The pandemic heralded many changes with sudden stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements, resulting in new challenges for businesses to face, including significant changes in customer behavior. For the first time in a long time, customers began to pay more attention to and change the way they make purchasing decisions.
In response, many businesses made quick decisions and short-term adjustments to accommodate the pandemic’s changes. But, as the pandemic lingers on, businesses must re-evaluate how they interact with their customers and make long-term changes if they want to remain competitive in the “new normal.”
No one could have predicted what 2020 would bring with it. As COVID-19 spread worldwide, businesses were forced to transition to work from home. Those industries that could not transition experienced mass layoffs, resulting in huge spikes in unemployment and the subsequent loss of disposable income for discretionary spending. With little information about what was happening, huge fluctuations in stock market prices also caused consumers to fear their savings dwindling, adversely affecting their spending habits.
The sudden economic uncertainty meant that consumers were now acutely aware of their spending habits. The result was a significant decline in impulse purchases. Likewise, many customers opted to postpone bigger purchases.
Shift Towards Digital
The use of digital platforms was already growing, but the pandemic truly forced consumers’ hands to fully adopt going virtual. As consumers found themselves stuck at home, everything moved online, including school, work, doctor’s visits, and shopping. The shift to digital has affected the consumer journey for businesses of all types.
While having a website with a comfortable user interface is essential, all of the various channels must work together seamlessly to ensure a positive customer experience. This means online purchases being returned in-store, etc. But having a good website and making returns easy is not enough to stay competitive in the newly evolving marketplace. Focus and emphasis must be placed on how customers shop as well.
For instance, even as stores are opening back up, consumers are less comfortable with traditional means of product trials (such as sampling make-up colors, trying on garments, etc.). To address this, many brands are utilizing virtual technology to help customers “try” products without abandoning social distancing norms. Brands are also using advanced artificial intelligence technologies and algorithms to make more accurate suggestions based on consumer browsing behavior, making it easier than ever for customers to find what they are seeking.
The shift towards digital and virtual experiences has shown consumers the convenience digital channels can provide, especially with curbside pickup and contact-free delivery services. Even as stores open up and customers start visiting physically again, the trend towards digital is likely to stay simply for the convenience it provides.
Demand for Agility
Businesses surviving the pandemic have proven to be agile enough to quickly adapt to the evolving situation. Seemingly overnight, what was working in terms of marketing and the customer journey, was turned on its head. Customers quickly became sensitive to brand messaging, requiring marketing efforts to be changed swiftly to protect brand images. Likewise, new services such as curbside pickup, online shopping experiences, etc., had to be integrated in record time to meet the sudden surge in digital channels.
Beyond marketing efforts, brands also had to quickly think about their product offerings. While many brands started selling masks and hand sanitizers, other brands took it a step further to re-evaluate their existing products to ensure they met the changing list of customer concerns. For instance, the noise home appliances make suddenly became a concern as more consumers began working from home, which a noisy home appliance can easily disrupt.
Likewise, consumers began doing more at home, with many placing automation high on their list of priorities, which is one of the main reasons demand surged for robot vacuums and mops like Roomba and Braava.
Just as companies that failed to adopt digital channels saw their demise, companies that fail to think on their feet and quickly accommodate changing customer behaviors will have challenging times ahead.
While vaccine campaigns are rolling out, there are still business fears of a new wave of Covid-19 coming as the Omicron variant spreads. With the future uncertain as new variants keep emerging, it will be wise for businesses to begin preparing for additional waves and even the impact of future pandemics.
The best way to do this is to focus on the customer journey, emphasizing the digital experience, as this trend has only intensified with the pandemic. Developing a well-rounded customer journey will be beneficial for businesses, even if stay-at-home orders are issued once again.