The Post-Pandemic Retail Consumer

The Post-Pandemic Retail Consumer

by | Nov 17, 2021 | Uncategorized

In the wake of the pandemic, new habits, new routines, new work styles and new approaches to solving everyday problems and dilemmas have emerged. The retail industry has responded to changing consumer demands and is enjoying a roaring recovery. In fact, by the end of 2021, the National Retail Federation anticipates it will see the fastest jump in retail sales since 2004.

A recent Forrester report estimates that 72% of retail sales will take place offline and 66% of non-food-and-drink sales will happen offline by 2024. 

Still, as consumers return to stores, retailers must be able to accommodate permanent shifts in shopping behavior if they want to remain competitive. Understanding what’s top of mind with consumers will help retailers meet customer expectations and continue to grow. Here are five key things consumers expect when they come into your retail store 

“I expect consistency between my online and in-store shopping experiences.”

The pandemic drastically transformed American shopping habits. The resulting surge in online purchases doesn’t show any sign of waning, and the trend has accelerated adoption of technologies that promote conveniences such as fast and free shipping, try-before-you-buy, buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS), plus the ability to compare and buy products 24/7 in the comfort of home. 

Accustomed to digital advantages, consumers want similar conveniences offered to them while in the store. They want shopping to proceed easily, efficiently, and fast. 

According to a Klarna survey of 41,000 shoppers, 56% prefer physical stores to online or mobile channels because of the ease of discovering new products. They want to see, touch, and try on items of interest, but as they browse, consumers appreciate contactless payments, mobile self-checkout, swift deliveries of larger items, rapid exchanges and returns, and the ability to instantly compare product features and pricing from one brand to another. To accomplish the latter, many customers simultaneously browse online on their mobile phones while shopping in store. 

A fully optimized in-store mobile app that guides customers to desired products can enhance customer engagement, as do other value-add tools such as touchpad screens that display inventory status; interactive kiosks; and QR code technology that instantly connects customers to a live video product expert after scanning the code, usually featured on a product tag, with their phone. The Klarna survey found that 79% of shoppers who had used QR codes said that the technology improved their shopping experience. 

Ideally, technology needs to be embedded in retail store operations. A recent Retail Dive report suggested retailers create “an in-store experience as seamless as the one their customers get online so that customers can focus on what they came for: the satisfying experience of making an in-store purchase.”

“I expect sanitization and hygiene to be a priority when I come into the store.”

Despite widespread vaccinations, many people are reticent to come into close contact with others while the pandemic continues to threaten health. Consumers want to feel safe returning to stores. Mask requirements for store employees, hand sanitizing stations, social distancing measures, and contactless payment options can lend customers a sense of protection from potential COVID-19 exposure.

Research shows that pandemic-friendly services make a positive impact on shoppers. In fact, 8 of 10 consumers who responded to a recent survey said they want local businesses to continue offering pandemic-friendly services like contactless payments even after COVID-19. And 77% of shoppers surveyed by Klarna said they want physical stores to permanently adopt hand sanitizing stations. 

Shoppers and associates alike appreciate a comprehensive but sensible and easy-to-follow health protection policy, and safety measures that are highly visible throughout the store.

“I expect competitive pricing and good value.”

According to PwC’s June 2021 Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey, “Price outpaces quality and convenience by wide margins in every category except grocery, where it still prevails but with smaller margins.” Competitive pricing has remained a focus of consumer buying choices since the beginning of the pandemic. Shoppers seek greater value for every dollar spent. 

Unexpected fees such as shipping charges are a top reason for cart abandonment among online shoppers; a related reason is the consumer comparison shopped and found the same item elsewhere at a lower price. This pricing sensitivity transfers to in-store purchases, too. In a 2021 McKinsey study, consumers stated “better value” and “better prices/promotions” as the top two reasons for switching brands during the pandemic. 

“I expect to be rewarded for being a repeat customer.”

Consumers expect deals of some sort to incentivize a purchase and motivate them to become loyal to a brand. Some 75% of consumers say they favor companies that offer rewards. But traditional loyalty programs featuring discounts and points may no longer be enough to build brand loyalty. According to Accentive, “Consumers want instant accumulation of rewards points that can be redeemable the moment they qualify for it.” 

To that end, innovative retailers are incentivizing loyalty with options such as cash-back and pay-with-points. Another trend is to personalize rewards based on the customer’s individual browsing preferences and transactions, which can be tracked when a customer uses a retailer’s mobile app. This adds real value to a rewards program and strengthens a customer’s relationship with a brand. According to research from Accenture, “91% of consumers said they would be more likely to shop with brands who recognize and provide relevant offers and recommendations, and 83% are willing to share their data to make this work.” 

“I expect an authentic interaction with a knowledgeable retail associate.”

If there is one thing shoppers have missed during the pandemic, it’s the human touch.

It’s obvious that retail associates must be well-versed in the product line and brand. When consumers come to the store, they are leaving behind the screen time spent reading long and sometimes overly technical product descriptions, in hopes of enjoying a conversation with a human being who will provide meaningful insights and show genuine concern for the consumer’s situation. 

Empathy is a strong component of these meaningful human interactions.

The consumer may be confused about the different product choices or frustrated because they don’t understand the different product features. They need someone to listen, to help clarify their needs, and to guide them to the right solution. And when they finalize a purchase, they want reassurance that they have made the right decision. A personalized, one-on-one interaction… one that delights the customer regardless of whether it leads to an immediate purchase, sets the stage for a customer who will return or later buy online. 

“I expect the brand to match my personal values.” 

The quality of a product will leave a lasting and positive impression on consumers as they browse a store. And a growing segment of consumers will be impressed with your brand’s values and social sentiments. In fact, purpose-driven brands have become an important driver of sales and customer loyalty. A ShoppingGives guide on Corporate Social Responsibility reports that 87% of consumers will buy a product because a company advocated for an issue they care about. 

Retailers should express pride in what they stand for and be transparent in their beliefs. For instance, in PwC’s June 2021 Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey, more than half of respondents said they buy from companies that are conscious and supportive of protecting the environment. If your brand is known for using recycled or sustainable packaging materials, display this prominently in signage throughout the store. In turn, environmentally conscious customers will be proud to do business with you. 

The path to a viable future for retail stores starts with a commitment to staying relevant. Keeping up to date on customer insights, responding to customers’ evolving needs, and being resilient are the great equalizers for successful retail relevancy. 

Brand relevancy should never be hit-or-miss. The retail experts at MarketSource can help you reach your target every time. LET’S TALK >>