It’s no surprise that almost a year after the first cases of COVID-19 appeared, dramatic changes in our everyday lives would take place both in the workplace and at home in our personal lives.
The changes we saw early in the pandemic abruptly shifted the way we as consumers behave, especially in the retail commerce and shopping sector. As expected, with much less access to brick-and-mortar stores, our reliance on online shopping grew exponentially.
While online shopping has steadily grown over the last decade, albeit slower in Canada than in the US, this growth quickly accelerated as the pandemic took hold in 2020.
Mass adoption of online shopping at an accelerated pace would change the way brands would need to consider their digital engagement strategies with consumers.
The pace of this change brought clarity to unprepared organizations, while digital-first brands thrived under the increased pressure. Upstream supply chain issues have impacted nearly all industries. Those organizations that had delayed a shift to digital and e-commerce were left behind, incapable of keeping pace with demand and unable to quickly shift focus to address escalating consumer demand through digital and e-commerce channels.
The question now top-of-mind is, what changes in the online retail and commerce world will stick as part of the new normal for consumers?
Our viewpoint is that there will be various permanent consumer changes, some attitudinal (e.g., a shift in consumer expectations around increased levels of online service) and some behavioral (e.g., consumer comfort levels in performing tasks solely online). In most cases, the attitudinal and behavioral changes are not mutually exclusive (a chicken and egg argument would suffice here).
As we’ve noted, digital acceleration and consumer adoption have been exponential. Moreover, this evolution will continue well beyond COVID. While the pressure may fade, the changes to the way consumers think and behave online will remain.
Here are five changes we believe will stick and what you as an organization can do to ensure you meet the new normal.
Online essentials are the new benchmark for digital maturity.
Convenience will eclipse price (for non-commodified goods and services).
Consumer loyalty and reward systems become a new competitive advantage.
Forgotten-about older audiences are where new market growth lives.
End-to-end customer experience is still critical to plan.
Getting the online essentials right
You might also consider this as getting back to basics. Provide consumers with an online experience that focuses on easily and intuitively performing the elemental functions of e-commerce. Sounds pretty easy to get the basics right, no? Ensure that every customer type has a similar yet personal online experience with your brand. Consider how many variations of the customer types you have, where they are in the shopping process, and which behaviors are truly universal in nature.
Ensure high-quality product images and videos.
Develop product descriptors that are genuinely informative and provide decision-making guidance.
Provide on-site search that’s smart and, more importantly, accurate.
Design easy checkout flows with the fewest steps possible and optional guest checkout.
Offer one-click guest service that provides users options for how to answer their questions best.
Convenience over price
The entire concept of transforming brand and customer experiences online ensures the delivery of products and services in the most convenient form possible. This isn’t to say price doesn’t matter — it does. But we advocate for a level of online service that provides a distinct and more ownable differentiator. You need to set your business apart from online competitors struggling to keep up with increasingly high customer expectations. So ask your organization a simple question when considering the online shopping experience, “How can I make it easier for my customer to do business with us every step of the way?”
Loyalty deepens your defense
Online consumers over the past year have become much more aware of finding the best deals for many goods and services through aggregated pricing search platforms and social referral sites. However, what sets you apart is how your customers are rewarded for their continued support when all else is equal.
Our perspective is simple; the real customer relationship begins after the sale.
Look at where you can continue to provide value for consumers once the transaction is complete. Ensure that whichever customer loyalty approach you take is easy to enter into, and you own the responsibility to keep them engaged beyond another sale.
Old dogs just learned new tricks
The older online consumer population has been steadily increasing their online buying habits over the past few years due to familiarity and convenience. With a new COVID-driven heightened sense of self-isolation, this online cohort has exponentially increased their interest and appetite for online engagement, both socially and commerce-related.
One thing to keep in mind is that although these older generations of "new users" have product-related needs similar to younger generations, their exploration online is different. Therefore, a key consideration — not just for older users — is the level of website accessibility you provide.
Think end-to-end when thinking online
Though much of our focus on what will stick post-COVID centers around the online shopping experience, it's important to continue defining the entire end-to-end customer experience.
Consider even a basic example within online food delivery:
While the online ordering process is essential to a satisfying customer experience, so is the delivery's physical exchange. So how are the delivery folks presenting themselves at the door (or near the door during these times)? Is it in keeping with brand expectations? Or is there a loss of confidence in that “last mile” exchange?
At Engine Digital, we help organizations define their online and offline customer experiences, accelerate their digital engagements to meet today's standards, and build a foundation of digital maturity for the years to come.
To find out more about what an ideal client partnership looks like for you, feel free to reach out to us. We’d love to hear from you.