Zebra Study also shows seven in 10 retailers in APAC pressured to improve returns efficiency as close to 80% of shoppers prefer retailers offering easy returns
Zebra Technologies’ 16th Annual Global Shopper Study confirmed that retailers are feeling the omnichannel squeeze, particularly with managing online returns and reducing shrink caused by theft, fraud and other contributing factors.
Globally, eight in 10 retailers agree minimizing fraud/shrink is a significant challenge (82%), and the ability to forecast demand is important to their organization (86%). In APAC, retailers’ responses stand at 74% and 89% respectively.
According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), retailers lost US$112 billion due to shrink in 2022, up from nearly US$94 billion in 2021.
The Zebra study indicates that 36% of global retailers (40% in APAC) believe better analytics on shrink could help drive profitability. Many retailers expect to deploy loss prevention analytics (49% globally, 55% in APAC) and demand planning and forecasting (54% globally, 61% in APAC) by 2026.
While omnichannel shopping causes challenges for retailers, most shoppers prefer options. Nearly eight in 10 global and APAC shoppers favour a blend of online and in-store shopping, while 75% global and 72% of APAC shoppers choose to shop with online retailers that have a brick-and-mortar location.
As omnichannel shopping continues to grow, the volume of returns increases along with it. Around seven in 10 of global and APAC retailers say the pressure is mounting to improve the efficiency and expense of managing online orders, returns, and the fulfilment process.
Six in 10 retailers say they are upgrading their returns management technology by 2026. In APAC, more retailers are in the process of upgrading at 74%, 12% higher than global retailers surveyed.
Store associates will be pleased with this technology investment. Among associates managing returns from online orders, 74% globally and in APAC, cite frequent returners as their top challenge. This year, the ease of making returns has moved ahead as a leading reason shoppers choose to shop in stores, outpacing comparison shopping.
Where easy returns for global shoppers have increased slightly (32% in 2022 to 33% in 2023), APAC shoppers reported the greatest increase of 7%, from 32% in 2022 to 39% in 2023. The increase in returns has impacted retailers globally, growing to US$1.8T according to the IHL Group.
“We are seeing a significant uptick in both sales and returns as e-commerce continues to grow,” said Christanto Suryadarma, sales vice president for Southeast Asia (SEA) and South Korea, Zebra Technologies Asia Pacific.
“What's becoming increasingly apparent is the pivotal role of technology in navigating this competitive landscape. Retailers are realizing the importance of employing technology to smartly manage the surge in demand and ensure a seamless and efficient handling of orders and processes.” Christanto Suryadarma
The returns conundrum also impacts related industries, particularly warehousing. Retailers are tapping into the power of technology to help manage returns with 62% globally (68% in APAC) saying they plan to deploy reverse logistics technology by 2026 to better manage fulfilment pressures. Nearly three in 10 (31% globally, 32% in APAC) of retailers think charging a fee for online orders from frequent returners could potentially improve the overall profitability of online orders.
Consumers dialling into digital checkouts
Since 2020, the number of shoppers who favour digital payment applications has increased substantially; solutions like ZebraPay align with this trend. Those preferring pay/checkout anywhere in-store almost doubled from 15% to 26%, mobile payments jumped from 33% to 50% and “just walk out” to avoid a long checkout line doubled from 14% to 30%.
In APAC, shoppers who preferred pay/checkout anywhere jumped from 16% to 28%, opted for mobile payments went from 46% to 58% and walked out due to long queues soared from 17% to 33%. Meanwhile, more than 4-in-10 (48% globally) of consumers opt for self-checkouts, with three-quarters (75% globally) saying it helps improve their experience. This is also true for 45% and 74% of APAC shoppers respectively.
Hence, there is a clear signal that consumers want to settle their shopping experience quickly and will adopt any means to get to the end of the line. Unsurprisingly, most retailers agree that self-checkouts deliver value.
Eight in 10 of them agree the investment in self-checkouts is paying off (87% globally, 88% in APAC), as this technology allows associates to work on higher-value tasks and improves the customer experience.
However, around eight-in-10 retail decision-makers and associates agree store shrinkage and theft a major issue with self-checkouts. These sentiments are similarly echoed in APAC by 85% of decision-makers and 79% of associates.
Moving modern retail forward
In anticipation of the advancement of retail offerings, consumers understandably have high expectations for technology. In fact, eight in 10 of surveyed consumers (80% globally, 81% in APAC) expect retailers to use the latest technology, and seven in 10 (74% globally, 77% in APAC) say it improves their shopping experience. In alignment with this trend, over half of retailers plan to deploy handheld mobile computers (56% globally, 64% in APAC), scanners (54% globally, 61% in APAC), RFID (61% globally, 69% in APAC) as well as task (54% globally, 62% in APAC) and workforce (56% globally, 62% in APAC) management software by 2026.
Store associates will favour this outcome as the study shows 84% of both global and APAC associates feel more valued–and view their employer more positively (81% globally, 79% in APAC)–when they have the technology to help them do their work.
Today, 77% of associates–up from 67% in 2022–feel shoppers are better connected to information than they are. There is a similar increase for APAC associates, from 64% in 2022 to 73% in 2023.
“In view of ever-evolving consumer expectations, providing a seamless experience is no longer a luxury but a necessity - whether it is browsing, acquiring, consuming, or returning merchandise,” said George Pepes, APAC Vertical Solutions Lead, Healthcare and Retail, Zebra Technologies. “The successful operation of a modern store needs to elevate the customer experience, foster stronger engagement among retail associates, optimize inventory management to build brand preference, and increase profitability in today’s dynamic environment.”