The Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on our daily lives and businesses was so hard that these days a lot of experts are saying that at least for the foreseeable future we should forget about everything getting back to normal and retail businesses are no different. If you can recall, even before this pandemic and the economic downturn it brought to our lives, brick-and-mortar retail businesses were in a battle with online companies like Amazon and with the help of Coronavirus pandemic, these challenges for retail businesses just got accelerated.
From searching to investigating, choosing, ordering, and returning / exchanging, retailers will need to deliver a quick and smooth e-commerce experience. Customers can no longer accept the experience of sub-par internet shopping as they would have well before recession. Retailers need to ensure that their websites are mobile-friendly, provide integrated services like “Buy online pickup in store” (BOPIS) and provide a reliable and clear online experience over different platforms, channels and devices.
Performing at this baseline level is appropriate for a limited few retailers, such as popular fashion stores or pop-up cafes. Clients can also go out to a brick-and – mortar place if demand for a product is very strong and/or urgent, such as for Shake Shack sandwiches, Nike shoe deals, or the new Apple devices releases. As a super fan’s hobby, camping out overnight or standing in hours-long queues to shop can inevitably return. But that’s no longer a plan to rely on – improved in-store processes or a well-working digital footprint are both at stake.
Some retail companies have given as much, if not even more, emphasis on the in-store experience for several years now than they do on the products they offer. From Bass Pro Shops to Restoration Hardware and even Walmart, retail companies have found that hosting events or providing exclusive experiences and facilities in-store not only draws buyers, but also allows them to stay longer, purchase more products and spend money on them.
For those who can shop in person, all retail stores will just have to start making their in-store experiences ever more remarkable as a result of Covid-19. They have to give individuals such a convincing incentive to return, explaining their vulnerability to health threats and addressing the inertia of the habits they embraced throughout the shutdown.
To get going, retailers should remember how luxury movie theater brands like Cinepolis originated back when the movie theater market was disrupted by Netflix as well as other home film-viewing alternatives. Such new experiences had not merely enhanced what had previously been sold to consumers and addressed the limitations of current choices. They made it easier to visit a cinema than to watch at home, selling luxurious reclining lounge chairs, seat-side specialty food and drinks, and lobby sections with bars to have fun with friends both before and after watching movies. When retailers deliver an exclusive, unique experience, such as luxury cinemas, they can pull consumers out of their houses.
Another way to succeed and win over online competitors is enhanced in-person customer support, but stores must consider about support differently. Service cannot anymore be defined as sales support and is restricted to standardized efforts, such as welcoming clients, managing disputes, handling refunds and specific requests. The majority of retailers in larger ticket and more complicated categories are also anticipated to offer personal shoppers, professional installers and technical experts.
A few years ago, Best Buy were using this approach to bounce back from its losing fight with Amazon. It launched an advisory service that encourages clients to get free in-home advice about the items they can purchase and how to install them. The service is meant to encourage, not simply to close transactions, long-term relationships with clients. As a result, it attracted clients away from online alternatives and placed Best Buy as a more personal, reliable partner.
Digitally Native Customer Experience
It is also important to apply this current focus on innovation and support to the modern customer experience. Many stores with brick-and – mortar origins merely attempt to duplicate their online in-store experience, but such attempts are pointless and misplaced. Beyond the purchase essentials previously discussed, consumers don’t consider online experience to be just like an in-person experience — nor do they would like it to be.
It is possible to create entirely new and exclusive shopping experiences by engaging in some of the innovative digital technologies, like real-time inventory tracking, AI-powered search, predictive analysis, and customization and co-creation features. This includes , for example, social commerce, which helps businesses not only to sell via social media but also integrates social interactions, peer feedback, evaluations and suggestions, digital content, personalization, gamification and much more. This new capabilities will be used by a retail outlet to create a collaborative, engaging, immersive environment wherever clients are, which is something that no traditional platform can do.
Retailers will want to investigate the evolution of several other brick-and – mortar businesses and organizations to get insights and ideas for building an online shopping experience from the scratch. As Covid-19 pushed churches to close down their weekly services, using remote meeting solutions like Zoom, immediately moved their religious services online. Yet Crossroads Church, located in Cincinnati, took the opportunity to re-imagine the weekly speeches of its pastors. They are also recording pastors presenting messages at multiple sites to help promote the theme of the week (for instance, speaking about the value of a good foundation at a historical church site).
Similarly, retail businesses can take advantage of the greater versatility and unique contexts that digital provides by, for instance, illustrating a single piece of product on various models to show what it feels like on different body types and sizes by using images to display how a product is currently used by real consumers.
They may also draw inspiration from how modern online learning channels like edX and Coursera provide good and interactive content. Students learning software engineering can upload and instantly evaluate their coding assignments, so that they get immediate feedback; students in psychology could use an application that goes along their class to track their behaviors and help notice trends of their own conduct. In the sense of retail, what would this feel like? Possible scenarios include real-time AI-enabled responses to consumer questions, video chatting with a personal stylist, and applications that monitor existing product use and make suggestions for new products. Ideas such as these occur whenever retailers look beyond adjusting to the online experience in person.
For the retail sector, now is not the time to continue to actually wait for the crisis to come to an end. The future could look less dazed, with a much more constructive, positive approach to the both digitalization and a new age in customer experience and service.