Consumers choose marketplaces over retailers for better price, service and speed – and they give them their loyalty, global study finds

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Marketplaces and brand sites are beginning to gain the edge over traditional retailers as shoppers look for better deals, better service and fast delivery on ecommerce.

So finds a study by Salesforce, which assessed the digital shopping behaviour from 500 million shoppers and 1.4 billion ecommerce transactions  worldwide, with a specific survey of 6000 consumers in six countries.

When asked “You’re making a purchase through a brand, retailer, or marketplace. If the price is the same everywhere, why do you choose each channel?” While consumers still prefer retailers for their strong customer service (think Nordstrom and REI), marketplaces and brands beat retailers in every other consumer preference category.

In fact, 56% went to marketplaces for price, 51% for product variety, 50% for availability and 48% for inspiration, the survey found.

Brands win shoppers’ preference when it comes to product quality, innovation, and uniqueness. Retailers must lean into their service strengths by modernizing tactics through emerging tools like video chat or always-on chatbots. They should also aim to improve shoppers’ perception of product quality and availability.

Perhaps more concerning is the finding that marketplaces are winning the ‘second purchase’ and, ultimately, the customer’s loyalty, finds the study.

When asked: “Imagine you want to buy something you’ve never bought before. Where are you most likely to go?” Between the choice of retailers, brands, and marketplaces, consumers said they made 50% of first-time purchases from retailers, followed by marketplaces (31%) and brands themselves (19%).

Salesforce next asked consumers: “Now imagine you want to buy it again. Where are you most likely to go?” This is where the story changes: When it comes to repeat purchases, marketplaces handily beat retailers, with 47% of repeat purchases made on marketplaces, followed by retailers (34%) and brands (20%)

This points to marketplaces if not winning over user’s loyalty, but certainly heavily eroding retailer and even brand loyalty on repeat purchases.

So what are shoppers getting from marketplaces and brands that traditional retailers are failing to give them?

According to the survey, its speed and customer service that consumers really want – and this is what they get from brands and marketplaces. The research found that meeting shoppers’ expectations is now about fast retail — offering shopping journeys, transactions and experiences that move at the speed of the shopper: 69% of consumers say it’s important or very important to see new merchandise each time they visit a store or shopping site.

Additionally, 75% of consumers’ site search queries are brand new each month, showing just how fast consumers are discovering new product types, brands, and features. Within the top 5% of best-selling products on ecommerce sites, the majority of them (59%) change monthly. That means retailers and brands can’t sleep on analysing shopper searches and delivering the ever-changing items they seek in real time.

On the product side, 59% of shoppers say they’re more likely to buy from brands that offer customised products. Our mystery shopping study noted brands like American Girl, Adidas, and Lacoste offering exclusive personalisation that went far beyond the monogram to make shoppers part of the creative process.

Shoppers reward brands that go beyond transactions, dollar signs, and orders to bring relevance and resonance to the relationship. How do these brands do it? Through values, personalisation and service.

Values play a key role too. 45% of shoppers are more likely to buy if the retailer/brand gives a charitable donation with their purchase. Additionally, nine of the top-rated 10 brands in the mystery shopping study had above-average scores in creating an emotional connection. Brands like Lush, Everlane, and Life Is Good lead with values — and shoppers are following.

The survey also shows that retailers need to believe the hype about personalisation, with 6% of ecommerce visits that include engagement with AI-powered recommendations drive an outsized 37% of revenue. In a landscape where 64% of shoppers say they feel retailers don’t truly know them, AI-driven personalisation is a critical tool.

As Christmas approaches, shoppers seek direct support, but knowledge bases and self-serve options (like forums and chatbots) are increasingly preferred by customers. Empower customers to find their own answers — they’ll take advantage of it.

Download the study

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