How often do you visit a store versus going online to make a purchase? The pandemic has changed retail and how we shop forever. Online shopping has been in the ascendency for many years, even before the pandemic. While the relevancy of the store has been waning.
However, in-store shopping is not in the past just yet. Even with the most reluctant consumer buying more online, surveys suggest in-store shopping is a priority, with most generations, including Gen Z. Forbes says 72% of Gen Z will go to the mall at least once a month.
Nonetheless, not all stores will see an uptick in business due to consumers’ health concerns with Covid. There are conditions and retailers must meet the needs of consumers’ health concerns and offer incentives that can not be matched shopping online.
In this business blog, we recap on the uptick of eCommerce due to the pandemic and how the retail industry is responding to consumers’ needs for a safe and higher value in-store shopping experience.
Much of the data in this article is from three reliable sources that regularly survey consumer purchasing behavior. For example, the following trends come from the annual state of a retail survey by digital signage experts Mandoe Media.
- 58% of consumers are confident they will return to in-store shopping
- 80% of respondents say they better ventilation in restaurants and bars
- 83% of shoppers are not confident they will frequent small shops due to health concerns with the lack of social distancing
- 50% will avoid small local shops altogether
While the data is from a small survey of just 850 shoppers from three countries, i.e. USA, UK, and Australia, other surveys confirm the uptick in eCommerce and the need for in-store shopping to continue to shift to providing a deeper sensory experience. For example, this report says consumers want an enjoyable ambiance including content to engage the senses of visual, auditory, touch, and maybe taste:
- Music – including live bands, concerts
- Visuals – billboards, sandwich boards, digital displays, installations, wall art
- Personal experiences – especially with touch, taste
Malls have been particularly good at drawing in crowds with free entertainment, and the shops continue it with personalized interaction. For example, free food tasting, watching live product demos or trying free samples. However, there’s no denying retail stores are in the fight for their survival now that eCommerce has reached critical mass with consumers.
During the epidemic, how important was the transition to internet shopping? Statista says:
In the United States, internet sales accounted for 11.3 percent of total retail sales in Q4 2019 and Q1 2020. However, it rose to 15.7 percent in Q2 2020 before settling at 13 percent in Q3 2021.
We only have monthly figures for the UK, and how lockdowns were implemented and reversed meant that purchase patterns fluctuated significantly. Online sales hit 30.3 percent of total purchases during the first month of full lockdown, growing to 36.3 percent before falling slightly when restrictions were removed.
Online shopping sales increased by 57 percent year on year, according to a survey collated and published by AusPost.
Expect eCommerce to expand its reach into social media and the MetaverseMetaverse in the coming years. Technology will continue to play an important part in the Metaverse’s early adoption, and firms are already investing heavily in games, NFTs, and platforms to entice users.
Consumers’ Attitudes Toward Stores
Retailers have been aggressively fighting for years, especially with the emergence of megastores such as Amazon and Walmart. How did they gain consumers’ trust? By focusing on their unique selling propositions and using technology, promotions, loyalty programs, and in-store experiences.
Consumers are looking for sensory experiences distinct from interacting with people in person. Technology is critical in bridging the gap between online and physical commerce. The consumer experience is enhanced by using AR, VR, and tailored marketing sent to customer devices while they are in the shop. When you bring in unique material to being in-store, such as live events that generate the ambiance, it’s difficult to envision the retail shop dying.
Shopping locally is also on the rise, particularly after the epidemic, but with some hesitation from customers concerned about social isolation, especially in smaller stores. Local businesses have been creative by collaborating on foot traffic flow control and minimizing in-store density, i.e., fewer customers and one-way traffic management. While some customers may be annoyed by the changes, most will appreciate shops’ efforts to keep them secure.
Additionally, allowing appointments is another method by which retail establishments attract clients. Who wouldn’t want to be treated like a VIP, with the whole shop to oneself and the staff’s full attention?
With Covid infections still plaguing most areas, shoppers want to know their health matters to retailers. Social distancing can happen without loss of density in larger stores. However, retailers still need to identify with and empathize with shoppers’ concerns.
For the time being, presenting their process for keeping their store clean and shoppers protected should include:
- Hand sanitizer
- Contact tracing
- Social distancing
- Mask wearing
Plus, the surveys revealed people want better indoor ventilation. Most people have a far better understanding of how diseases are spread and the role good ventilation plays in reducing the chances of getting sick. Something that applies equally to other diseases and viruses.
So, unsurprisingly, 80% of respondents said they would feel better about visiting a bar or restaurant if there was good ventilation.
All retail outlets should also prioritize ventilation, especially in shops with smaller footprints. Reverting back to the statistic that 83% of shoppers said that they would avoid smaller shops for fear of catching the airborne virus.
What role do sustainability, diversity, and inclusiveness play? For many customers, it might be a deal-breaker.
COVID dominated the majority of survey responses in recent polls. However, purchase choices are influenced by sustainability, diversity, and inclusion. Is the brand a non-discriminatory employer? Do they care about the environment? These and other concerns are not limited to shops with physical locations but also affect brand identification and reputation.
Consumers make purchasing decisions based on internet reviews and brand reputation. A poor reputation will result in the sale being lost to a rival. Without a doubt, all organizations must improve their social practices and HR rules. Additionally, utilize marketing and public relations to demonstrate to clients that you are equally dedicated to change and that you can achieve more together.