With consumers forced online during the pandemic, the surge in digital traffic and demand across key retail sectors gives a misleading impression that consumers will shift dramatically to buying online post-pandemic.

In fact, consumers say they hope to return to normal shopping habits, including store visits. But this will be a gradual process based on how safe people feel, not just the easing of government restrictions.

Even if online sales don’t dominate retail revenues, digital interactions and experiences will increasingly be a part of ongoing engagement across the customer lifecycle. Forrester’s first observation of behaviours during the pandemic identifies that:

  • Forced digital interactions will accelerate consumer shift to digital experiences Forced digital behaviors during the pandemic will accelerate digital behaviors. Consumers have embraced a range of new digital behaviours for the first time during the pandemic, from online grocery shopping to digital payments and virtual fitness classes. The “new normal” will see more digital interactions and experiences feed into the way consumers engage with and purchase from brands.
  • Values will increasingly feed into consumer decisions. The pandemic will change how consumers evaluate essential spending and scrutinise products before buying them. Forrester’s consumer surveys tell us that, before the crisis, 59 percent of UK consumers agreed that it is important that companies operate with socially responsibility. Values based on family, proximity, cohesion, authenticity, transparency, and frugality will grow in importance. Consumers will increasingly choose brands based on what they stand for and how they conduct their business.

As we shift into pandemic recovery, brands and retailers will need to keep up with shifting consumer behaviors and expectations. For many retail firms this will be coupled with managing the negative business impact of lockdown. The pandemic recovery period will bring many preexisting strategic objectives into sharper focus and accelerate the need to execute on them. Retailers and brand will need to:

Strengthening direct customer relationships.

Dealing with a period when stores were effectively unavailable has reinforced the value of digital sales and customer relationships. This is particularly true for B2B2C brands, traditionally reliant on retail partner sales, and luxury brands that typically place higher value on the in-store customer experience. These brands will double down on their efforts to drive direct-to-consumer digital relationships and to increase their influence on indirect sales through retail partnerships.

Re-balance store exposure with their digital presence.

Store closures and shifts in consumer spending habits have forced retailers to rely on their digital presence, during the pandemic. It also magnifies retailers’ preexisting need to rebalance their physical stores and digital presence. The role of the store must evolve beyond sales to be part of the overall customer experience alongside digital, retailers need to re-evaluate their strategic objectives for stores.

Stand by business values to satisfy values-based consumers.

Consumers will increasingly care about the meaning and impact of their purchases and the values of the companies they engage with. As well as environmental and local community impact, how companies treat their employees during and after the pandemic will also feed into how consumers perceive a brand.

For example, the UK supermarkets prioritising vulnerable customers for online home deliveries during lockdown and Morrison’s creating a hardship fund for employees needing financial support.

Forced digital interactions during the pandemic, will have a lasting impact as consumers are exposed to new digital interactions and convenience. Brands will have to adapt to new forms of socialisation and communication, values-based decision making as well as new combinations of digital and physical experiences.

Learn more about why and how consumer behaviour learned in the crisis will become habits in this complimentary Forrester webinar on the Future of B2C Buying in Retail and CPG (1st July, 10am BST).

Michelle Beeson is Analyst Serving eBusiness & Channel Strategy Professionals at Forrester.

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