There is no doubt that this past year has been a tough one for retailers. COVID-19 forced retail businesses to quickly pivot and ensure that their customers were being serviced while finding new ways to stay profitable. Knowing that brick-and-mortar operations could be forced to shut down overnight, retailers needed to change how they interacted with customers and how they maintained brand awareness.
Now that the dust has finally begun to settle and many businesses are returning to in-store operations, some retail trends that started as a result of the pandemic will still exist in the “new normal” for retailers. With an immense increase in eCommerce, what will customers expect when they return to their favorite stores in person?
What trends we can anticipate seeing influence the Retail landscape post COVID:
- Personalized Customer Shopping Experience
- Increased Customer Expectations
- Better Digital Platforms
- Hybrid Shopping Channels
Personalized Customer Experience
The customer shopping experience has changed drastically, with consumers placing higher pressure on businesses to meet their demands while also going above and beyond with customer service. With the rise in eCommerce, competition has also increased. It is important for businesses to differentiate their products and brand to appeal to customers on a more personal level.
Many retailers have started focusing on personalized products and services for clients, whether its scheduled personal shopping appointments, online design services for your home’s layout, or beauty products curated for your specific hair or skin type. Moving forward, retailers will have enhanced digital tools in store as well to help personalize a customer’s shopping experience. A store associate may be able to instantly pull pictures and specifications of the last purchase you made and have a list of 10 items that would perfectly complement that piece. When a consumer is faced with two identical products, the main differentiator that is going to make them choose your brand is whether you can make that customer feel like you took the initiative to tailor their shopping experience and product to suit them and their specific needs.
The increase in demand for eCommerce is undoubtedly here to stay. With storefronts shutting down for months at a time, customers increased their online spending habits exponentially. While some will return to in-store shopping, many will continue to shop online and will expect retailers to maintain a strong online presence. COVID-19 revealed that retailers without an online catalogue of their goods, or without adequate delivery services were not going to be able to stay afloat. Moving forward we will see retailers with better digital platforms thrive –those with easier to navigate webpages or faster delivery services will rise to the top. As well, having seamless connection with your clients will be crucial to keeping and growing your clientele base. Sending notifications to clients to let them know about delivery updates or informing them about upcoming sales will help boost customer experience. With many customers shying away from subscribing to emails, many retailers are shifting towards sending text message notifications to customers for instant confirmation and reach.
Customers are also more eager than before to leave an online review of a product or experience that they had with a brand. Product reviews have become the new word-of-mouth, and shoppers are quick to find an online platform where they feel they can provide feedback. Retailers are now responding to customer questions and concerns on social media platforms, also demonstrating to potential buyers how well they interact with their current clients. Other trends, such as surveys and sophisticated chat-bots are being utilized by businesses to support customer inquiries faster and enhance the customer shopping experience.
On the other side of COVID, there will be a hybrid shopping experience for consumers, and retailers will integrate physical and digital aspects in their operations. Omni-channel shopping has already taken off, with retailers selling not only through storefronts, but also through eCommerce, social media, and eventually through Virtual Reality experiences and Voice First solutions. Not only will there be hybridization with how customers shop but also in how they will be able to switch between channels. A customer may begin their journey in store, and have the product waiting in their online cart when they return home to purchase it.
Businesses will also find that customers will expect a personal experience while shopping, even when online. Vanina Schick, Co-founder of Popular.coffee did just that when she launched her online coffee shop. Bags of coffee are delivered to a customer’s home with their own customized Spotify playlist, meant to mimic the ambience that a traditional coffee shop has. She also provides personal in-home brewing consultations to really make customers feel connected to their purchase and her brand.
What retailers have learned from COVID-19 is that they need to stay digitally connected and up-to-date to stay competitive. Businesses must blend the online and in-person shopping experience and ensure that customers are able to access their products and services through multiple channels, while building and growing lasting personalized relationships with their buyers.
The most important thing pandemic taught businesses is to be extremely adaptable. Retailers must be willing to shift how they interact with customers, and effectively communicate to keep their buyers informed. Integrating an omni-channel approach will create a more seamless shopping experience for both buyers and sellers.