Back in April, I wrote an article that gathered results from several research sources and attempted to describe how the coronavirus pandemic was changing customer behavior.
That article suggested that:
- Customers are watching brands.
- More customers are responding to marketing emails more than sales emails.
- Customers are flocking online.
- Customers want to shop local but are conflicted.
- Customers are forgiving and are willing to wait.
- But, they want transparency and proactive communication.
Now, given that we are approaching the holiday season I thought it appropriate to revisit customer behavior and to ask: are those behavior changes holding, or is it changing again?
Customers still plan to do most of their shopping online.
In a recent survey of over 1,000 consumers across the U.S. Iterable found that 67% of U.S. shoppers plan to do most, if not all, of their holiday shopping online with only 3% reporting that they will do all of their shopping in stores.
Episerver, in their 2020 Holiday Ecommerce Report, found the same trend in other countries around the world. Their research found that just 6% of customers in the U.S., 5% in the U.K., 11% in Sweden, 7% in Germany and 15% in Australia report that they don’t plan to purchase any gifts online this year.
The big online players will dominate, but customers are still thinking local.
Episerver also found that the majority of customers across the U.S., UK, Germany, Sweden and Australia will start their holiday shopping journey on either Google or Amazon whether they are looking for inspiration or if they have a specific product in mind.
However, there is hope for local and smaller businesses. Iterable found that support for local businesses has grown over the last few months, with 22% of customers reporting that shopping with local and small businesses will be a priority for them this holiday season.
However, there is a catch, and the standards for all are clear.
Iterable also found that customers will only shop local if these businesses are competitive, convenient, easy to buy from and include low-touch pick-up or delivery options.
Moreover, Episerver, in their research, identified the top three reasons that would potentially stop or deter a customer from a planned purchase. These act as minimum performance standards for all businesses and are: shipping is too expensive, poor product descriptions and the load speed of a website. These findings were consistent across the United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany and Australia.
Meanwhile, for more considered purchases, Invoca recently found that shopping demand for more expensive items like cars, insurance policies, wireless plans and more extensive home improvement items had grown significantly since March. However, many customers still have lingering concerns around quality, refunds and getting the best deal when it comes to buying these type of items online.
That’s understandable given the risk and expense involved.
However, when asked what would make them feel more confident about making big-ticket purchases online:
- 87% of customers stated that having the opportunity to easily talk to someone on the phone if they had questions would help;
- Around 80% reported that website load speed, ease of navigation and accessibility across devices was a large contributing factor; and
- 77% said that getting a quick response when asking to chat live with an agent would also boost their confidence.
Customers want to feel connected to the brands that they buy from.
According to Iterable, a massive 83% of customers that they surveyed reported that they were more likely to purchase from a brand they feel connected to via their mission or their shared values. They also warned that brands with “less mission-driven messages or messages that don’t align to consumers’ values may see a drop in sales.”
This was particularly true for Gen Z and higher-income customers.
But, they are also budget and bargain conscious.
The picture is further complicated by another finding from Iterable who found that only 17% of all customers reported that they would buy an item as soon as they see it in stock. In contrast, more than a third (36%) of customers say they are planning their purchases around expected online sales events.
That does not mean that they don’t want to hear from brands.
Email is not the only way to engage with customers and chat and messaging channels are offering brands more opportunities for engagement.
Recent research from Mitto on customers in the U.S., Brazil, India, Nigeria and China found that since the start of the pandemic, customers across all of the countries report significant increases in the use of messaging and chat apps.
While messaging and chat apps may vary across countries, their research suggests that there is an appetite from customers for increased use of messaging apps by brands to engage their customers.
In particular, customers across all countries expressed an openness to receive more messages on chat apps around customer care issues (one time PIN codes, order updates, support queries and satisfaction surveys). But they also signaled their openness to receiving more promotional and sales campaign messages.
But, consumers are showing signs that they are tired.
2020 feels like it has been a long old year, and many folks are getting tired. While enthusiasm for the holiday shopping season may still be there, Iterable found evidence that customers are going to need time to recover from shopping fatigue. Their research found that regardless of income or location the majority of customers are reporting that they would prefer a break of between two weeks and a month after the holidays before they are going to feel ready to receive alerts from retailers and brands again.
Brands and retailers should, therefore, tread carefully.
So, have the behavioral changes that we saw emerging in April stuck or have they changed again?
Well, from the evidence, it seems that the shift to digital and online shopping is sticking. And, while the big online retailers are likely to dominate the holiday shopping season, there is room for smaller and more local retailers to compete. To do so, however, they will need to emotionally connect with their customers, make themselves available especially around bigger ticket items and make sure their site performance, usability and delivery options are comparable to their larger peers.
If not, it could turn into a long holiday season for them.
This post was originally published by Adrian Swinscoe on Forbes.com here.