Online shopping has become an essential service during the COVID-19 crisis. No longer is going to the supermarket, bank, or mall a safe option for consumers. Rather, sourcing and purchasing from the safety and comfort of one’s home is the new normal. Online retailers are experiencing surges of 30 percent and higher, traffic is scaling and pushing the limits of our digital infrastructure.
There are two aspects the online retailer has to deal with in these uncertain times. One, making sure goods are available and deliverable and, two, importantly, providing a unique and superior customer experience each and every time a shopper logs onto your site. Gaining and maintaining consumer trust is paramount during the virus crisis to not only increase revenues but to earn and retain brand loyalty that will serve you when the crisis ends.
The first step in gaining consumer trust in these times is to be as transparent as possible. We’re all in this together and consumers will accept delays and other hiccups much more readily if you’re open and honest about them. Importantly, you need to reach out and let them know you care about your employees and customers. According to Forrester, 52 percent of U.S. online adults prefer to buy from companies that show how they’re protecting customers against the threat of COVID-19. It makes sense to do this more than once, too. Perhaps you can follow up an initial message about protecting employees with tips on how consumers should handle your packages for ultimate safety. An abundance of caution is the rule of thumb that’s slowing the spread of the virus. Be part of that caution.
In regards to creating a unique and superior shopping experience, there are four essential elements of engaging with consumers that gain their trust and encourage sales:
- You have to provide a fast, engaging, one-on-one, in-the-moment experience. If you’re out of a product, tell them and be able to offer an appealing, alternative product instantly. If you can let them know when the product they seek will be available again, so much the better.
- Make sure you’re offering products and services that contextually relate to the consumer’s needs. Who are they, where are they, and when are they shopping must be factored in instantly. Let’s say a consumer resides in Miami, is price-conscious, and it’s March. A retailer would offer warm-weather clothing displayed from low-price to high. But if the consumer travels to Denver in that same month and browses the site, the retailer should offer the consumer cold-weather gear instead that’s readily available in inventory so it can be shipped right away.
- It’s important that you follow consumers across all channels and provide the most updated information so you can stay engaged and relevant. Multiple devices are still in use even though we’re staying home. People may start browsing for an item using their laptop during the day and move to a tablet and/or mobile phone in the evening to finish their purchase. It’s the retailer’s job to follow them from device to device to ensure a seamless shopping experience.
- Lastly, you have to scale. Internet traffic is growing and spiking in ways that are different than just two months ago. Enterprise brands selling online have to provide the same online shopping experience at peak times as they do during slow traffic. The consumer doesn’t know when or care when internet traffic spikes; they only care if the brand is providing a timely and relevant experience.
When consumers find those brands that prioritize the customer with care and superior online shopping experiences, they reward the companies with preference, advocacy, spend, and — the most precious currency of today — trust. This trust will continue long after the COVID-19 pandemic leaves us.
This article was first published in TotalRetail in April 2020.