COVID-19 has turned nearly every facet of life upside down, and as a result, there are several industries that have suffered significantly over the last six months. Retail is perhaps at the top of this list. Retailers of all types have had to get creative when it comes to targeting new customers, keeping loyal customers engaged and satisfied, and finding new ways to deliver unique yet consistent customer experiences. Selligent conducted its third annual global consumer study, which asked people about their shopping habits pre-COVID, how they’ve changed, and what offers from retailers they most appreciate. The findings shed light on several digital marketing opportunities that retailers can use to support customers.

Be More Than Informative; Be Helpful

In the early days of COVID-19, your email inbox was likely bursting with messages along the lines of “we know this is hard” and “we’re here for you.” While those were appreciated – 48% of people welcomed such messages of empathy – it’s time to do more than sending a feel-good email. An astounding 75% of consumers have reported loss of employment (laid off, reduced hours or pay, furloughed, etc.) due to COVID-19, triggering the large majority (60%) of consumers to modify purchases to focus on essential items, like food and safety products.

What marketers can do: Consumers prioritize and welcome brand messages that center on deals and sales, given many are now much more budget-conscious than ever before. Rather than send an email that states “we care about you,” retailers are encouraged to take it a step further and make them tangible: 51% of consumers believe that free products and buyer perks (secret sales, free shipping, promo codes) are the best ways for brands to put those words into action.

Make the Shopping Experience Easy

Consumers run the gamut on their comfort level with shopping in-store, but the vast majority now require flexibility in the shopping experience itself. Consider this: 29% of consumers note their buying behaviors have forever changed and plan to shop more online than in-person. Consumers now want to know whether the product they want is available before they go to the store to make a purchase. Additionally, a large majority of shoppers place importance on health and safety practices. Many also intend to take advantage of flexible shopping options, like contact-less and curbside pickup or check-in options:

  • 70% want the ability to know product availability before ordering online or going in-store
  • 76% expect real-time app or email updates on delays or changes when making a purchase
  • 76% desire clearly communicated safety protocols
  • 64% want mobile and contactless pickup or check-in options

What marketers can do: Be flexible and put particular effort in tying inventory to the digital shopping experience. For mobile and online orders, if a customer knows they can click “buy” and simply drive to the nearest location without as much as exiting their vehicle to get their products, the seamless, as-easy-as-it-gets experiences will win them over. If curbside pickup isn’t an option, explore different ways to satisfy customers by offering services that will mirror the experience. Given the importance of safety, communicate how that is being addressed for in-store shopping, and leverage customer service to support those efforts.

Be the Brand that Keeps on Giving

Sure, one-time sales and deals garner the most attention, but it’s what retailers are doing ongoing that is boosting customer loyalty. When it comes to brand advocacy, 56% of consumers rate free products, great loyalty or rewards programs, and consistent excellent customer service as the factors that keep them most loyal. Great loyalty programs create opportunities to consistently engage with customers, and add to making loyal customers feel special. Retailers that incentivize engagement and purchases can set themselves up for long-term success.

What marketers can do: Identify your most loyal customers early and often, and reward them! That can be anything from a free shipping code, early access to a sale, or the chance to earn bonus reward points on certain days, for certain items, or as a ‘thank you’ for posting a review of a product or sharing a promo code with their friends and family. Creating opportunities that help a customer’s dollar go further will almost always come back to benefit the business in one way or another.

Make Every Interaction Count

All of the effort put into making digital customer experiences top-notch will only benefit the business if you design marketing strategies to capture and activate important customer engagement data. The point of building customer profiles through digital marketing is to use data insights to inform how future experiences are tailored. Doing so accomplishes a number of important things, including:

  • Surfacing relevant content individual consumers care most about
  • Making the most out of a consumer’s preferred channel
  • 59% of consumers prefer communications via email; 16% only want text messages; 10% want messages to live in an app
  • Teaching you about your business and products that are a hit (or a miss)

If you focus on delivering customer experiences that span multiple channels – email, in-store, app, website, etc. – and can tie activity together using a smart CX-focused marketing platform, you will do wonders for your ability to target, engage, and activate your customer base.

What marketers can do: Do your homework to assess your marketing automation and technology needs and source a technology platform company that can listen to your challenges and deliver solutions that help solve them. Most CX and marketing platforms offer a wide range of solutions, but not all emphasize the importance and potential of data. In order to succeed during perhaps the most challenging time the retail industry has faced in the last decade, using technology to your advantage is likely the smartest move a retailer can make.

Adapted from an article originally published on ClickZ.com, October 23, 2020.

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