Retailers and consumer goods companies are not meeting shoppers' needs in two key areas - product selection and customer service. These two factors, however, are the most influential in determining where people shop and what they buy, according to a new survey by Accenture.

In a survey of 575 U.S .consumers, almost three-quarters (72 percent) of respondents reported that customer service had a significant influence on whether or not they buy something. More than half (54 percent), however, said that helpful customer service was lacking in stores, and even more (58 percent) said there were not enough salespeople available to help them. Only 35 percent of those surveyed said they were able to get help "most or all" of the time when they needed it.

Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of those surveyed said good product selection played a key role in their decision of where to shop. Yet, more than one-third (38 percent) said limited selection was a common problem they encountered while shopping.

"It's significant that the two chief factors influencing purchase decisions are the same ones that shoppers complain about most," said Keith Barringer, global managing director, Accenture's Consumer Goods & Service practice. "Manufacturers and retailers that bridge this gap to offer better product selection and customer service can reap the rewards - improved sales and margins, for example - of turning shoppers into loyal customers. Bridging the gap, however, takes a dedication to innovation and the ability to be truly customer-centric."

To help companies bridge that gap, Accenture created the Accenture Customer Innovation Network where clients can see new technology and participate in structured innovation sessions to help their companies achieve higher levels of performance. The latest Center in the Network opened in Chicago this month. The first Center was opened in Dusseldorf, Germany and an additional center is planned for Shanghai, China.

Nearly all of the consumers surveyed (98 percent) said they need product information before or while purchasing a product. But, as another sign of the gap that exists between what shoppers want and what they get, less than half (48 percent) said they were able to obtain this information most of the time.

"Companies looking to perform better would be well-served to spend time and effort determining what product and service improvements they can make that will connect with their target customers' needs," said Jeff Smith, global managing director, Accenture's Retail practice. "The first step in this process is to determine who that target customer is and what she or he wants."

Fortunately, it seems there is no shortage of shoppers. Four out of five of those surveyed (80 percent) said they predominantly shop in stores instead of online and more than half (58 percent) report they shop in a store between two and six times a week.

Other survey findings include:

  • Mixed bag. Shoppers' online experiences are mixed. While 54 percent of those surveyed said both online customer service and the service found in stores was bad, 61 percent said it was easy to find product information online and 63 percent said it was easy to compare products online.
  • Shopping is still a chore. Only 14 percent of respondents report that shopping is easier today than it was two years ago. More than one-third of those surveyed (38 percent) found browsing in stores a pleasant experience but almost as many (32 percent) are in a hurry and need to get in and out of the store quickly most or all of the time. Just 17 percent consider shopping to be a leisure outing.
  • Lack of personalized service. Nearly two out of three survey respondents (63 percent) said stores do nothing to reward customer loyalty and that the stores they frequent treat them no differently from other customers. Online, however, it's a somewhat different story. More than half of respondents (55 percent) said online retailers reward their loyalty with benefits, such as special promotions.
  • Price rules. Nearly all of those surveyed (87 percent) said price was the most important factor in deciding where to shop. For those shopping online, price was also the top factor, cited by 77 percent of those surveyed.
  • Going online. More than half (57 percent) shop online for convenience, while 45 percent use the Web for products that are only available online.

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