Retailers are being urged to unite their online and in-store shopping experiences as research suggests more consumers are using the internet to research an item before heading into a store to purchase it.

According to Qmatic, a tech company providing insights into consumer journeys, 70% of retailers are seeing an increase in the number of customers researching purchases online before they head into store. Physical stores, it says, do play a "vital role" in the future of retail as they allow the consumer to see and touch the physical item before making a decision on buying it. 

"Retailers must deliver a consistent, seamless experience across all retail channels," notes Vanessa Walmsley, managing director at Qmatic. "With increasing numbers of customers trying items in-store and then purchasing online, retailers must continue to invest resources in improving the customer journey and ensuring the success of brick and mortar stores."

The research – carried out by market research firm Vanson Bourne – surveyed 100 retailers with over 501 employees. Qmatic's own survey into the shopping habits of over 2,000 consumers revealed 80% researched a product online before purchasing it.

Conversely, the research found 87% of consumers used the physical store to view or try on the item, before heading online to purchase it.

This can result in retailers missing out on potential sales and revenue, as customers seek cheaper prices online. 

"Our research reveals that physical stores have a vital role to play in the future of retail, enabling consumers to see an item in the flesh, which they may only have seen online, before they buy it. Many customers do not feel comfortable buying a product online without seeing it first, and enjoy the experience and convenience of being able to take the item home with them immediately.

"However, omnichannel retailers face a real challenge to maintain sales volume when confronted by the convenience of online shopping, as consumers take advantage of the opportunity to research an item in-store, for example trying on clothes, and then order it online at a potentially cheaper price," says Walmsley.

Amazon is endeavouring to tackle the issue through its newly launched try-before-you buy Prime Wardrobe service, allowing customers to order the product online and try it on for free then send it back if they are unhappy with it. The more the shopper keeps, the higher the discount he/she earns on the purchase.

Amazon to offer "try before you buy" service