COVID-19 Has Altered Consumer Behavior. Here’s What it Means for Retailers
Businesses are opening back up, but things are far from business as usual. Facing new customer concerns around health and safety, retailers have had to reimagine their operations. And while the crisis has spawned a bevy of new and innovative solutions to overcome unprecedented challenges, it’s become clear that the needs and expectations of consumers have been permanently altered.
In order to gain a deeper understanding of just how COVID-19 has reshaped the consumer mind-set, Medallia Zingle recently commissioned a research study to a cross-section of over 1,000 U.S. consumers. The results not only illustrate the dramatic shifts from pre- to post-pandemic, but also illuminate a significant amount of opportunity for retailers to create customer experiences that align with new consumer behaviors, needs and expectations.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest takeaways from the study.
Contactless Experiences Are Here to Stay
Seventy-seven percent of consumers report that in the future, the amount of in-person interaction required at a business will factor into their decision of whether to visit it. Furthermore, 87 percent of consumers say they think brands should continue to offer options for alternatives like curbside pickup that limit the need for in-person visits. As the desire for in-person business interaction pauses, contactless options such as curbside pickup are crucial for long-term success.
With an overwhelming majority of consumers (84 percent) saying they will at least somewhat limit in-person visits over the next six months, even as social distancing guidelines loosen, all retailers must provide contactless experiences. However, not all experiences are created equal. For example, 55 percent of customers say their curbside pickup experience has been “fast and easy,” but 45 percent say the experience has been “a little rocky” or “poor.” Retailers must have the tools to listen to customers, respond in the moment, and immediately improve areas of opportunity. While contactless options create peace of mind, poor execution will only drive business for your competitors.
However, when done right, the benefits of contactless alternatives are plentiful for retailers. Target and Walmart’s strong reported first quarters were in large part due to the enormous growth and widespread adoption of their curbside pickup options.
While going exclusively curbside isn't a long-term option for most brands, the good news is that an effective communication strategy can build enough confidence to get customers through your doors once again.
Minimize Risky Interactions With Real-Time, Contactless Communication
Real-time communication is now mission-critical for retailers. Seventy-nine percent of consumers say they'll start seeking out information on the type of health and safety standards and processes a business has before visiting it. Furthermore, 82 percent say it would increase their likelihood of visiting if the business were to proactively communicate these standards and processes.
Retailers must have an effective communication strategy in place to communicate the steps they're taking to keep customers safe. Key to this strategy are two factors. The first is speed; more than a quarter of consumers (26 percent) say they expect a business to respond to questions about health and safety protocols within 30 minutes, while almost one in five (17 percent) say they expect a response immediately. Secondly, technology such as text messaging that not only enables speed, but does so without the need for contact, is crucial to creating the type of communication and overall experiences consumers are expecting.
Effective communication has long been an important component of any business strategy. Today, however, it has become key to survival. This is especially true for retailers with customers that have very clearly expressed their demands for modern communication methods that meet their expectations for safe and convenient interactions. At the end of the day, real-time communication not only plays a pivotal role in minimizing interaction once a customer is inside their doors, but it’s also a critical component of getting them there in the first place.
Even when this crisis is behind us, it’s likely that many of these consumer behaviors and expectations will remain. However, with an understanding of this shifting landscape, retailers can adapt to these changes and not only ensure their own future success, but provide an example for all industries looking to get back to business.
Related story: 5 Strategic Imperatives for Retail’s New Normal