No longer could a good in-store experience pick up the slack for a bad online one. Customer expectations and requirements for online shopping skyrocketed as popping to the shops was a no go. Panic buying and supply chain issues collided with boredom and a sudden increase in usage from the home. Dining tables morphed into classrooms and home offices, gardens became staycation destinations and more time than ever was spent at home, but how did brands adapt?
We saw small businesses move quickly, creating face masks from fabric earmarked for other things such as theatre costumes, swimwear, and party dresses. Healthcare appointments were done virtually via Doctor link and John Lewis launched an Instagram personal styling service.
Consumers started evaluating brands based on whether they were perceived to be helping during the crisis, and we've seen backlashes continue. Take, for example, the Neverspoons app, built to 'find yourself an alternative pint whilst supporting independents pubs and bars’.
As well as adapting fast, what learnings can we take to guide us through any danger of a second wave and into whatever the future holds?
Forget an Oxford Street flagship, if your online store wasn’t already your most important store, it certainly is now. Design decisions should be data-driven; you should focus on improving conversion rate meticulously. Testing and iterating and improving the experience isn’t something you can do once, but something you have to do daily.
If there’s one company you can’t argue with the commercial success of, it’s Amazon. CEO Jeff Bezos says; “even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and a constant desire to delight customers drives us to constantly invent on their behalf. As a result, by focusing obsessively on customers, we are internally driven to improve our services, add benefits and features, invent new products, lower prices, and speed up shipping times—before we have to."
Whilst the pace of living in lockdown slowed, consumer expectations for speed (website loading speed, customer support response and delivery times) rarely wavers. The initial grace-period of COVID-19 related holdups, where supermarket delivery slots were given to the vulnerable and other food subscription services had to temporarily close their doors to new customers, is over and we’re back up to consumer expectation being lightning fast.
The data tells us that website performance has a real-world impact on conversions. According to research published in June 2020 by Google, a 0.1 second improvement of mobile site speed increases conversion rates by 8.4% for retail sites and 10.1% for travel sites.
Consumers are delaying luxury purchases. GWI research shows that in 13 markets surveyed in March, just 15% of consumers had delayed purchasing luxury items, but this has gradually risen to a high of 25% in July. This means that more than ever you need to nurture your customers and understand all potential paths to purchase.
Customers need the right information at the right time. They need content that builds confidence and ways to engage beyond receiving your email newsletter. As well as using behavioural science and cognitive biases to shorten the buying journey (e.g. reviews, offers, free gifts), we see the power in a broad media mix of online and offline channels that use life stage triggers to deliver the most effective messaging at the critical moment.
At the start of lockdown, we saw social media usage increase and brands (as well as regular people) reacted by creating more content. Instagram was awash with live broadcasts, gym classes were streamed online and all of a sudden everyone over 30 joined TikTok.
With more content comes more competition, and it takes more effort to break through the noise. Brands now need to be available, permissioned, personal, authentic and purposeful. This starts with understanding your customers and creating deeper connections beyond the brand and products. The death of the third party cookie is only going to amplify the need to collect first-party data, so do it now, and use it to personalise experiences and communicate with your customers in smarter ways.
Across 18 countries surveyed in GWI’s recent wave of research, 72% of consumers said that the pandemic has increased the importance of companies behaving in more sustainable or eco-friendly ways.
People have had time for reflection, and reassessed what’s important to them. What did they miss during a time they were confined to their homes? Was it a shopping spree in Primark, or was it time with their loved ones? For some it was both and others it was neither, but you need to understand what this means for your customer base.
All in all, the pandemic has caused a tectonic shift in what consumers expect from brands. Staying on top of a constantly changing landscape has never been as difficult, or as important as it is right now. Whether it's refining paths to purchase or revisiting how you communicate your brand values, now is the time to figure out your place in this strange new world.
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