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The COVID-19 pandemic took retailers through a range of emotions and actions.
First, there was fear as grocery stores (for some reason) ran out of toilet paper. Then there was adaptation as businesses did the best they could given the circumstances. Now, retailers are focusing on innovation as we all do our best to operate in the new normal.
Make no mistake, however—Big changes are coming for retail after COVID-19, and there’s no going back.
The adaptations retailers are forced to implement now on account of the pandemic will become the new baseline for consumer experience if they’re good enough. Once you expose consumers to a new level of convenience, lower price, or better fit, their expectations will be set there at a minimum moving forward.
As tragic as a global pandemic of this scale is, there simply isn’t any time to waste for retailers. Amazon will continue to devour market share because it already has the systems in place that facilitate what consumers want—Price, selection, free and fast delivery, just to name a few.
But there will always be room in the market for quality goods and services; it’s just on the retailers to add customer experience as a focal point right next to product or service quality.
The future of retail is happening now, so it’s all about how retailers are going to respond.
Today, we’re going to examine some retail trends and innovations brought on in response to the pandemic and provide some insight into how vendors can use them to their advantage.
“Big changes are coming for retail after COVID-19, and there’s no going back.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic definitely helped boost e-commerce among brands and consumers alike—2020 saw a 27.6% increase in global e-commerce sales.”
It’s not exactly a secret that e-commerce has been steadily growing year-over-year for quite some time now with no signs of slowing down. The 2021 forecast is $4.891 trillion 😳.
The COVID-19 pandemic definitely helped boost e-commerce among brands and consumers alike—2020 saw a 27.6% increase in global e-commerce sales.
This growth was partly driven by the fact that people who had never bought anything online before 2020 did so, and retailers that had never sold anything online before 2020 followed suit. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. This, of course, is in addition to the millions of people who were already shopping online.
But the question is—Was it a spike, or is this part of the new normal that retailers will need to adapt to?
If you’re still reading, you likely realize it’s the latter. But before we get into the specific action items you’ll need to consider to stay relevant, reverse stagnation, or continue your growth, let’s examine a few key realities.
In order to stand out, increase conversion rates, and encourage repeat purchaes, data has never been more important. Things like customer location, user preferences, and product data can (and should) be used to boost business.
Developing a data-backed, 360º view of your customer will become a necessity moving forward.
Can you, technically, buy a wedding dress online? Yes.
Will the majority of brides-to-be purchase their gowns online? Likely not.
Although COVID-19 has accelerated a shift away from physical locations, there will likely always be a place for storefronts for specific niches in the hearts and minds of consumers, global pandemic or not. Some things just require the personal touch and that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. More on brick-and-mortars in just a bit.
First, BOPIS was considered a luxury feature. Grocery stores capitalized on it to great effect. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, it became a necessary safety precaution.
Now? And in the future? It’s an expectation of the majority of your customers. For a variety of reasons (shipping cost, location, etc.) this is the ideal scenario for many consumers.
In-store, things are going to be a bit awkward for a while. Some folks will want to wear masks and keep their distance, others will yearn to return to their pre-COVID shopping habits.
Don’t make consumers feel weird and don’t take this opportunity to make a political statement. Keep some masks on hand and train your staff on how to deal with common situations that may arise.
Now let’s take a look at what we can do to thrive in retail after COVID.
“Customer service needs to extend beyond the purchase and provide a deeper, more robust digital experience.”
Here are a few ideas to take the lessons learned from successful retailers into a post-COVID retail landscape.
Customer service needs to extend beyond the purchase and provide a deeper, more robust digital experience.
If somebody won’t come into the store, it’s important to offer things virtual product demos and try-at-home opportunities that allow customers to experience your product or service with a modicum of safety. Loosening the restrictions on your return policy will definitely increase conversion rates, but you’ll also need to look at how that affects revenue, margin, and other retail metrics.
Additionally, you might now consider your omni-channel presence as part of your customer service strategy. People have built-in preferences for how they discover and buy products, so it’s important that you’re willing to meet them where they are.
You’ll also likely want to pursue enhanced digital customer service protocols such as live chat and NPS surveys to help and understand your customers better. These features can (and should!) be built in with your web and mobile applications.
If you decide to maintain a physical presence, it’s more important than ever to clearly establish why a customer should go in store. After all, if there are safety concerns due to a pandemic and your online shop can provide what they need, why would anybody show up?
As we mentioned above, some people will still see in-store shopping (or at least pickup) as their best option, and others will consider it so long as it’s attractive enough.
Two quick ways to increase the in-store experience are:
By adding both safety and convenience to your in-store shopping experience, you’re effectively overcoming objections.
If you really want to take it over the top, however, you’ll need to do more. There’s a reason Barnes and Noble has a coffee shop attached to their bookstore—They’re giving people a space to enjoy their time.
Is there anything you can offer in-store, an escape from their home or their office, that would offer 90 minutes of fun for your customer? Things like kids areas and programs (if your customer base is comprised of parents) are an example of something you can’t replicate online.
We know the modern, post-COVID consumer has a new set of preferences and expectations when it comes to retail, and that business owners will need to adapt to stay relevant and thrive.
So the question is:
Do you want to upgrade your in-store or digital experience first?
The answer will be different depending on your business, but if you’re looking to refine your digital presence to capture more market share and/or increase the conversion rate or lifetime value of your customers, we are here to help.
Our goal is to provide clients with a best-in-class, customized, business-centric digital solutions that prepare them for whatever is next. Check out some of our case studies to see our work in action.
“By adding both safety and convenience to your in-store shopping experience, you’re effectively overcoming objections.”