Managing Products and Services

What’s next for the retail customer experience?

Here are three shifts that are likely to remain after COVID-19 and what you should keep in mind moving forward.

Published: July 21, 2020

As businesses slowly resume operations, owners return to the same question they faced prior to the health crisis — how do I get more customers in the door? Fortunately, coming out of challenging times provides an opportunity to adapt.

The advent of COVID-19 has led to unexpected changes in consumer behavior. According to a global survey conducted by Ernst & Young, 34% of consumers say they are willing to pay more for local products post-pandemic.1 Additionally, a survey from MIT Sloan Management Review found that 54% of consumers made purchases from brands that were new to them, and 32% made those purchases because they were willing to try new brands during the pandemic.2

In light of these changes, here are three customer experiences business owners can implement:

Health and safety measures on display

Customers still need assurance that the places they enter prioritize the health and safety of both employees and shoppers.

In a recent Field Agent survey, 53% of respondents said they’re using sanitizing stations at stores more often since the coronavirus outbreak.3 Some businesses already have stations set up at entrances stocked with hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and other sanitation products for customers to use.

Additionally, large retailers such as Home Depot and Walmart have shortened their operating hours in some areas to allow for added sanitation efforts. Routine disinfections of merchandise are just another way for retailers to demonstrate their efforts to keep the public safe.

Self-serve options

In an effort to follow social distancing guidelines, many aspects of the retail experience have rapidly become self-serve or touchless.

After using it during the height of the COVID-19 spread, 60% of U.S. consumers say they’re more comfortable using contactless payments options now than they were before, according to Payment Source research.4 And in the grocery industry, 87% of shoppers would prefer to shop in stores with touchless or “robust self-checkout options,” according to a consumer survey from Shekel Brainweigh Ltd.5

Self-checkout kiosks and contactless payments have transformed from an added convenience to an expectation in the eyes of the consumer. Owners will need to adapt and be flexible in their offerings for in-store checkout.

Digital convenience and connection

Though many small businesses have thrived on face-to-face interactions with customers, owners will now have to use new methods to show quality customer care.

Delivery and pickup options will be key to meeting the needs of retail customers. After the pandemic subsides, 62% of consumers who ordered at least one new product category for delivery during the pandemic said they will continue to do so — and the same goes for 64% of consumers who did the same with pickup or takeout, according to a study from Sense 360.6

For shoppers who have shifted their attention to e-commerce, added insurance or warranty protection for online purchases (without an added fee) is a small reassurance that a brand values their patronage. And for businesses determined to guide customers back into their shops, apps offering location-based discounts and loyalty points while in-store may help entice hesitant shoppers.

By updating your processes to meet these new customer preferences, you can help your business and your customers ease back into a comfortable retail shopping experience.

For more information on easing back into day-to-day operations, consider these tips.

1 “Four consumer behavior trends emerge during the COVID-19 pandemic, the first EY Future Consumer Index finds,” PR Newswire, 2020.

2 “Growth Opportunities for Brands During the COVID-19 Crisis,” MIT Sloan Management Review, 2020.

3 “First Defense: Auditing Disinfectant/Sanitizer Dispensers in Stores,” Field Agent, 2020.

4 “PayThink It's not just coronavirus that's accelerating contactless payments,” Payment Source, 2020.

5 “87% Of Shoppers Prefer to Shop in Stores With Touchless or Robust Self-Checkout Options During COVID-19 Pandemic,” Associated Press News, 2020.

6 “Consumers' shift to delivery and takeout may be largely permanent after COVID-19 ends,” Sense 360, 2020.