We all know that the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed retail. But with vaccines now being distributed and normality appearing closer on the horizon, everyone from Fortune-500 companies to independent online sellers are trying to build a picture of the post-pandemic retail landscape.
COVID-19 has accelerated the pace of many existing customer experience (CX) trends, and this brings us to the golden question:
Which CX trends are set to stagnate once the pandemic ends, and which will become the ‘new normal’?
That’s exactly what Whiplash is here to answer. In this post, we’re discussing the four CX trends that we’ve identified as being central to the retail recovery. Read on!
Industry publications have already covered this trend to exhaustion, but we couldn’t exactly leave it off the list. Ecommerce has gone from strength to strength as consumers turned to online shopping to meet their needs during the pandemic. Even as total retail sales fell by a shocking 16.4% during the second quarter of 2020, online retail still saw a per-month gain of 8.4%.
With restrictions having come and gone over the past year, this reliance has continued unabated - a sign that this new-found habit will persist for the considerable future.
But an increased reliance on digital shopping channels doesn’t limit the importance of customer care. With in-store retail often inaccessible over the past year, innovations such as AR, live chat, and web personalization have been integral in bridging the gap between consumers and customer service representatives.
These self-service tools empower consumers to engage more deeply with the store experience and emotionally invest in the brand relationship. In a post-pandemic marketplace, they will play a big role in fostering lasting customer loyalty.
With many retailers now grappling with slashed marketing budgets, customer retention can be the difference between surviving or disappearing from the marketplace.
In this climate, customer loyalty is a valuable commodity; many consumers feel uncertain and want reassurance that brands will be there to support them. If they don’t get it, they’ll be more motivated than ever to make the switch.
According to Mckinsey, the pandemic has created an acute ‘loyalty shock’, with a whopping 78% of US consumers having switched stores or brands in the past year.
Post-pandemic, this presents a valuable opportunity to retailers; if you can retain this uptick in first-time customers, your business will be in a much stronger position as the economy heads towards recovery.
Furthermore, the pandemic has also thrown into sharp relief many longer-running issues with acquisition marketing. The increase in paid ad costs follows a decline in organic reach across social platforms - resulting in a less-than-robust ROI for many businesses.
The answer to this puzzle? Focusing on the customers that you’ve won from competitors.
The average retail store is a tactile environment by design; consumers are encouraged to pick up items and try on garments in order to increase engagement and drive sales. Not surprisingly, this high-touch environment has become a point of anxiety amid concerns about virus transmission.
When these immersive activities suddenly pose a health risk, this vetoes the idea of in-store retail as a recreational activity.
So, what does this mean for the customer experience in brick and mortar?
Despite some pessimistic forecasts, this doesn’t mean that in-store retailing is going to meet a hasty demise. On the contrary, the pandemic has offered brick and mortar the opportunity to carve out a much stronger value proposition in the face of skyrocketing ecommerce growth.
O2O (Online-to-Offline) retail activities have helped businesses to meet the unique selling and returns strategies demanded by both consumers and in-store retailing restrictions.
BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick up In-Store) has surged as consumers elect to avoid the riskier elements of in-store shopping, with increases as high as 563% in the second quarter of 2020. Furthermore, the preference for alternative return locations has almost doubled between 2019 and 2020.
If you’re thinking that this is a sign of omnichannel becoming the norm, you’d be right. O2O allows retailers to bridge the divide between their physical and digital channels. In a post-pandemic world, it offers consumers greater choice and flexibility than ever before.
As consumers grow accustomed to transitioning between online and offline at will, there’s no doubt in our minds that they expect O2O to become a regular offering.
Contactless payment technology such as mobile payment and payWave pre-date the pandemic. But social distancing practices have led to its rapid adoption across the United States and globally, with many jurisdictions raising maximum transaction limits to encourage uptake during the pandemic. Unsurprisingly, this has accelerated the existing trend towards a ‘cashless’ marketplace.
The ‘tap and go’ mentality is now well-ingrained into consumer shopping habits - meaning cash or traditional card payment feels clunky and inconvenient by comparison. As a result, we’re already seeing this confer a major competitive advantage on participating retailers. According to Visa’s Back to Business Study, 54% of consumers say they would switch to a new store that offered contactless payment options.
The verdict is clear: If you aren’t currently offering any contactless payment options, now is the time to make the switch. Even when contactless payment is no longer considered a necessity for health reasons, most consumers now view it as a key ingredient for a positive in-store experience.
COVID-19 has bought many challenges to retailers across online and offline channels, and this disruption is going to cause ripple effects for some time to come. But there’s a huge amount of opportunity for those who are willing to adapt to the trends we’ve identified as they transition into key customer expectations. By staying ahead of the curve, your business will be much better positioned to succeed as the marketplace heads towards recovery.