To survive and succeed in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, retailers quickly adapted to meet customers' priorities and needs. Convenience became a touchstone of our "new normal," defining how, when, and where we shop. This trend will continue to be a hallmark of how consumers and retailers engage in the future.
A recent report found that in the last year, 50 percent of global shoppers used digital payments more than before the pandemic, and the majority plan to continue doing so after the pandemic ends. Whether shopping for groceries, sending loved ones birthday or holiday gifts from anywhere in the world, or carrying out their day-to-day shopping, many have shifted in-person traffic to digital channels. Consumers have found appreciation in having everything they need at the touch of a button without ever having to leave their homes. In many cases, this has also become a necessity.
So which trends will outlast the pandemic?
Digital Touchpoints Will Continue to Thrive
While in-person foot traffic is expected to rise post-pandemic, we likely won’t see much of a decline in online shopping patterns, as customers will continue to shop online, check inventory prior to going in person, and rely on purchasing items online to pick up curbside or in-store. A Google study found 47 percent of planned shoppers said they’ll continue using options to buy online and pick up in-store/curbside, and 67 percent said they like to confirm online that an item is in stock before going to buy it in-store. In fact, searches for "available near me" increased by more than 100 percent globally in the last year.
These metrics underscore the value of omnichannel offerings that optimize store and web-based touchpoints to meet customers' ever-changing needs and streamline the entire shopping experience.
Transactions Will Require Contactless Options
Heightened hygiene awareness is here to stay, and this isn't limited to peoples’ interactions with each other; it includes contact with publicly shared devices like point-of-sale terminals and checkout counters. Companies such as Purell predict that consumers’ demand for hygiene will remain exponentially high, even after the pandemic. Contactless offers consumers a safer, more sanitary way to pay, a convenient way to speed up checkout, and more control over physical proximity.
Consumers will continue to find value in contactless options, be it pickup, payment or delivery. Additionally, we will see consumers shy away from cash payment and avoid the high-touch nature of card readers. A Mastercard report found 82 percent of respondents view contactless as the cleaner way to pay, and 74 percent plan to continue opting for contactless interactions in the future. Offering and communicating these options to consumers is key, as is integrating loyalty programs seamlessly into these payment flows. For instance, consider offering rewards points on contactless transactions.
Shoppers will Engage More With Local Businesses
Supporting small, local, and minority-owned businesses became crucial in the COVID era, as many of these businesses struggled amidst the lockdowns, resource shortages, and disrupted supply chains. Communities rallied behind these businesses to offer support, as well as procure locally produced and reliable products.
Post-pandemic, consumers will continue to opt for sustainable and locally sourced products. According to a National Retail Federation report, 49 percent of consumers made purchases specifically to support local small businesses during the pandemic. Additionally, a Nextdoor survey found that 72 percent of its members believe they will frequent local businesses more often after the crisis ends.
Despite hiccups at the beginning of the pandemic, many small local retailers proved agile and pivoted quickly to offer convenient buy online and contactless pickup and delivery options to customers. As many community members continue to steer away from big-box stores, demonstrating solidarity with local business owners, location-based personalization and targeting will become more critical for larger retailers looking to compete at the local level.
Rightfully so, COVID-19 has made us unwilling to compromise on convenience, safety and comfort while shopping. This will remain true long after the pandemic. Retailers' (of all sizes and industries) success will lie in adapting business strategies to accommodate consumers' evolving priorities and behaviors. Those that have innovated and adapted to the new climate over the last year will be the retail leaders of tomorrow.
Christine Sullivan is the vice president of product management for SessionM, a Mastercard Company.