NEW YORK/LONDON: Consumers increasingly expect an omnichannel shopping experience but retailers are lagging far behind as they struggle with technological and organisational challenges, according to a new report.

Accenture and hybris software polled 1,503 omnichannel shoppers and 256 decision makers in retail and manufacturing organisations in the US, UK, France and Germany to evaluate retail omnichannel attitudes and capabilities. The subsequent report – Customer Desires vs Retailer Capabilities: Minding the Omni-Channel Commerce Gap – found that consumer expectations were exceeding retailers' ability to deliver.

Some 71% of shoppers expected to view in-store inventory online, while 50% expected to buy online and pick up their purchase in a physical store. But only 36% of the retail decision makers surveyed said that their companies were able to provide customers with in-store pickup of online purchases, online visibility of cross-channel inventory and store-based fulfilment of online orders.

And while retailers were aware that omnichannel maturity would act as an important brand differentiator – 46% already had a dedicated omnichannel team – almost all (94%) indicated that they faced significant barriers in their efforts to achieve that.

Technology was an inhibiting factor. Some 40% of retailers were having trouble integrating back-office technology across all channels. And the survey highlighted a key area for improvement, which was the ability to have a consolidated, accurate view of real-time inventory across stores and distribution centres.

In addition to the need to keep track of stock, companies needed to keep track of customers as retailers admitted difficulties in sharing customer data and analytics between channels, countries and locations.

Other internal issues that required action included the existence of conflicting priorities, organisational silos and a lack of in-store associate training.

"The research indicates that many retailers are operating with a 'false state of omnichannel comfort'," said Brian Walker, chief strategy officer at hybris.

"The reality is that the customer is way ahead of many retailers in defining what competitive shopping patterns are, not only across channels, but within each channel."

In-store pickup of purchases by consumers emerged as a key capability that brick-and-mortar retailers must be able to provide their customers if they expect to compete effectively against online-only retailers.

Nearly half (47%) of the consumer surveyed said they used in-store-pickup options to avoid online shipping costs, 25% chose it to be able to collect their orders on the day of purchase while 10% simply found it more convenient to collect items from a store than have them sent to their home.

Data sourced from Accenture; additional content by Warc staff