Changing channels: maintaining great CX during challenging times

The current restrictions facing the UK means shopping and spending habits have changed. Research shows that four in 10 people say they are now avoiding shops and instead doing more shopping online for both safety and convenience – up from 16% just two weeks earlier.

It also shows that one-third of shoppers are now buying products online that they would have previously purchased exclusively in store.

In the grocery sector, supermarket sales have grown by 7.6% - the fastest rate in more than a decade. Likewise in health and beauty, customers have bought up to 50-100% more in purchase volume on beauty and skincare.

However, research also shows that online fashion sales have fallen 30% year-on-year in March as a direct result of the COVID-19, with 20 March representing as much as a 32% dip.

Meeting customer expectations

We know what’s driving these changes, but how can retailers make sure they are able to survive during this time?

Before the current restrictions were put in place, many retailers would have been taking advantage of the multiple touch points customers have access to and would have been focused on joining up each platform so that the customer received the same experience across them all.

Retailers were striving to make these experiences seamless, with unique brand experiences and delivery options such as click-and-collect to entice shoppers back to the high street.

Now the situation is very different. Adhering to social distancing rules is key for every retailer. This is essential to keep their staff safe - whether in-store or in a DC - and still ensure the needs of consumers are met.

On top of this, with lower or no footfall in physical stores but a surge of shopping online, how can retailers ensure the experience they are providing their customers is still as good as ever, without adding additional stress to an already very tense situation?  Our podcast “Quarantine Life and the future of retail” discusses this very topic.

The retail heroes

There are numerous stories of retail heroes surfacing in the media. From the grocery stores offering dedicated hours for NHS staff and keyworkers, to local restaurants turning into mini supermarkets to enable local residents to get the supplies they need in a safe environment.

These stories show that putting people before profit in the current climate is essential. The change that retailers are facing is certainly daunting, but it can be met to a large degree by making use of different fulfilment method.

Whether it’s using store locations as a point of fulfilment to ensure online orders can get to customers quicker, joining forces with another retailer to utilise a shared supply chain or delivery network, or ensuring more products are now available through digital channels, there are ways to tackle the challenge posed by COVID-19.

From offline to online

Small independent retailers in particular are creating new ways of developing new customer experiences, putting their physical presence to one side and concentrating on how they can still reach customers when their shops can no longer operate.

Whilst not focusing on generating sales at this time but instead supporting everyone unable to leave their houses, this move is focused instead on building customer relationships and engagement, keeping customers loyal and encouraging them to continue thinking about the retailer and its products, even when the act of physically going out to a shop is not possible.

It is well known that the British love their gardens, big or small and garden centres have recently come to represent an industry that is having to think differently during lockdown.

While garden centres (for the most part) aren’t well known for their online presence, what they are known for is the destination experience they have created. Consumers rarely just ‘pop in’ to their local garden centre. Instead they tend to browse the store, pick up tips and visit the coffee shop along the way. But how can this be replicated online?

Garden centres are rising to the occasion by creating virtual store tours, educating their online audience and using social media to reach new audiences with content that really resonates. They are also using their physical stores to their advantage by taking online orders and fulfilling from stores/carparks where the stock is already waiting.

Turning tides

It can’t be ignored that the retail sector as we once knew it is changing. It is clear that the lower store footfall and surges in online shopping are putting pressure on retailers and their logistic and supply chain systems to meet new waves of consumer behavior.

From building pop up stores at NHS Nightingale sites, to turning long-standing rivalries into community-first partnerships, the retail sector and its leaders are showcasing the very best, most human side of the sector.

At times like these, when stories of positivity and hope go a long way, brands that are doing the right thing by their customers, employees and communities now, will surely find themselves in a good place with consumers once we see the back of COVID-19 – and that is certainly a positive thought to hold onto during the challenges of lockdown.

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