The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been varied across industries, but the way it has shaken up the retail industry draws few parallels. Lockdowns and movement restrictions brought the business in physical stores to a trickle and led to changes in buying patterns and consumer preferences almost overnight.
Retailers that relied primarily on in-store experiences have now redefined their strategy to focus more on digital commerce.
With strict lockdowns and customers opting to stay indoors for safety reasons, online shopping has increased. Many consumers say they intend to continue shopping online even though the situation returns to normal.
Even if customers return to physical stores, the experience will be different, at least for the time being. Retailers would need to maintain physical separation and hygiene within their shops, as well as provide appointment-based shopping and virtual queues.
What does it mean for retailers to keep up with these ever-changing market trends? How do they adapt themselves to be more responsive to rapidly evolve customer behaviours and purchasing patterns?
The answers to these questions can be found in the simple steps below.
Changing consumer preferences and the prevalence of online selling have increased retailers' adoption of digital platforms, whether it's to allow contact-less payment, boost online presence, improve customer service, provide personalization, or stand out among competitors.
Consumers may have moved their shopping online, but they still prefer to speak with a live person when they have a problem. This means that retailers must enhance their digital and mobile customer support and increase brand loyalty through a consistent experience. They must also provide automation for contextual and intelligent interactions to improve the overall buyer experience.
With so much focus on how customers can expect to receive their products – whether online or through buy-online-pickup-in-store methods – one thing is certain: the customer's needs will remain extremely important in the coming year.
Expect to see stores being turned into distribution centres or offering more unique experiences to attract customers. Many retailers will concentrate on retaining their current customer base and providing them with the necessary support during difficult times in the retail industry, especially during the holidays. One-on-one sessions with staff customised gifting options, and other options are possible. Retailers who can reimagine the consumer shopping journey and combine their people, processes, and data to create a personalised shopping experience will win.
The outbreak of the pandemic revealed how unprepared many businesses were to transition to an entirely online business model. They had to not only move workforce management and connectivity online, but they also had to deal with the harsh reality of their cybersecurity methods being inadequate.
To stay competitive, retailers will need to put technological innovation at the heart of their business as COVID-19 vaccinations spread across the globe and the world slowly returns to normal.