The pandemic changed everything … how we worked, lived, and interacted with our friends and family. And it really affected what we purchased, how we purchased, and which companies we purchased from.
How many of those changes are permanent and what will it look like after the dark cloud of COVID subsides? This is a key question for retailers that need to develop their future e-commerce and brick-and-mortar strategies.
It turns out that humans are resilient. We figured out how to live in a socially distanced world. According to the recently published Qualtrics XM Institute Global Consumer Trends Report, 77 percent of consumers across 18 countries reported that they started a new online activity during the pandemic. At the top of the list was connecting with friends and family over video. More than one out of five consumers also started using e-commerce and began purchasing groceries online for the first time.
This resilience will also propel people back to many of their pre-pandemic routines. The research showed that consumers plan to cut back on activities such as using video with friends and family, ordering meals online from restaurants, and participating in online exercise classes. The online surge will not replace all in-person activities.
As retailers look ahead, they will need to deal with a combination of long-term trends like the growth of e-commerce and more near-term shifts associated with the rebound to a new post-pandemic normal. Here are three ways you can get started:
1. Be accessible to customers across different channels.
Instead of ushering shoppers to use one channel, understand how your customers prefer to interact with your brand.
According to the global study, customers have different preferences in how they interact with a brand for different activities. For example, 37 percent of customers who want an order status update prefer self-service on mobile, while 21 percent prefer self-service on their computer, 20 percent want customer support on the phone, 11 percent through online chat, and 11 percent enjoy the in-person interaction.
To maximize customer satisfaction, design a range of options where customers can have different touchpoints with your brand. Then make sure customers know the different ways they can reach you to help resolve their questions.
2. Optimize the e-commerce experience that’s here to stay.
Online shopping was one of the top digital activities that many consumers tried for the first time during the pandemic, and will continue to do so as economies reopen. According to the report, 16 percent of U.S. consumers shopped online for the first time, and there's no going back.
Focus on designing and improving your e-commerce experience to meet customers’ expectations, and the bottom line will naturally follow. From account signup to checkout, make sure every touchpoint in the customer journey is intuitive to start and easy to navigate.
3. Know what matters most to your customers.
Retailers need to understand the evolving preferences and perceptions across their key customer segments. How can they gain this insight? By collecting and analyzing experience data — i.e., how customers feel about their interactions with the brand. It’s also worth the investment. The research showed that a great customer experience directly impacts consumers’ likelihood to trust a brand, to repurchase, and to recommend that brand to others.
As you look ahead, remember that we will be in a period of considerable change for the foreseeable future. Don’t attempt to succeed by guessing where everything is heading. Instead, build agility in your efforts so that you can continuously learn from the signals in the market and rapidly adapt your response. The key skill for every retailer will be the ability to listen and react to the needs of their customers.
Bruce Temkin is the head of Qualtrics XM Institute, the world’s most comprehensive resource for experience management (XM) professionals.
Related story: Smoothing Shoppers’ Paths With Big Data