What Brands Should Know About Consumer Behavior in 2021

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2020 was a year not so much of trends, but instead of abrupt changes. Businesses were closed by strict mandate without any semblance of forewarning, and many of those businesses have never been permitted to reopen in the true sense of the word.

Mask mandates and social distancing orders were given, and willingly adopted, by businesses who suddenly had to account for customer and employee health in ways they never had to before.

Consumers were also forced to change preferences and habits that for some were decades-old. Those used to dining regularly at their favorite family-owned restaurant were stuck with delivery or DiGiorno. Locally-based hardware stores, yoga studios, and other non-national businesses became no-go zones.

2020 was not easy for anyone, least of all business owners and employees. Our hope is that 2021 will be full of far more positive trends. We’ve produced our State of Consumer Behavior 2021 report to help you welcome back old customers, and win new ones, in 2021.

The report presents you as a business owner or operator with a picture of the consumer you can expect to welcome into your business in 2021. Per our findings, this consumer:

  • Is yearning for more in-location experiences after a year over-saturated with Netflix, DoorDash, and virtual happy hours
  • Will seek out the brands that provide the best in-location experience, from the feeling they get when they enter the space to the speed with which they can checkout
  • Will expect fair prices, stellar customer service, convenience, and safety from your business, and may just become a loyal customer if your brand meets this criteria

As a good or service provider with a physical business, you may have had to make sacrifices just to survive in the past year. Making up ground in 2021 will mean providing customers with the best possible atmosphere, customer service, goods and services, and experiences—as you’ll see, this is what the consumer of 2021 demands.

Customers Are as Value-Conscious as Ever

Businesses have had to pool their resources in the past year, stretching every dollar as far as it will go. Consumers have also tightened their belts, and the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) explains how employment struggles related to COVID-19 could last for years.

Value has always been a concern of the typical consumer, but in times of economic uncertainty their eye for a good deal becomes even more discerning.

32.7% of respondents to our survey said price is the number one factor they consider when choosing where to spend their money. This doesn’t necessarily mean that consumers will purchase the cheapest meal or only shop at a dollar store. Rather, you should take it to mean that consumers are always conscious of how much value you are delivering for the price of a pizza pie, spin class, or blouse.

Price was the leading consideration when choosing where to spend their time or money. 30.7% of respondents said that offline businesses could win their loyalty by offering discounts only available at a physical location—in other words, they will travel to your store time and again if it means saving money.

The price of a good or service may generally be a matter of margins, costs, and cold, hard economics. However, the experience that your location provides a customer—the interaction with employees, the fun they have, the sense of community they feel—is the greatest opportunity for you to provide intangible yet real value to the customer.

Customer Service Defines the Customer Experience

The customer needs to feel valued. If they do not, they will find another business that values them.

Those who responded to our State of Consumer Behavior 2021 report made clear how important customer service is to the overall customer experience. 30.9% of respondents said that customer service has the greatest potential to create a positive or negative in-location experience.

Customer service looks different today than it did pre-pandemic. Customers may expect to be assisted without coming into direct contact with an employee and may prefer a masked employee to one greeting them with a smile.

You can use digital signage to direct customers to various parts of your business, to display welcoming videos, and to serve the customer by allowing them to check out on their own.

Customer service may certainly look different in 2021 than it has in years past, but it is as vital to your business’ reputation and success as it has ever been.

Customers Continue to Share Their Opinions of Your Business

In the internet age, online reviews have leveled the playing field between businesses of all sizes and categories. While a few poor Yelp or Google reviews have the potential to deter business, the opposite is also true—wowing one customer could lead to exponential growth for your business in 2021 and beyond.

Nearly 90% of respondents to our survey were either very likely or somewhat likely to tell others about a negative in-store experience. An even greater percentage were likely to spread the word about a positive experience, whether it is a hyper-efficient checkout or a visually pleasing in-store aesthetic.

The potential for customers to spread positive or negative reviews of your business should prompt you to invest more in the customer experience. You don’t have to break the bank, especially during trying times but spending the extra few dollars or hours to improve the customer experience could make a significant difference.

Invest in the Customer Experience in 2021

Something seemingly insignificant, like an interactive video board or a digital sign listing the ways that you are sanitizing surfaces and keeping the customer safe, could inspire a customer to leave a positive review of your business. That review could prompt the arrival of more customers who may be similarly impressed, leave more reviews, and so the cycle goes.

This sort of momentum is precisely what businesses need to return to form in 2021. Customers have spoken: they want value for their money and time, as well as consistently impressive customer service.

Customers impressed by your in-location experience can be your best brand ambassadors, providing positive press through Google Reviews, Yelp, Tripadvisor, and word of mouth.

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