How often do you visit a store versus going online to make a purchase? The pandemic has changed retail and how we shop forever. Online shopping has been in the ascendency for many years, even before the pandemic. While the relevancy of the store has been waning.
However, in-store shopping is not in the past just yet. Even with the most reluctant consumer buying more online, surveys suggest in-store shopping is a priority, with most generations, including Gen Z. Forbes says 72% of Gen Z will go to the mall at least once a month.
Nonetheless, not all stores will see an uptick in business due to consumers’ health concerns with Covid. There are conditions and retailers must meet the needs of consumers’ health concerns and offer incentives that can not be matched shopping online.
In this business blog, we recap on the uptick of eCommerce due to the pandemic and how the retail industry is responding to consumers’ needs for a safe and higher value in-store shopping experience.
Much of the data in this article is from three reliable sources that regularly survey consumer purchasing behaviour. For example, the following trends come from the annual state of retail survey by digital signage experts Mandoe Media.
- 58% of consumers are confident they will return to in-store shopping
- 80% of respondents say they better ventilation in restaurants and bars
- 83% of shoppers are not confident they will frequent small shops due to health concerns with the lack of social distancing
- 50% will avoid small local shops altogether
While the data is from a small survey of just 850 shoppers from three countries, i.e. USA, UK, and Australia, other surveys confirm the uptick in eCommerce and the need for in-store shopping to continue to shift to providing a deeper sensory experience. For example, this report says consumers want an enjoyable ambience including content to engage the senses of visual, auditory, touch and maybe taste:
- Music – including live bands, concerts
- Visuals – billboards, sandwich boards, digital displays, installations, wall art
- Personal experiences – especially with touch, taste
Malls have been particularly good at drawing in crowds with free entertainment, and the shops continue it with personalized interaction. For example, free food tasting, watching live product demos or trying free samples. However, there’s no denying retail stores are in the fight for their survival now eCommerce has reached critical mass with consumers.
How significant was the shift to online shopping during the pandemic? From Statista:
In the USA, Q4 2019 and Q1 2020 online sales were 11.3% of all retail sales. However, by Q2 2020, it reached 15.7% before stabilizing at 13% in Q3 2021.
For the UK, we only have monthly statistics, and the way lockdowns were introduced and removed means that there was far more fluctuation in buying habits. During the first entire month of complete lockdown, online sales reached 30.3% of total sales, climbing to 36.3% until they fell back slightly as restrictions were eased.
According to a report compiled and published by AusPost, online shopping sales grew by a staggering 57% year on year.
Expect eCommerce to continue upward with reach into social media and the Metaverse. Technology will continue to play an integral role in the early adoption of the metaverse, and businesses are already making significant investments in games, NFTs and platforms to lure consumers.
How Stores Are Winning Over Consumers
Retailers have been competing fiercely with each other for years and more so since the arrival of megastores like Amazon and Walmart. How have they won over customers? By working on their USPs, using technology, promotions, loyalty programs, and in-store experiences.
Consumers want sensory experiences that are unique to mixing with people in person. Technology has an essential role in bridging the online and offline shopping experience. Using AR, VR, and personalized marketing pushed to customer devices while in the store heightens the customer experience. Then add the content that can be unique to being instore, i.e. live events that create ambiance, and it’s hard to imagine the death of the retail store.
Shopping local is also experiencing a revival, especially since the pandemic, albeit with some trepidation from consumers worried about social distancing, particularly in the smaller shops. Local shops have been innovative through working together with foot traffic flow management and lowering in-store density, i.e. fewer shoppers and one-way foot traffic management. While the changes may irritate some shoppers, most will appreciate the effort of retailers to keep them safe.
Plus, accepting appointments is also another way retail stores are winning over customers. Who doesn’t want to feel like a VIP where they have the whole store to themselves and the staff’s undivided attention!
Large Format Retail
With Covid infections still plaguing most areas, shoppers want to know their health matters to retailers. Social distancing can happen without loss of density in larger stores. However, retailers still need to identify with and empathize with shoppers’ concerns.
For the time being, presenting their process for keeping their store clean and shoppers protected should include:
- Hand sanitizer
- Contact tracing
- Social distancing
- Mask wearing
Plus, the surveys revealed people want better indoor ventilation. Most people have a far better understanding of how diseases are spread and the role good ventilation plays in reducing the chances of getting sick. Something that applies equally to other diseases and viruses.
So, unsurprisingly, 80% of respondents said they would feel better about visiting a bar or restaurant if there was good ventilation.
All retail outlets should also prioritize ventilation, especially in shops with smaller footprints. Reverting back to the statistic that 83% of shoppers said that they would avoid smaller shops for fear of catching the airborne virus.
How important are sustainability, diversity, and inclusivity? It can be a deal-breaker for many consumers.
In recent surveys, COVID monopolized most survey respondents’ replies. However, sustainability, diversity, and inclusivity also have a role in purchasing decisions. Is the brand an equal opportunities employer? Are they committed to sustainability? These questions and more are not just worrisome to retailers with stores but overall as they are far-reaching about brand identity and reputation.
Consumers are using online reviews and brand reputation in their decision-making. A bad rep and the sale is lost to a competitor. Needless to say, all businesses need to work on their social practices and HR policies. Plus, use marketing and PR to prove to customers they are just as committed to change and can do better together.