The Covid-19 crisis has impacted every aspect of consumer life, leaving brands to navigate uncharted territories. There’s lots of talk about getting back to ‘normal’, but the truth is the past few months have caused long-lasting changes to consumers’ attitudes and behaviours toward shopping. We know this because our latest research report, ‘The Future of Retail: Opportunities for Brands in the New Normal’, evaluates consumer behaviour, perceptions, and feelings during and post lockdown – and for UK shoppers ‘normal’ is now very different to what we once knew.
Despite lockdown measures easing, eight in 10 (78%) UK shoppers admit they are still not comfortable with shopping in person, whilst six in 10 (63%) UK shoppers said it would take at least four months before they will be fully comfortable again. As some shoppers do choose to return to stores, the shopping landscape is more fragmented than it was before lockdown, with a third (29%) saying they plan to shop online more even after restrictions ease.
The way brands adapt to this changing landscape needs to apply to how they communicate with shoppers. In order to stay relevant and uphold an engaging communications strategy, it’s imperative for brands to tune into individual behaviours and consumer expectations. The key to achieve this is leveraging real-time data, being human and prioritising retention.
Responsibly collecting and processing data in real-time is crucial for brands to establish consumer trust through hyper-personal, hyper-relevant experiences. Real-time data allows brands to understand consumer context and create communications for the optimised channels at the right moment, providing customers with relevant experiences. For instance, Braze data pulled during lockdown showed that 94% of global retail consumers were acquired via web and mobile in April.
This trend toward digital-first consumers is unsurprising considering people were strictly confined to their homes, nevertheless it’s data like this that, at an individual level, that keeps brands on track when selecting the best channel on which to communicate with a customer.
In addition, real-time data helps brands be even more engaging, allowing them to serve the right content at the perfect time, not when the moment has passed. For example, retailers that were quick to understand customers’ buying habits during lockdown were more able to communicate effectively about the products that were most in demand.
Being timely is critical but brands also need to be human. Over the last five months, as well as a global pandemic, the world has seen a significant uprising in important movements such as Black Lives Matter and a greater awareness of the struggles of The LGBTQ+ community. Brands are increasingly scrutinised, and rightly so, on how they respond to and communicate about such matters. We know this is important to customers and can affect their purchasing habits – with six in 10 (61%) UK shoppers, and three quarters (86%) of UK Gen Z shoppers specifically, stating they’ve walked from a brand because they have heard or experienced something they didn’t like.
The world we’re all living in isn’t the “new” normal anymore, increasingly, it’s just what normal looks like. Brands need to evolve their engagement practices to meet the rising expectations of empathy and consideration that customers crave. By focusing on that human connection, listening for the right signals, and choosing empathy over aggressive tactics, retail brands can find ways to move forward and be a voice for better, more empathetic customer/brand relationships in a post-Covid world.
Our research shows a third (32%) of UK consumers tried a new brand during lockdown, with millennials experimenting the most (43%). However, while Covid-19 ushered in this new wave of customers, they did not come without deep challenges. We found that customers acquired during Covid-19 have an 82% lower retention rate than those acquired during a non-Covid, non-holiday time period. With consumers more likely than ever to jump ship a focus on improving retention is critical.
One way for retailers to do this is to double down on mobile channels. Braze data shows that mobile users are more likely to make purchases. So, with the holiday season approaching, now is the time to run app download campaigns, experiment with in-app messages or create cross-channel campaigns with the goal of driving additional push opt-ins. By the time the holiday season starts, retailers with effective strategies will have engaged users primed for multiple messaging channels and ready to hear from them.
The retail industry will continue to face uncertainty as consumer behaviours and attitudes change and adapt to the world around them. To stay relevant, it is essential brands recognise the true effects of the pandemic, they should continue to listen carefully for trends in customer behaviour data and use that data to help them communicate with their customers in a human way, at the right moment, on the right channel.
James Manderson is general manager EMEA at customer engagement platform Braze