How COVID-19 has Driven Digital Retail

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world of customer experience and retailers are feeling the impact. The pandemic has pushed people into their homes, off of the streets and out of shops and into digital retail channels. These changes have left businesses to cope with economic repercussions. Sales of many non-essential items have decreased; in March 2020, retail sales experienced an estimated 8.7% drop. With stores closing and people remaining indoors in many areas, how should retailers adapt to this new reality? It is important to understand that consumer behaviors have changed significantly in the past months. So, in order to ensure a future where businesses survive and flourish, retailers must measure these changes for their business and shift their strategies to meet the new needs of their customers.


The Move to Digital Retail Channels 

With the temporary closure of many brick and mortar stores, shopping has moved online and it seems likely that some portion of this shopping will remain online for the foreseeable future. While stores around the country are beginning to open up, many still have restrictions, such as the number of people allowed in at a time. Digital commerce may continue to be the preferred route for customers whether for safety or convenience. To thrive, retailers must have a successful online store. Doing this requires attracting, converting, and engaging both new and existing customers.

Delivery systems are a huge part of the new online experienceThe online experience for many brands has already had an impact on customer behavior, but COVID-19 has accelerated the need to build better digital retail experiences. Both new and experienced online shoppers are looking for a good experience in their online shopping. Some of the ways to do this are simple, like utilizing clear visuals, words, and simple navigation to ensure that customers will find your website accessible. But this alone doesn’t create a customer journey. Customers want a clear path to their goal, whether that is a product they wish to buy or the company’s contact information. Your brand must adapt to build a digital retail journey that aids customers in achieving their goals. Even if they cannot come to the store, make it easy to order for online delivery, and ensure that customers are adequately rewarded for their engagement.

As the retail experience becomes more digital, brands can use technology to substitute for features of in-person retail that made experiences great. From best-seller pages to highlight trending items to chatbots that let consumers discuss their needs with an associate, to review boards to discuss and get opinions on products, brands can develop a web experience that helps customers feel confident in their purchase. By connecting your website with your marketing efforts, and using customer behavior and feedback to dynamically update call center behavior, ad targeting, and more, brands can also deliver this more engaging digital experience. 

Attracting Customers 

Given the recent economic uncertainty, some consumers are less willing to spend money on non-essential items. Consumer spending is down, but some industries, like entertainment and grocery, have not felt as tight of a pinch. While there is an economic risk – there is also the potential to thrive, even as the crisis continues. 

Helping parents with online shopping shouldn't be necissary, make your digital retail experience easy enough to use for everyone

Existing customers are the easiest to win back. They are already familiar with your product and you should have their information in your systems. Given the higher cost of acquiring new customers, they should be an early focus as your brand shifts to more digital experiences. Some ways to do this might be retargeting customers who haven’t been in touch in the past few months, extending the period to use loyalty rewards, and offer additional loyalty rewards and discounts for digital retail behaviors. Now is the time to foster deeper connections with existing customers, letting them know that they are valued. Building this great experience will pay off during times of crisis and long after. 

The danger of cutting back on digital retail efforts

In a difficult economy, it can be tempting to cut back on customer experience and marketing investments, but this may end up being more costly. In 2010, Harvard Business review completed a study of the 2008 recession and how it affected a number of companies. The study found that, out of 4,700 companies, only 9% survived and flourished after the recession. Those successful companies launched aggressive sales and marketing strategies focused on building better customer experiences. While this produced a relatively small bump during the recession itself, those brands are the ones who thrived in the immediate aftermath. Alternatively, companies that defensively cut marketing and CX had less of a chance of survival in the Harvard study. If they made it through the recession, they found themselves lagging behind their competitors. In 2020 and beyond, the best way to build great customer relationships and experiences is through journey investment.

New Marketing Opportunities 

With consumers spending more time at home, they are spending more time on their computers and less on their phones – a change from recent trends in screen usage. Companies should take advantage of the greater use of laptops and TVs by increasing desktop ads, but also by taking advantage of the greater screen size by building more engaging content that fits desktop and laptop screens. It is important that companies understand the changes in consumer behavior and that they be creative with their ads, allowing companies to relate to the shifting sentiments of the customer. By making ads more dynamic as well, your brand can provide a more direct stream for customer conversion.

Social Media 

Due to the stay at home orders, social distancing, and general worry, people have been online more than ever. Marketers should take advantage of this increased screen time to connect with consumers. According to a recent survey, 43% of consumers find it reassuring to hear from brands, and another 40% enjoy seeing how companies are adapting to the crisis. People want to communicate with brands during this time, and social media is the perfect place to do that in an authentic way. 

Digital channels for social media continue to see high engagementIt is important that companies shift their social media strategies and find new methods to engage with customers. Many people’s lives have changed significantly over the past few months, and they don’t want companies to act as if nothing has changed. Consumers are looking for companies to be stable but have an understanding of their struggles. It is important to keep marketing and posting on social media, but empathy for the consumer is crucial. Use Instagram captions to acknowledge consumers’ worries, whether it be their health or their desire for human interaction, but remember to stay positive. Inform your customers of changes to company procedures, such as delivery options or new store hours, and promote any sales on your page. Transparency is important to customers at this time, so use social media posts, as well as email, to ensure your customers are up to date with any changes to your company and understand your decisions. 

Significant Challenges and Opportunities for Digital Retail

KW_Maturity Model Mockup_192020

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the status quo, forcing retailers to adapt and adjust their strategies. Like always, the key to attracting customers is understanding customer needs and behaviors. Customers are now doing a bulk of their shopping online, and it does not seem like that will change anytime soon. With new outbreaks of COVID-19 popping up around the country and stores remaining closed or having restrictions, customers will likely choose safety and convenience over inshore shopping. So, having a website that is attractive and accessible is crucial. Consumers’ online behavior has also shifted; people are spending more time online and frequenting different websites, another thing that may not change even after the pandemic has passed. Companies must pay attention to consumers’ new habits and interests, using new market strategies to reach customers and employing social media sites to forge personal connections with consumers. Brands that pull back on marketing and CX are likely to suffer. As the world adapts to a new normal listening to the consumer’s needs and adapting is the key to flourishing.

If you want your CX programs to thrive, you will need to build them from the ground up. Kitewheel’s Customer Journey Maturity Model can help. Inside you’ll find key journey insight and the steps you need to take to climb the customer journey maturity pyramid.