“The Store E-Volution” report is presented on the changes in buying habits in Italy. The research team interviewed various retailers who tell how the challenge posed by technology is affecting their localization strategies.

Whether the buying experience takes place online or in the store, in Italy there are 3 main factors that drive consumers: quality of products, speed of purchase and lower cost. CBRE’s “The Store E-Volution” report aims to understand the habits of consumers and their relationship with physical and virtual commercial spaces when shopping for non-food items.

Although Italians are very active on social networks – around 58% of Italians are active on the internet – only 39% buy online, which is lower than the European average of 65% (Source: Eurostat). This is partly due to the infrastructure gap of our country compared to Europe in terms of digitalization, which places it in 25th place in the European DESI (Digital Economy and Society Index) ranking. However, the trend is improving: Italy has been included in the group of countries that are recovering rapidly. In the last year it has made rapid progress towards the EU average.

From the survey conducted by CBRE, 61% of those interviewed continue to prefer buying in shops: being able to touch, try on and see the product is still a priority. Only 23% tend to prefer buying online and 10% choose online as the only way they make purchases. The advantages of e-commerce are better pricing (60% of interviewees), a wider product range (53%), the fact that it is easier to compare prices and products (52%), and the possibility of buying anywhere and at any time (51%). When asked what retailers who have both an online and a physical store should be offering, most of the people interviewed, 50% and 51% respectively, said the possibility of returning items purchased online to the shop either to change them or to get a refund. This shows what the real problem of further developing the online channel is and that is returns, which for the consumer mean a sublimation of the online buying experience whereas for the retailer they mean greater costs and often less profit margin too. That is why in the future logistic distribution will be increasingly important in retailers’ strategies.

When asked what the most interesting services that retailers could offer in the future were, the sample of people interviewed said that the most important thing was home delivery on the same day of the items purchased in the store (42%). This was followed by a greater integration of online and offline services with the possibility of returning items to the shop directly (36%), whereas only 19% of the people interviewed were interested in the possibility of using virtual reality in the future to try a product or a service.

What emerged from the interviews was that today retailers are responding to the new needs of consumers by integrating the features of online stores into their physical stores: more flexibility in their layout and a greater assortment of items that change more quickly, the possibility of choosing a product in the store and then buying it online (showrooming), the possibility of choosing online and buying in the shop (webrooming), introducing digital payment methods, and putting in place click and collect and click and reserve services.

Nearly all of those interviewed said that technology was a useful tool for encouraging interaction between the consumer and the store. Technological innovations are increasingly being used to understand the habits of consumers in the store (big data) and analyse them to the full in order to foster both a greater involvement of the consumer and higher sales volumes. The changes under way will pose new challenges to real estate players in the future.

Marcello Zanfi, Head of A&T Services High Street Italy - CBRE Italia
Today the risk of shops becoming obsolescent – and indeed buildings in general – is greater than in the past and there is a growing need for investors to guarantee that their investments are future proof and that properties are able to support new technologies so as to ensure a greater occupation of the spaces and reduce the risk of vacancy. Retailers are devoting more attention to studying an optimum operating model that combines online and offline sales, paying particular attention to costs. This is why there is growing demand for more flexible contracts, that make an exit possible if there is a change in company strategy or if the format is not working. Pop-up stores could be a partial solution to this kind of problem because they allow retailers to test the market without having to commit to a long-term contract.
Marcello Zanfi, Head of A&T Services High Street Italy - CBRE Italia

To download the full report, click here.