In under two months, the adoption and usage of e-Commerce reached 2022 projections, with 90% of consumers changing their shopping behavior by mid-March. There are thousands of new online shoppers, consumers using click-and-collect for the first time, and consumers turning to new retailers or brands to purchase from as inventories dwindle and delivery dates are delayed.
These drastic shifts in consumer behavior are here to stay: recent research suggests as many as 60% of consumers will continue to purchase on digital channels even when social distancing measures lessen. It is naive for brands and retailers to expect consumers to revert to their old in-store reliance, and adapting today will ensure long term success.
Prior to COVID-19, 67% of consumers said brands and retailers needed to do more to guide their purchase decisions online, and preferred visiting a physical store to decide on a purchase. This is largely due to the guidance and support consumers received from store associates or product experts in-store — it’s much easier to feel confident in a purchase when given individualized attention to unique needs and wants. A new approach to digital commerce is required for brands and retailers, to ensure they are providing shoppers with unique paths to purchase that adapt to each customer’s needs and wants in an omnichannel world.
Three Actions Brands And Retailers Must Take For Long-Term Success
1. Improve the search experience to help consumers find what they are looking for
Think with Google recently released data stating that amid COVID-19, more than 25% of consumers cannot find what they are looking for online. As mentioned earlier, the majority of consumers are accustomed to and prefer the in-store experience, because they were supported in their path to purchase by in-store associates.
The truth is the online search experience in its current state places the effort of identifying the right products for their needs and wants on the shopper. Over 40%of consumers will spend more than 30 minutes searching for the “perfect product” as they use variations of keywords or filtered search in hopes the right result will surface. That level of time investment is not sustainable for consumers as we continue to navigate a digital-first world during the current outbreak, and prepare for a new normal. Brands and retailers must take back their responsibility in helping consumers find what they want online, by providing them with a digital experience that replicates the in-store experience.
2. Deliver a stress-free shopping experience focused on guidance and support
The same Think with Google study found that 69% of consumers are purchasing from brands and retailers they normally would not have as they struggle to find what they are looking for online. COVID-19’s impact on major retailers’ product availability and delivery delays provides an immense opportunity to stand out. Businesses that prioritize making searching for and buying products online straightforward and consumer-centric will foster confidence with a new audience of customers.
Brands and retailers need to focus on assisting consumers with their shopping journey and support them in making confident purchase decisions. Delivering a stress-free shopping experience that is always available to help customers navigate through purchase decisions is not just a competitive advantage but a clear signal to them that you want to make their path to purchase simple and accurate.
3. Be prepared for omnichannel to be the way forward
In the month of March, Shopify saw a 20% increase in e=Commerce stores launching as a direct result of COVID-19. For many brands and retailers of all sizes it served as a wake-up call to be present online and finally adapt to digital commerce. The next step is creating an omnichannel experience for when the economy opens again. Many consumers are showing increased interest and usage of “click-and-collect” for their shopping needs because it’s convenient and they get quick access to what they want. This behavior shift will continue after lockdown is eased; consumers are not going to be rushing to browse through the aisles of their favorite stores immediately. This requires brands and retailers to adapt to an omnichannel world today, by thinking about what life after lockdown looks like and how they can entice consumers back into their stores. Combining the online and in-store experience will likely include applications of QR code technology or incentives to buy online and collect in-store.
While we cannot predict with 100% certainty how consumers will respond to life after lockdown, it is evident every retailer and brand needs to provide enhanced levels of guidance online as consumers navigate a new digital-commerce-first reality. It is essential to make the process of searching and finding products online as conversational and human as possible. This is what consumers need in this new reality. Doing so is the only way to ensure consumers are able to find the products they need quickly and easily.
Sarah Assous is the Chief Marketing Officer of Zoovu, an artificial intelligence conversational search platform that helps thousands of brands and retailers narrow down search to guide consumers to the perfect product.