While many companies are hard at work developing solutions to promote safe workplaces and employee safety, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen an increase many technologies that were already emerging as dominant trends.
Among them is online shopping. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the lockdowns and simple fear of becoming infected, 76% of consumers have turned to online shopping for items they would normally buy from brick-and-mortar shops. More importantly, more than half of them say they will continue shopping online even as the pandemic subsides.
While we’ve already been witnessing a shift in shopping behavior that has resulted in many retailers shuttering their stores – including several household names, like ToysRUs, Sports Authority, and RadioShack. Many more have announced they are closing at least some locations.
What it’s also done is shift the focus on customer experience from in-person to digital, as customer expectations are increasing due to their increased use of digital channels, especially as their understanding of what’s possible in a connected world grows. This is certainly a factor for younger generations who have grown up in digital environment and whose expectations aren’t based on traditional in-person values and metrics.
For one thing, there is much less brand loyalty. While brick-and-mortar shopping was largely defined by geography – you went to Bradlees or Caldor stores based on which was closer. Even today, grocery shopping is largely dependent on which brand is easier to get to, save the specialty stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, which have something of a cult following.
Online shopping takes location out of the picture, especially with the availability of two-day shipping, which an increasing number of brands are starting to offer to stay competitive.
What it means, though, is the digital experience has to be both simple enough to make it easy for people to shop, but complex enough on the back-end to provide the personalized experiences customers want. With geography a non-issue, it’s much easier for people to shift brands after a poor experience – and customers have been quick to point out that they are much more likely to switch brands because it’s so easy in a digital world.
What’s interesting, though, is that while consumer expectations have been become more complex over the past years, customers are not ambivalent to current conditions. Specifically, customers have been less likely to post complaints during the pandemic (only 10% have left negative reviews, a decrease of 30% since early March), and the number of consumers who would stop doing business with a brand due to a poor customer service experience is also down 30% from nearly three-quarters.
What’s more is that more than a third of consumers are aware that some policies that have been implemented that have had a negative impact on experience were necessary (shipping time, limited hours, etc.), and are actually appreciative that brands were willing to take those measures during the pandemic. Adjustments like online ordering and curbside pickup have had the most positive impact on customer experience.
With that said, the increase in online shopping was almost a presumptive byproduct of the pandemic, and now that businesses are starting to re-open and more stores, restaurants, sporting events, and other activities are becoming available again, the leniency customers have shown during the past three months is likely going to shrink.
While some may return to in-person shopping, there’s little doubt many will have enjoyed having everything from sneakers to steaks dropped at their doorstep and will continue to do their shopping online. What it means is there will again be a premium on digital engagement and customer service, and brands are going to have to ensure they have tools in place to follow customer journeys throughout their engagements and deliver the personalized, high-quality service they came to expect pre-coronavirus. Innovative companies will continue to be rewarded, and the customer-centric thinking that has enabled many brands to be successful in an online-only world will help them continue to succeed.