2020 has proved a challenging year for consumers and retailers alike. For retailers and brands, keeping a finger on the pulse of changing customer preferences is proving the key to rapidly innovating and redefining shopping journeys for long term reliance and success.
A recent study of 2,000 UK and US shoppers reveals how consumers have adapted their shopping behaviours and routines in response to the evolving coronavirus crisis. Indications are that many of these new habits are set to be adopted for the long-term.
Massive shift to online
A massive 58% of consumers say the recent crisis prompted them to seize the moment and try out shopping online for items they would previously only have purchased in-store – with 65% rating their overall experience as very good.
This impressive surge in digital adoption means brands and retailers need to prepare for a continued uptick in demand for omnichannel services such as home delivery, click-and-collect, and curbside pickup, as consumers continue to hone their multi-channel skills.
However, that’s not the only fast-paced shopping evolution in shopping patterns on the horizon. Over a third (36%) of consumers were also inspired to check out other new shopping modes – with appointment-based shopping in-store, remote personal shopping appointments, and scan-and-go apps proving especially popular.
New omnichannel shopping habits are here to stay
The crisis has propelled consumers into adopting new ways of shopping. For many, the ease and convenience of the innovative shopping modes they’ve encountered in recent months means they plan to continue to use these options well into the future.
Around a third of consumers (31%) said they want retailers to continue to offer ‘click and collect’ and curbside pickup services once the current crisis is over. Similarly, 27% of all consumers are eager to continue to engage with virtual shopping opportunities and consultations via social media and video. Bringing the in-store experience into consumers’ homes with live-streamed try-on and product discovery sessions will be key for retailers that want to accommodate newly established consumer shopping behaviours and expectations.
Consumers want retailers that make them feel safe
In a post-COVID world, consumers need to feel confident about how the retailers they plan to shop with are going to run in-store services – and manage social distancing.
Those retailers that can tempt consumers in-store, demonstrating they have measures in place to manage social distancing and the flow of customers in and out of their premises, will be best positioned to capture future spend for the long term.
Over one-third (34%) of consumers said that, in their opinion, retailers that offer pre-booked appointments rather than a walk-in system are more likely to be proactively managing shopper traffic and are taking the safety of staff and customers more seriously.
Shoppers still want the human touch
Despite the recent surge in digital and omnichannel adoption, when it comes to certain product categories, consumers prefer shopping for certain items in-person.
The ability to see, touch and feel products remains a critical requirement for over half (55%) of UK consumers when shopping for clothes. It’s a similar story for consumers shopping for clothing accessories; 38% of consumers prefer making these purchases in-person.
Almost half (47%) of consumers say the human-touch aspect represents an integral element of their retail shopping experience – one they increasingly crave, regardless of whether they shop online or in-person. So, brands will need to ensure their physical and virtual offerings incorporate more individual service opportunities for consumers, as the lines between the online and in-store experience become increasingly blurred.
What can retailers do?
Brands and retailers that want to respond to new customer needs and preferences will need to:
Connect with customers in new and inventive ways – Brands and retailers will need to accelerate their digital engagement channels and adapt fast to the needs of an increasingly diverse customer audience. But they will need to do more than just shift to an online model – they also need to be able to replicate the seamless shopping experience that customers crave. With potential further lockdowns or additional in-store restrictions on the horizon, retailers will need to respond to the growing consumer desire for ‘zero contact’ service options – like click-and-collect – and focus on innovative ways to care and connect with customers – like virtual appointments.
Accelerate agility – Initiating digitally-led low touch experiences for consumers who are trying out digital and remote experiences for the first time is just the start. As consumers switch permanently or increase their use of digital channels, brands will need to keep their finger on the pulse where the delivery of seamless omnichannel services are concerned. Leveraging technologies that keep them relevant – and ahead of the competition - will be key to success.
Go beyond transactions to deliver meaningful customer experiences – the pandemic has propelled a rapid and permanent shift in consumer shopping behaviors. With consumers reluctant to leave their homes, enticing them to enter the store requires new capabilities. Whether that’s offering intuitive appointment booking options that puts consumers in control of when and how they visit - and demonstrates a retailer’s socially responsible commitment to providing a safe and sanitized in-person shopping experience. Or virtual appointments that enable shoppers to curate and personalize their remote shopping experience.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer shopping behaviors have evolved at pace. Today, more and more are using a mixture of traditional online and in-store shopping and are eagerly taking advantage of new technologies that enable them to tailor their remote and in-person shopping experience to their exact needs. In this new hybrid-shopping reality, consumers are seeking out truly optimized, agile and frictionless services that will enable them to engage on their terms. The implications for brands are clear: the pressure is now on to deliver the personalised one-to-one experiences and shopping journeys that build stronger customer connections.
John is the CEO at JRNI