As the UK settles into its third national lockdown, people are once again required to stay at home, shop only for essentials in physical stores and limit contact with others.
However, the impact of the coronavirus has not only affected the day-to-day lives of the British population, but also put intense pressure on the economy. In fact, the UK economy shrank by 20.4% between April and June 2020 compared with the first three months of the year, officially putting Britain into recession.
It comes as no surprise that all industries have been impacted in some form by the pandemic. and one of the most volatile sectors has been retail. Two very different customer behaviours were witnessed, but there was a key theme that ran throughout for all retailers: the almost instant shift to online shopping.
Internet shopping originally started in the UK in 1984 with a videotext system enabling people to order groceries through their television. However, it wasn’t until 2006 that this type of shopping began to really take off, with 18.9% of the population using their computer to order everything from food to clothes, pet food to furniture.
However, according to Statista, internet retail sales have now reached an all-time high and are estimated to have a value of £3.25 billion as of November 2020 — an incredible figure that has undoubtedly been helped by COVID-19 and the rise of digital shopping.
According to Retail Times, COVID-19 is ushering in a new age of consumer behaviour, with the majority of the population planning to continue with their lockdown online buying habits long after restrictions have been lifted. Interestingly, it’s not just retail experts that have noted this change. Forbes suggests an interesting consumer psychology perspective, stating that one key factor to online purchasing is that consumers get two highs of dopamine when purchasing products online — once when ordering and another when they receive the product.
Consequently, while many lockdown habits will happily disappear in the not-too-distant future, it’s likely that this new online shopping trend is here to stay. In order to keep ahead of the competition, retailers need to be prepared to adapt and change their processes, and not simply assume everything should go back to normal once lockdown restrictions have been lifted.
Below are some top tips for navigating the ever-changing retail landscape in 2021.
Re-engage Your Existing Customer Base
In a time of financial uncertainty, it’s natural for a business to focus on acquisition. After all, more customers often equals more revenue. However, don’t underestimate the value of re-engaging your existing customer base. It’s estimated to cost around 5 times more to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one.
A recent survey by Esendex shows that one in three retail businesses have never sought feedback from their customers, and a further one in five retailers claim to have never invested in enhancing their customer satisfaction levels at all. This demonstrates a key area for retailers to focus on in 2021, and will improve not just revenue but also brand reputation and customer loyalty.
A simple SMS survey can go a long way toward understanding the friction points in your purchasing journey, ensure your customers feel heard and also improve communication between brand and consumer.
Delivery and Return Policies
Facebook’s recent Future of Shopping report highlighted three increasingly important criteria for shoppers when looking to make a purchase online. These are return policy (68%), delivery time (68%) and delivery options (67%). In the digital sphere you’re far closer to your competitors, meaning that customers can easily shop around and quickly compare prices. Ensuring that you have a best-in-class delivery and returns strategy is likely to go a long way toward both acquiring new customers and maintaining loyalty within your existing customer base.
When discussing delivery, however, it isn’t merely related to offering the cheapest price. According to Digital Commerce Institute 77% of shoppers are willing to pay more for same- or next-day delivery. So aim to consider all options here: speed is obviously of great importance as is reliability that the item will turn up on time, so perhaps introducing an email or SMS update with expected delivery time, or widening your delivery network with O2O strategies such as click-and-collect, is called for.
Focus on Sustainability
The pandemic has brought about a severe change in consumer behaviour, with many people now stating sustainability as being one of their biggest considerations when looking to purchase from a brand. According to Sprout Social, there has been marked growth in social media-based conversations around sustainable fashion, eco-friendly living and zero waste products.
This further emphasises the importance of having a social conscience element to your brand, and leads back to the importance of engaging your existing customers. By asking what factors are most important for them when looking to purchase, you can ensure your brand values are aligned with those of your customers, and thus increase loyalty and brand reputation.
There’s no denying that 2021 will undoubtedly be another turbulent year for retailers across the UK. However, by homing in on the aspects that are most important to your customers, such as purchasing challenges, delivery services or social conscience, you can ensure that your business continues to adapt to the ever-changing consumer behaviour patterns and successfully navigates this challenging time.
Amy Robinson is a Senior Brand Development Manager at telecommunications provider Esendex, which supports businesses with mobile messaging solutions. She takes great pride in assessing the industry’s latest developments and adapting them into new and innovative proposals to ensure that Esendex provides a unique and highly effective service to its customers.