Industries across the world have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with organizations expected to rapidly adapt to an almost overnight change in consumer behavior and expectations. This has resulted in rapid emergence of contactless communication and commerce, and new dynamics across verticals being witnessed for both B2B and B2C customers in their interactions with the businesses.
Thus, a critical challenge faced by the retailing industry is to find the next normal. Businesses need to re-strategize their existing omnichannel frameworks to handle the changing customer expectations. Leveraging digital technologies has become imperative to fill the void and meet evolving customer needs through their preferred channels, contactlessly and conveniently.
Shift from for location-based shopping to curbside pickup and home delivery services:
Emotions played a pivotal role in shopping behavior with consumers craving that intuitive experience when shopping in-store. ‘Retail therapy’ and ‘stress-buying’ are some of the known benefits of in-person shopping for tackling stress. As per the findings in Medallia Zingle’s COVID-19 & the Future of Commerce Report, before the pandemic hit the world, almost 78% of consumers preferred visiting places of business such as gyms, grocery stores, restaurants, beauty salons and alike, in person, at least thrice in a week. The pre-COVID-19 times also saw a rising trend of buyers spending considerably more per visit in-store than through online shopping. A First Insight Report validated this trend, showing that 71% of all shoppers surveyed spent $50 or more when shopping in-store.
Meanwhile, curbside or home delivery were not regarded as mainstream by most organizations and customers. A key reason was that small retailers, especially the mom and pop shops, would not have the requisite resources, such as logistics, trainings, employee bandwidth, and space, to execute a seamless curb-side pickup or home delivery. At most, these were treated as alternatives, to be availed mostly in cases of emergency.
However, the situation has changed, and the pandemic has driven a fundamental shift from legacy ‘bricks and mortar’ to online commerce. Organizations that have been successful in bringing in a paradigm move in the customer service focus from one-on-one to online, have been able to hold on to customer trust and loyalty. With stringent physical distancing norms in place, online ordering, low- or zero-contact delivery, seamless experiences, making physical interactions touch-free, are the buzz words today. In fact, 75% of consumers reported that they prefer to use the curbside pickup option on a regular basis.
Shift from ‘footfalls’ focused retail strategies to adopting disruptive technologies:
Organizations often implemented programs such as “buy online and pick up in-store” to increase the store foot-traffic and offer customers seamless online/offline experience. Sales, discounts and many promotion activities were targeted at growing the ‘footfalls’.
As retail is adopting digital and moving online, the focus from ‘footfalls’ has shifted to ‘eyeballs’ and ‘experience’. Businesses are now focusing on delivering seamless retail experience for customers, while using technology to improve back-end efficiencies and reduce costs.
Even industries such as finance and banking have found that offering digital customer service is more effective and cost efficient as compared to branch- and phone-based approaches. In fact, in highly people-intensive sectors such as healthcare, technology is playing a greater role in automating backend tasks, thus freeing caregivers to concentrate on the patients.
Further, use of technologies such as RFID, Bluetooth, scanning QR codes, and barcodes that can directly transfer product information to the buyer’s mobile without them touching anything in the store are some of the ways in which technology can be used to provide exceptional customer experiences in such unprecedented times.
Here is a 3-step framework that the businesses should implement to stay ahead in the game:
While the original need to focus on winning customer trust and loyalty remains, the businesses need to approach it a little differently.
- Strategies such as publicly showcasing your COVID-19 safety and health guidelines and policies can go a long way to prove that as a socially responsible organization, you care about the welfare of your employees and customers.
- Further, it is vital to build your safety policies and processes into your marketing and communication narrative so that your customers know where you are coming from. And be receptive to feedback. Listen to your customers and shore up weak areas.
- Lastly, investing in best-in-class digital tools is a huge imperative for businesses to offer a seamless and connected omnichannel experience to their customers globally.
As the customer is forced to move online, smart businesses will already be there, waiting to win both loyalty and big bucks. Where will you be?