The Next Norm in Retail

Consumers have not entirely cut down shopping. The world of retail has merely shifted to a new avenue.

E-commerce and curbside pickup will remain favorable options for consumers, which means that omnichannel coherence will be imperative to maintaining customer interest.

The new world

The impact of the pandemic on the retail industry has been significant; through quarantines and isolation, customers aren’t going to malls and browsing potential purchases. In a McKinsey survey, more than 80% of retailers responded that they have shut down some portion of their locations, and 44% of retailers responded that they have shut down in-store operations entirely. However, customers have not entirely cut down their shopping habits; online sales grew 50% during the pandemic. The world of retail has merely shifted to a new avenue. In the cases when customers have been going to stores, they favor methods such as in-store or curbside pickup. In fact, curbside pickup has increased by a whopping 208% through the pandemic, with 59% of these consumers planning on continuing to utilize this service after the pandemic has passed. 

Customer hesitation when it comes to retail has been heightened on several accounts. For one, with the economic downturn, customers have become more cautious about where they spend their money, demanding value more than ever before. The other major source of anxiety for retail customers is, of course, safety and health. Once the pandemic passes, customers will still be hesitant about in-store activities and exposure. Beyond the continued upturn of e-commerce and pickup options, the in-store experience will also have to be remade, with the safety of customers and employees in mind.

With such uncertain customers, brands will have to find ways to personalize their experiences and foster relationships with them, rather than just marketing their products.

Looking forward

After the pandemic, retailers do, in fact, expect in-store customer activities to return to pre-pandemic levels, given new safety and health measures. However, this somewhat return to normalcy is not expected for several months after stores reopen, and even then, it might not necessarily be a total return to normalcy as we know it, as stores must undergo significant changes. 

E-commerce and curbside pickup will remain favorable options for consumers, which means that omnichannel coherence will be imperative to maintaining customer interest. Retailers will need to adapt to the new importance of digital channels by making the e-commerce experience more seamless; they must also find fresh ways to entice customers. 

The in-store experience will also need to be safe, for customers and employees alike. Increased store cleaning and distancing will be necessities, and companies that employ the most touchless automation, such as kiosks and self check-out, will have a significant advantage. Because of these increased costs, more than 50% of the respondents in the McKinsey survey about reopening stores said they would decrease store hours and staffing levels upon reopening. To compensate, even the in-store experience will have to integrate new digital aspects.

Retailers will also have to face changes when it comes to inventory and labor supply. Because of the disruption posed to the supply chain by the pandemic, companies will have to balance their inventories and reduce excess supply; their supply will have to correspond more directly with the current demand. Essentially, they will have to stock up precisely when consumers need seasonal items, not earlier. In terms of labor supply, demand for labor will constantly be fluctuating, in many different areas. Retailers will have to respond by utilizing their labor forces in the most efficient, flexible ways. To succeed on these accounts, companies will have to constantly track real-time customer demand and labor demand.

Finally, empathetic business will be newly paramount in the next normal. For one, retailers will have to adapt to the change in customer loyalty since the start of the pandemic, with more customers switching brands and businesses than ever before. Brands will have to regain loyalty, take advantage of the opportunity posed by customers willing to try new things, or do both. With such uncertain customers, brands will have to find ways to personalize their experiences and foster relationships with them, rather than just marketing their products. Business will have to be a lot deeper and more personal, in order for retailers to thrive in the post-pandemic world.

While the pandemic took its toll on retail, it also manifested an array of different levels of digital capabilities across many retailers. 

Retail tactics that can help win customers in 2021

Following are some examples of tactics that worked well for some leading retailers, and will work well for the industry during the pandemic and beyond: 

Real-Time Inventory Checks

Inform those who are making purchases online if products are in stock and if not then when they will be available for shipping if they place their order now.

BOPIS Curbside Pickup

Offer contactless curbside pickup at stores that are currently closed to interior customer traffic, or offer this service as an option to those who don’t want to visit stores at this point.

Charitable Incentives

Give online visitors incentives to purchase additional items by offering to donate a certain percentage of the total purchase to the visitor’s local charity.

Personalized Offers and Promotions

Encourage your habitual store visitors to make online purchases by giving them special first-time offers or extra loyalty reward points.

Loyalty Targeting

Offer loyal customers first access to new collections and any inventory before the rest of the public.

SMS/Push Notifications

Let customers know about similar products available in different colors/sizes or inform them about complementary items.