they are, at any time.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.