COVID-19 has upended customer preferences and behaviours, and these new habits will likely continue after the pandemic ends. As a result of this, retail success is now more closely aligned with retailers understanding of their customers and how they adapt to those ever-changing needs. Being able to “sense and respond” quickly to changing shopper behaviours and needs has helped retailers adjust their store and digital execution efforts more efficiently and profitably as they deal with the crisis.
But as consumer buying habits continue to shift and evolve, retailers need to understand who their new customer is, what their expectations are when shopping and how they can ensure their offering caters to the needs of this new customer. To do this, for example, stores have established social distancing measures and are offering contactless experiences for in-store shoppers, as well as expanding digital and mobile shopping options to include in-store pick-up for online shoppers.
Looking ahead, it will be important to understand the types of shoppers that have made more nuanced behavioural shifts, for example: the risk averse shopper, the retail butterfly, and the basic bargain hunter, all of which will have an impact on the future of the retail landscape.
The risk-averse customer
Before the pandemic, this type of customer preferred to shop in-store because they were familiar with the in-store experience and trusted the stores they went into. Now, this customer has either moved online or wants some reassurance that returning to the store is safe. They want to understand safety protocols, special hours for the at-risk community, and whether the items they want are in stock before venturing out.
To put the risk-averse customer’s mind at ease, many retailers have had to find ways to address this influx of inquiries from customers. Supermarkets like Morrisons tapped in to Amazon Connect to immediately respond to the challenges of the pandemic. Amazon Connect’s integration with Salesforce has enabled Morrisons to gain insights about why customers were calling in and used automated messages to help them. Messaging was updated almost every day to keep customers informed at every step.
Using Amazon Connect Morrisons was also able to quickly deploy a new service providing doorstep deliveries for people more vulnerable to COVID-19. Self-isolating customers without access to the internet or a Morrisons.com account could call through Amazon Connect to order groceries over the phone—meaning, no account or internet was needed.
The retail butterfly
This customer has grown accustomed to personalised shopping experiences with their favourite retailers. They prefer retailers that offer unique loyalty programmes or perks, such as early access to deals or product launches, and personal shoppers that understand their unique style preferences. However, the pandemic is testing their loyalty, transforming them from a loyal customer to a retail butterfly. If a retailer is no longer able to cater to their needs, which extend beyond the typical retail experience, they are willing to move on to a retailer that can.
To regain their loyalty, there are several ways retailers can engage with the retail butterfly in this new environment – from adding a personal touch to new services, to offering new ways to engage and excite them. For example, Nike came up with a way to address their shoppers’ needs during the pandemic while providing a unique, on-brand experience. When shoppers who use Nike’s Buy Online, Pickup in Store (BOPIS) service arrive to pick up their items, they now scan their digital ID in the Nike app to open a locker with their order inside, limiting contact with other people, while reinforcing the Nike brand and user experience.
Retailers can also work to recreate the human touch of a retail experience online. One way to stay connected with customers is to turn in-store personal shoppers into digital stylists. By creating remote selling capabilities, retailers can empower store associates to interact with their clients – anytime, anywhere – through touchpoints such as digital look books personalised for each shopper’s unique style and taste. This enables the retailer to maintain personal relationships and brand loyalty that were previously created in-store.
The basic bargain hunter
With the pandemic prompting a shift in the economic landscape, we have seen an increased number of money-conscious shoppers looking to save more and spend less. They are making financial decisions based on less or lost income and have become very selective with how and where they spend their money, prioritising essentials and seeking out the best deals.
Retailers that sell the ‘basics’ – such as food, gas, and medication – have the product and inventory to attract these shoppers, along with the opportunity to keep them coming back if they’re able to offer meaningful cost-saving benefits. For this customer, retailers can use technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to generate counterintuitive and previously unseen insights that enable them to create personalised deals and offers.
For example, AWS works with Parkland, a leading fuel and convenience store operator who uses insights into changing needs and preferences derived from AI and ML technology to evolve their retail strategy. With these insights, the company is able to provide its customers with enhanced services, products, and personalised offers to them at the price they want.
As shoppers’ behaviours continue to alter due to the pandemic, so will their expectations for every place they shop, be it a big retail chain, convenience store, or local supermarket. It is imperative that retailers keep pace and cloud technology will play a pivotal role in this. The cloud has been and will continue to be a strategic investment that enables retailers to innovate through volatility, making it possible to quickly identify changing needs and implement solutions that previously would have taken months of planning and testing. Experience gained now can help protect retailers with future unexpected events and disruptions in the future and those who invest in key technologies will be more successful in the retail landscape and able to accommodate for the new post-pandemic customers.
Tom Litchford, Head of Worldwide Retail at Amazon Web Services (AWS)