As the world begins its slow pivot from managing the COVID-19 crisis to recovery and now the long awaited reopening of economies, it’s becoming clear that the period of lockdown will have a long-lasting and profound impact on the way global retailers sell and the way consumers shop. The customer journey — the path encompassing a consumer’s initial engagement with a brand through order fulfillment and beyond — has changed meaningfully. Nascent trends that were emerging have been fast-tracked and retailers have been forced to adopt them in order to meet their customers where they are, which is now less often in-store and more often online.
These changes provide significant opportunity for retailers that are nimble and can adapt to these new consumer behaviors, as well as those that have established an infrastructure that emphasizes convenience by optimizing global e-commerce.
Social Media is the New Source of Engagement
Consumers used to interact with brands in many different places. COVID-19 has resulted in a bit of a shake up in how and where shoppers consume information. With shoppers forced indoors for months, out-of-home advertising has become less effective and brands have moved much of their content and engagement to social media platforms.
Creating communities of loyal brand advocates, employing influencers, interacting via surveys and doing live product try-ons helps increase engagement and sales. In fact, according to a recent study, nearly 90 percent of consumers will buy products from a brand they follow on social media. This survey also shows that when consumers follow a brand on a social platform, 75 percent will increase their spending with that brand.
The beauty of using social media as an engagement tool is that it allows brands to reach consumers anywhere in the world, at any time. And with a simple tap, a consumer in the United States can find a retailer in any country and transact on the spot.
Consumers Still Favor Online Shopping
While stores have reopened around the world, shoppers continue to embrace the safety and convenience of online shopping. In fact, online sales in China in July were up 48 percent, while in-store sales sank 49 percent. A similar trend can be seen in the U.S.
With the demand for online shopping stronger than ever, it’s important that retailers offer an online experience, regardless where the customer is, that’s local, convenient, safe and seamless. I recently heard from a customer in the United States who was shopping for a designer bag. Her online search found the best price at an Italian retailer. Hesitant at first to buy from a merchant overseas, she was comforted to see the price listed in U.S. dollars, free two- to three-day shipping and free returns. Creating this “localized” online shopping experience for customers anywhere in the world is extremely important today.
Retailers Are Finding Success With New Fulfillment Options
Before the pandemic, click-and-collect and other forms of fulfilment were slow to gain traction. However, when retailers shut down in-store operations and safety concerns became top-of-mind, consumers adapted and the trends accelerated. Shoppers who had never bought groceries online began backing their cars up to Walmart. In-store and curbside pickup combine the convenience of online shopping with the immediate delivery that customers now expect.
Returns are now also being handled in a similar fashion. This is particularly relevant to retailers that ship product internationally. Consumers are much more likely to complete a transaction if the return process is easy and free. International merchants are now offering easy returns from anywhere in the world via local store drop-off, kiosks or international carriers.
Offering customers the immediacy they demand, whether at the curb or online, requires high-level logistics. Strategic use of local distribution and fulfillment centers can speed up delivery and returns while significantly reducing costs. Take a look at a story reported recently in The Wall Street Journal. Amazon.com is in talks with mall operators to convert vacant anchor department stores into distribution hubs for the online retail giant. This is a clear example of the importance of logistics in providing customers with the brand experience they expect.
The COVID-19 pandemic, and its resulting effects on the retail ecosystem, have changed the way consumers shop. Seventy-five percent of U.S. consumers say they’ve changed their shopping behavior in response to recent economic pressures. Retailers must meet their customers wherever they are and offer a first-class, safe, convenient and affordable shopping experience if they wish to maintain the loyalty of their existing customers and attract new ones. Establishing a solid global e-commerce platform now will be the gift that keeps on giving for retailers this year.
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