How has COVID-19 impacted the retail business? What do you need to do to survive the post-COVID-19 era? Let’s examine the lessons learned since the Coronavirus outbreak and what actions you should take.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Retail
Since its outbreak, the Coronavirus has impacted businesses. This is obvious as we see many companies learning to deal with the many hurdles of the virus and overcome them. However, what is still uncertain is what the world situation will be like once we get through the pandemic. One thing is sure, retail businesses will deal with a different world, and to thrive, they must anticipate what comes next. Let’s consider just a few facts.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the transition to digital commerce. Even consumers that were resistant to the change have been forced to venture into this new field, and most of them like it.
For instance, in 2019, only 4 percent of grocery sales in the USA took place online. However, according to Apptopia, since February 2020, the daily downloads of online grocery apps have surged 218 percent. Although, after the pandemic, many will return to their old shopping ways, many more will stick to their new shopping habits developed during the last months. The same trend has been experienced by most industries, as confirmed by a report by Signifyed, which revealed an increase of 46 percent of online sales since the Coronavirus outbreak.
Other consumer behaviors have been impacted in significant ways also. For instance, in brick and mortar shops, customers are now germ-cautious and, therefore, less prone to use self-service items, sample food, use touch screens, and other everyday habits they used before.
The lack of supplies has forced many to explore new lines of products and erode brand loyalty. Other habits, like daily visits to a coffee shop, going to the gym, or the movie theatre have all been broken and substituted with in-home alternatives. Many may stick to this new reality even after the pandemic.
5 Retail Trends to Survive in the Post-COVID-19 Era
It would be a mistake for retail businesses to develop a short-term strategy without considering the pandemic’s long-term effects. To survive in the post-COVID-19 era, retail stores must be ahead of the game and rethink their operations with consideration for new consumer behaviors and the necessity to optimize omnichannel retail.
We have identified five critical trends that must be addressed by retailers.
1. Boost to E-Commerce retail
As a more substantial portion of consumers are now accustomed to online shopping, it is critical to offer exceptional online shopping experiences to retain customers, even after the reopening of physical stores.
E-commerce platforms must be easy to use and resonate with their audience. Therefore, besides showcasing products, available technologies can be used to boost sales and engage with consumers. For instance, better product search tools will make it easier to find items on an online shop and navigate the platform. Intelligent recommendation tools are critical to close more sales even when products are not in stock. A smart use of chatbots or live chat is useful for solving problems and answering customers’ questions. This will make the shopping experience more pleasant.
Moreover, most consumers’ reduced spending power must be taken into account when deciding on correct product pricing. This is also important when structuring your promotions.
2. The power of CRM during the pandemic
During the pandemic, human interactions have been mostly limited, and things will not go back to normal for many months to come. This is true for both online and offline shoppers. Companies with a powerful CRM have been experiencing a huge competitive advantage.
The CRM (Customer Relationship Management), as its name clearly indicates, aims to build and maintain a relationship with customers. For brands or retailers, CRM is a powerful technique to leverage their offering and bring back sales growth after COVID-19.
With a CRM you can collect updated information about your customers and their preferences, and match your communication and service/products to their needs. CRM allows the implementation of Loyalty Programs, Exclusif Clubs or Online/Offline special events especial designed for your customers.
There is no doubt that most retailers have struggled to maintain open communication with customers and satisfy their needs during COVID-19. For instance, many E-commerce sites were unable to deal with the spikes in orders. The sought-after safety measures were not easy to implement.
Now retailers must leverage this experience to understand and anticipate the requests and needs of their customers.
During the challenging times ahead, keeping customers loyal is becoming more critical than ever. Loyalty has been eroded during the pandemic, and retailers must ensure that their customers will continue to come back after restrictions are removed.
You must create opportunities to communicate with customers, understand the problems they are facing, and create marketing messages and offerings to build a stronger trust in your brand.
3. Contactless shopping experience is the new normal
No contact shopping experiences which focus on hygiene will be a winning strategy in the months to come.
Today there are plenty of innovative solutions to limit human interactions while a person is shopping. Technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), robots, infrared, facial recognition, and similar are extremely useful in creating self-service solutions and responding to the compelling need of customers to feel safe.
Contactless payments, for instance, avoid the danger of touching a keypad or handling cash. For this reason, consumer contactless payment solutions are now highly appreciated and have become an established habit. In implementing this technology, it is crucial to use trustable payment gateways relevant to the specific regions where your sales occur.
4. Buy online, pick up in-store
As online sales increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store) has become increasingly popular. This delivery method has posed many retailers with the challenge of coordinating warehouse operations more efficiently to fulfill orders efficiently.
For example, an efficient tracking system that informs the customer in real-time about actual product availability is essential, and many E-commerce sites are still lacking in this respect. A streamlined order management system that ensures fast sorting, packaging, and order delivery operations are necessary to ensure customer satisfaction and loyalty.
The buy online, pick up in-store trend is an established habit for many consumers who may, in time, ask for even more agile solutions. For instance, they may request to have the goods delivered to a locker for 24/7 access. Retailers who can anticipate these needs and offer an ever-improved contactless shopping experience will attain a more substantial portion of the market.
5. Shop local
Last but not least is the increase in the buy-local movement to support local businesses.
Many consumers have already embraced the shop local philosophy, even before the pandemic.
However, with so many local businesses now at stake, consumers have become even more sensitive to this topic. This is accelerating a trend that was already on its way.
After the pandemic, consumers will be more conscious of the importance of local businesses on our economic makeup, which will affect their shopping mindset. Retailers must, therefore, address this new trend by adapting their offered products and marketing message accordingly.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has created unexpected and difficult challenges for retailers, there is a silver lining. Companies who have reacted quickly to the new economic environment have survived the crisis or created new business opportunities.
Retailers must have insight into their customer base and invest in digital solutions that help the two of them stay closely connected. In addition to investing in creating an effective E-commerce platform, other technologies must be implemented to attract and retain customers.
This may include the development of mobile apps, implementing different payment systems for customers in various regions, investing in a powerful CRM to communicate with customers, AI solutions, etc.
Not to be overlooked is the power of cross border solutions to attract customers in different parts of the world. Some of this may include WeChat Mini Programs or an innovative cross-border E-commerce Mini Program launched by QPSoftware that lets foreign companies reach the Chinese market more efficiently.
Although challenging, there is still plenty of opportunities for retailers in the years ahead. As recent history has shown, companies who are one step ahead are poised for success. A deep understanding of your audience and savvy use of technology will make the difference.