retailer e-commerce

How retailers are preparing for a post-COVID world

Consumer shopping patterns heavily influence retail industry trends, and 2020 to date has proven that in spades. The self-isolation and quarantine measures COVID-19 has wrought have led many of us to make incrementally more purchases online. While U.S. retail sales are likely to be down in 2020 overall, research company eMarketer predicts that e-commerce sales, as a standalone segment, will increase by 18%.

There is no doubt the pandemic hastened a digital shift that was already in progress and that the speed at which consumers and businesses adapted will have a lasting impact on the industry. Keith Jelinek, managing director in the retail practice at global consulting firm Berkeley Research Group, recently told Retail Customer Experience that the slow return of in-store shopping — and the ongoing potential for COVID-19 spikes — will make retail uncertain for the foreseeable future, and will demand ongoing novel approaches to business. "[Recovery will be] unlike anything any of us have had to endure or experience for over 100 years. It will take time, and that time will require the generation of liquidity and access to capital," he said.

If they don't already, retailers should have a plan in place to support their customers' increased reliance on e-commerce and digital technology by delivering a superior customer experience (CX). These four strategies can help.

Enhance your online store

The ability to shop online is now more important than ever - both in terms of enhancing the customer experience and for a company's bottom line. As reported in eMarketer, American adults are spending an additional 24 minutes on their mobile devices each day so far in 2020. Overall, daily time spent with digital media — meaning, video sites, social media and other online news and entertainment sources — is estimated to have increased by almost an hour.

Offering customers numerous ways to make purchases while limiting contact with staff is a critical strategy for the months to come. In late May, orders purchased online for pickup in store surged by 248% compared with pre-pandemic times, and eMarketer also reported that in the U.S. alone, "click-and-collect" e-commerce sales will grow to nearly $59 billion this year as consumers continue to gravitate toward curbside pickup options that allow for physical distancing.

With increased traffic to online shops, now is the time to reassess your website and e-commerce infrastructure. How easy is it for customers to find products and place orders on your site? How quickly can you process those orders? These are the kinds of questions brick-and-mortar retailers with an online presence should be asking right now, given that consumers' reliance on online shopping will likely continue to grow.

Stay connected through social media

Equally important is maintaining a brand presence on social media. Even at times when your customers aren't actively shopping, it's vital for brands to maintain a connection online. Developing a positive brand reputation amid so much uncertainty requires companies to go beyond offering discounts and promotional information, to providing relevant news and information.

Use social networks to share updates on your store policies, merchandise availability and what you're doing to keep customers and employees safe, like what The Container Store did on Twitter and Neiman Marcus did on Facebook. Using social channels for these types of communications, rather than (or in addition to) advertising, has positive results. According to Edelman's global report on brand trust and perception during the pandemic, 71% of respondents said that if a brand is "putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever," and 84% want brands to be "a reliable news source that keeps people informed."

Introduce contactless purchase options

According to's June report, "Global Online Payment Methods 2020 and COVID-19's Impact," 50% of global shoppers have been using digital payments — specifically e-wallets and contactless cards — more frequently since the start of the pandemic. Additional research in the U.S. shows that 60% of the country's consumers feel more comfortable using contactless payment methods after having tried them during the pandemic.

By introducing mobile wallets or app payments, retailers can help facilitate purchases and reduce the need for physical contact with customers. Joining brands like Amazon and Starbucks by developing a mobile wallet for your retail store creates a branded opportunity for one-click payment both online and in-store. With so many consumers already accustomed to using PayPal, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, adoption can be virtually seamless.

Train employees and provide customer service support

In addition to contactless purchase options, it's equally important to consider how you will provide customer service support moving forward - particularly as the shift towards digital channels continue.

Many consumers have already mastered shopping online, but others have only just begun to familiarize themselves with making purchases via desktop or mobile devices. These shoppers may require assistance, which means additional training for agents on a variety of shopping platforms and technologies.

An omnichannel customer service strategy will ensure customers can connect with an agent whenever they need one, wherever they are. By empowering consumers to interact with your business via their device or channel of choice, you can improve their CX. Moreover, ensuring they feel supported throughout their customer journey has the added benefit of building affinity and loyalty with your brand.

To support contact center employees, consider increasing the use of AI-powered bots and messaging tools. Not only do these AI-driven solutions alleviate pressure on CX teams by fielding basic or frequently asked questions, but their ability to screen and filter customer queries can reduce wait times and ensure those callers that actually need to speak to a human agent are supported more quickly, efficiently and effectively.

Looking ahead to a post-COVID-19 world, the need for brands to optimize a digital first customer experience will continue to be a critical success factor. As more and more consumers move and remain online to shop, offering a comprehensive and seamless CX on digital channels will ensure you are able to move with them every step of the way.

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