The COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions that followed have had a significant and long-lasting impact on consumer behavior across the globe. As businesses reopen and we enter the new normal, the behaviors adopted during the pandemic are likely to persist. To be successful in today’s hyper-competitive environment, businesses need to reinvent processes and alter the way they interact and engage with consumers across all platforms.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Consumer Behavior
The uncertainty caused by COVID-19 led to a major shift in consumer behavior. A study by Accenture discovered that 33% of consumers were concerned about their financial position due to the pandemic which impacted their shopping behavior. Consumers were spending less on non-essential items such as apparel and placed higher value on factors such as value, convenience, and availability when making a purchase. The pandemic also caused a shock to customer loyalty with many buyers trying out new brands and different methods of shopping.
The pandemic heightened awareness on issues such as sustainability and many consumers opted for brands that were more environmentally friendly. A study by Accenture found that 61% of shoppers are buying eco-friendly, sustainable, and ethical products and a majority will continue to do so post-pandemic. Today, it is essential for organizations to ramp up their sustainability initiatives and invest in digital tools that can help reduce their carbon footprint. Additionally, brands with a clear purpose and goal performed better than less meaningful brands.
Changes that were occurring prior to the pandemic were hastened and the world experienced years of growth in a few months’ time. The closure of brick-and-mortar stores led to a spike in online sales which is expected to rise even as things return to normal. According to a study by McKinsey, online fashion sales jumped to 29% from the previous 16% globally. Executives surveyed viewed digital as one of the biggest opportunities and expect a 20% growth in their online channels.
A large number of consumers will continue to shop online at high-levels post-pandemic and businesses that pause their digitization efforts will become insignificant. A study by McKinsey found that 30% of shoppers based in the US will make a large number of their purchases online, even for discretionary items such as apparel. Consumers today prefer brands that offer them a more personalized and seamless experience (i.e. recommending products based on the customers purchase history). Businesses ahead in their digital efforts proved to be more resilient in disruptive environments compared to laggards. Companies that don’t evolve will become irrelevant in the future.
The Omni-channel Approach
To enhance the customer experience and meet changing consumer needs, many businesses are investing in omni-channel capabilities. The COVID-19 crisis led to an increase in the use of omni-channel services such as buy online, pick up in store, curbside pickup, and contactless payment methods. The use of these services is expected to continue as we enter a period of economic revival. A study by BigCommerce and Retail Dive discovered that 46% of retailer executives planned to invest more in omni-channel capabilities than they did before the pandemic.
Some consumers use a single channel, such as visiting a physical store, when making a purchase. However, a large majority of consumers use various touchpoints before buying a product. A study by Harvard Business Review showed that 73% of all buyers use multiple channels on their purchasing journey. Additionally, 81% of consumers conduct research online prior to purchasing a product. The omni-channel approach connects all the different platforms a consumer uses to offer a more seamless and connected experience. Essentially, omni-channel bridges the gap between the physical and digital to offer a better customer experience and increase sales. Omni-channel shoppers spend 9% more than those that only utilize one channel when making a purchase.
Today’s digitally-enabled customer values personalization (i.e. product recommendations) and a seamless experience that can be facilitated with the integration of digital technology such as data analytics. Although foot traffic won’t return to pre-pandemic levels, the physical store will play an important role in the customer experience by allowing them to get a “touch and feel” of the product. A study by CBInsights found that more than 90% of leading retailers either had or planned to invest in omni-channel capabilities. As store traffic remains low and consumers explore alternate modes of shopping, companies must leverage technology to offer a better customer experience across all channels.
Adopting innovative technology across the entire value-chain is essential to support the growth of e-commerce and meet ever-changing consumer needs. The new shopping experience will be focused on analytics, tailored experiences, and automation. Businesses need to gather and analyze data to better understand their customers and use data-driven insights to make decisions, train their employees both online and offline, and utilize forecasting tools to make more accurate predictions about their product mix.
The Omni-channel Approach: Challenges
It can be challenging for businesses to cater to the large influx of people that shifted online during the pandemic as it requires them to transform operations at an accelerated pace to meet demands. Research by CBInsights found that only one in ten consumers felt that businesses had been successful in offering an omni-channel experience.
Organizations have to serve customers seamlessly across all channels. Businesses need to truly understand their customers instead of taking a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach that lacks personalization or operates in siloes. It is essential for businesses to understand what creates value for them prior to investing in digital solutions for omni-channel success. Often, organizations have an unclear strategy and place more importance on new technology rather than the customer.
Another challenge to omnichannel success, according to research from the Everest Group, is the human element. Integrating new technology is easier than changing human behavior. There needs to be a shift in company culture and businesses need to hire individuals with the right capabilities to ensure success. Additionally, instead of operating in siloes, online and offline teams need to merge and work together effortlessly.
Customers have high expectations and businesses need utilize digital tools such as data analytics to better understand the customer and make decisions based on these insights. Brands that fail to integrate the right technology will be surpassed by competitors and fail to offer a holistic experience to their customers.
A successful omni-channel approach can benefit organizations due to increased customer satisfaction by offering a seamless and more personalized experience. In turn, this leads to an increase in customer loyalty and financial success for an organization.
Leveraging innovative technology and digital tools such as data analytics and artificial intelligence can enable businesses to be more customer-centric and successful compared to those that don’t adapt.