Real-Time Data Will Make or Break Brick-and-Mortar Businesses. So What Can You Do About it?
Amid the ongoing pandemic, economic turmoil, and political and social unrest, today’s brands are besieged by the need to act and communicate in ways that align with the tide of disruption that’s also overwhelming today’s consumers. It’s not just that brands need to be able to pivot, it’s that they need to be able to pivot over and over again, on a weekly if not daily basis. For brick-and-mortar businesses, many of which were already struggling to keep pace with evolving consumer behaviors, the situation couldn't be more dire.
Ongoing research by Resonate that captures evolving consumer sentiment in real time, particularly as it relates to concerns around the pandemic, demonstrates why now is such a vital time for brick-and-mortar brands to get a handle on who their customers are and how the way they think, shop, engage and decide is shifting on a daily basis. Let’s look at the key requirements for the modern marketer’s data arsenal in 2020 and beyond.
Shifts in Consumer Comfort
As the reality of the pandemic has unfolded, consumer fears and comfort participating in everyday activities have shifted considerably — and not in a linear way. For example, consumer concerns over the health-related consequences of COVID-19 were quite high back in March, when very little was known about the virus. Over the following months, health-related concerns declined — up until the end of June, that is, when they again skyrocketed. In July, the percentage of people worried about the health-related consequences of COVID-19 increased notably, reaching an all-time high by the end of the month.
Unsurprisingly, rapid shifts like these in health concerns have manifested in consumer attitudes toward physical retail environments. While a huge portion of consumers moved their shopping online back in March and April, an increasingly higher percentage of consumers began indicating they were ready to venture back into physical retail in May and June. However, a significant portion of consumers reversed this decision in July. By the end of the month, an astounding 40.2 percent reported that they were decreasing their visits to grocery stores and pharmacies. Consumer willingness to head back into other retail locations, such as clothing and electronics stores, is even lower. For retailers, understanding these waxing and waning comfort levels in real time is key to ensuring certain options, such as curbside pickup and delivery, are being appropriately staffed and communicated during key times of shifting sentiment.
Shifts in Consumer Expectations
Understanding consumer willingness to venture back into stores is important. However, it’s also equally important to understand what's required for consumers to feel comfortable when they do venture to stores. These expectations also represent rapidly moving targets.
According to our research, consumers consider masked and gloved staff members to be the most important requirement for them to venture back to physical retail, with masks on fellow customers representing the second most important requirement. In both cases, expectations for these safety precautions rose dramatically during the summer. Interestingly, consumer demands for store disinfecting protocols have fluctuated, dropping noticeably in June before rebounding in July.
For brick-and-mortar retailers, it’s important to put proper safety precautions in place — but it’s equally important to ensure you’re communicating these protocols to your customers. Major retailers like Walmart, Target, CVS and others correctly read the tide of rising safety demands among consumers in announcing new mask policies in July. However, only time will tell if they can continue to keep pace with consumer demands by enforcing and continuing to emphasize such policies.
Shifts in Desired Customer Experiences
Quick pivots to accommodate customer desires for curbside pickup and enhanced safety protocols are one thing. Complete business model pivots and digital transformations to accommodate macro shifts in consumer behavior are quite another. But as the data demonstrates, a lot of the fast pivots sparked by the pandemic are rapidly establishing themselves as the new way in which retailers will need to conduct business going forward.
Most importantly, in 2020 and beyond, e-commerce is establishing itself as simply the new commerce. Now more than ever, brands must understand where their customers have traditionally found value in their in-store experiences and be figuring out how to translate that experience to the online environment. For some, this might mean making product inventories easily scannable, as they would be on a store’s shelves. For others, it might mean figuring out how to translate stellar in-person customer service to the online environment. Likewise, in the coming months, many retailers will need to re-evaluate which of their locations warrant reopening, which should remain shuttered, and which should be reinvented for the new consumer reality.
No doubt, these are challenging times for brands, particularly those operating brick-and-mortar locations. Those that can step up and align themselves with the continuous shifts in consumer comfort levels, expectations and experience demands will come out on top. Such agility requires real-time data. If you’re depending on months-old data to guide your decision making, you’re building your brand’s future on quicksand.
Ericka Podesta McCoy is the chief marketing officer of Resonate, a leading provider of artificial intelligence-driven customer data and intelligence.