How Retailers Can Maintain Relationships With Consumers in 2021 and Beyond
Consumers are no strangers to e-commerce. In 2019, online sales surpassed $3.5 trillion worldwide. Unsurprisingly, the trend remained upward in 2020 during the pandemic, with sales amounting to more than $4 trillion. As more of the population gets vaccinated and an end to the global disruption is in sight, brands must be aware of the behaviors consumers have adopted since the onset of the pandemic, especially after the lessons learned from the past year.
For much of the past year, consumers had no choice but to shop online if they needed (or wanted) something. As lockdown restrictions continue to ease, their shopping behaviors in the “next normal” will likely remain fairly similar according to a recent report by my company, TELUS International. Despite this status quo, companies must still prioritize ongoing innovation in their digital customer experience (CX) delivery.
Convenience is Key
The pandemic may have discouraged consumers from visiting brick-and-mortar stores, but it didn’t stop them from shopping. Almost two-thirds (61 percent) of Americans said most of the purchases they made during the pandemic were made online with over half (55 percent) believing they purchased more goods online since the pandemic began.
So, how can retail brands maintain this online momentum in the months and years ahead? According to TELUS International’s recent study, convenience was the top reason for consumers’ online shopping during the pandemic. Customers appreciated the convenience of stores being “open” 24/7 and the implementation of both curbside pick-ups and mobile ordering, in addition to flexible support across a wide variety of communication channels.
Moving forward, consumers will continue to expect convenience in every aspect of their interaction with brands - from increasingly personalized experiences to always-on customer support and availability. By providing frictionless support to customers on multiple channels, such as voice, email, via chatbots and on social media, brands can build upon these relationships that originated when there were limited other ways to make purchases.
Privacy and Security Concerns Remain Top of Mind
While the majority of consumers turned to online shopping during the pandemic, the main hesitation for the ones who didn’t were privacy and security concerns. In addition to our company’s survey data on the topic, Pew Research also found that 79 percent of Americans on the web worry about companies infringing their online privacy.
Ensuring that sensitive customer data is secure by asking yourself the hard questions around whether you’ve invested sufficiently in the right, up-to-date technology, or are partnering with the right companies that will protect your customers’ privacy is a great first step to build trust and loyalty with customers. Additionally, be transparent about how their data is being used and stored. Retailers should realize consumers are willing to share their personal data in exchange for better services and recommendations.
Digital Support Still Needs to Have the Human Element
Consumers have become used to communicating with brands online via different digital channels including live chat, social media and chatbots. While these digital tools have multiple benefits and allow respondents to receive speedy, convenient responses faster than ever before, they can come at a cost.
When consumers had negative digital customer experiences during the pandemic, a quarter of them were frustrated with being unable to reach a real person and 14% blamed these frustrations on the impersonal nature of the brand interaction.
Although convenient, these digital tools, when not properly deployed as one part of an overall digital CX strategy, can be detrimental to brands. Retailers must navigate the fine line between high-tech and high-touch and provide convenience alongside trust and empathy. Brands can be better prepared to meet these needs by using the data available to them to better understand the customers on the other end of the line (or chat). To ensure your brand isn’t lacking the personal touch, ensure that access to human support is always an option to switch over to, and provide ongoing coaching to employees on how to deliver empathetic customer service.
Looking ahead to the remainder of 2021, brands must continue to innovate their digital CX strategy and delivery in order to build on the momentum initially brought about by their next-gen technology investments in 2020. With populations around the world still experiencing varying phases of the pandemic, it’s still difficult to accurately predict where we will net out when it comes to shopping habits in the next normal. What we do know; however, is that it will be imperative for retailers to be able to adapt quickly, and continue to provide the right blend of human and machine support to provide optimal CX.
Chuck Koskovich is the chief operating officer at TELUS International, a customer experience innovator that designs, builds and delivers next-gen digital solutions for global and disruptive brands.
Chuck Koskovich, is the Chief Operating Officer at TELUS International, a customer experience innovator that designs, builds and delivers next-gen digital solutions for global and disruptive brands.