It has now been more than six months since the world as we know it changed. While lockdowns have eased up and the infection rate has mercifully slowed in some areas we want to take this opportunity to look at how shopping during the pandemic has altered consumer sentiment and the retail landscape. Are innovations like curbside pickup and same day delivery here to stay? How comfortable do consumers feel shopping in retail spaces? And does a brand’s proactive, robust response to the pandemic enhance brand loyalty? Let’s take a look back at the craziest six months we’ve ever gone through, and see how things have changed, and how things may look when this is all over.

 Curbside Pickup and Same-Day Delivery

Arguably the two most popular retail innovations of the COVID era are curbside pickup (which has even been called “Retail’s Lifeline”) and same-day delivery. According to an August 2020 study by Coresight Research, no less than 38 of the top 50 store-based U.S. retailers now offer some type of curbside pickup option—and that is expected to grow. One early adopter is Target, who in a recent quarterly earnings call reported that their Drive Up curbside pickup grew “an astonishing 730%” over the same quarter in 2019. Obviously, those numbers are COVID-related. But even after the pandemic goes away, it’s still easy to envision a high demand for curbside pickup, as its ease and convenience quickly becomes a perk shoppers demand. This is an example of how a well-executed plan can significantly boost brand loyalty. Customers feel safe ordering from Target because they have made the investment in safe and reliable curbside pickup. It would surprise no one if this strong commitment to curbside pays off for them for many years to come, in the way of trust and brand loyalty.

Same Day Delivery is also on the rise. Recently PetSmart announced they will be offering the service through DoorDash at 1,400 locations nationwide. DoorDash has been handling deliveries for a large number of retailers, including giants like 7-Eleven and Walgreens. As Casey North, Vice President of DoorDash Drive put it, “The pandemic has pulled the future forward for retail, where changes that once might have taken three years have instead happened in three months.”

Contactless Delivery, Brand Loyalty and Shopping During COVID

Call it the “Click and Collect” era. Since COVID began, contactless shopping has become a must for consumers. In a recent study by Retail Dive, contactless protocols were ranked #1 in importance by consumers—the single most important factor for feeling safe while shopping. According to Retail Dive, there are three pillars to a true contactless shopping experience:

  1. Digital First—From ordering and payment to communication, you absolutely must provide a strong digital shopping experience.
  2. Customer-centric ordering—Contactless shopping demands a stress-free and orderly curbside experience. Clearly communicate the time their orders will be ready, and make sure you have enough time to prepare the orders.
  3. Contactless handoff—Make sure you have clearly marked designated pickup spots, and your team maintains social distancing and masking to ensure the safest possible pickup.

When the pandemic is in the past, it’s safe to say that many of these best practices—particularly the most stringent aspects of contactless delivery—will no longer be so rigid. Still, consumers have a long memory, and will remember who tried to keep them safe, and who did not. We can assume with certainty that consumer sentiment will favor the retailers who made the investment in capital, personnel and operations in order to make customers feel safe.

But right now, and for the foreseeable future, every retailer needs to pay close attention to these best practices.

The Key to Building Brand Loyalty During COVID

Your customers need to feel safe when they’re shopping in your store. And they need to be able to quickly and easily find the products they came in for. Safety is paramount. If you can make your customers feel safe in your store, you are well on your way to earning your customers’ trust for life. And the numbers bear it out.

A Retail Dive study found that 40% of Americans are avoiding or limiting visits to busy shopping centers. One third of Americans have avoided brick-and-mortar stores altogether! That consumer sentiment only reinforces the importance of taking the strictest safety precautions in your retail stores. Practice the strictest sanitation processes—including wiping down shopping carts, enforcing masking, and providing hand sanitation near the entrance of the store. Food sampling should not be happening in your store. Just as important, you need to make sure you are doing everything possible to keep your employees safe. The old maxim that “the customer is always right” has been turned on its head by COVID. A shopper who refuses to wear a mask or observe social distancing guidelines is a threat to the safety of your employees and customers, and forward-thinking retailers will have a plan in place to deal with this type of person.

Perhaps the CRM leader at Shopkick put it best:Customers are becoming increasingly concerned with how employees are being treated and want to spend their money with retailers who take care of their staff. Seventy-one percent of consumers say they will lose trust in a brand forever if they suspect the company puts profits over people.”

Where Do We Go from Here?

If consumers can trust you on the big things like COVID safety, they’re going to trust you for everything. Which is why it’s so important for brands to deliver a safe and secure

retail experience that places a premium on digital convenience and in-store safety. According to Total Retail, 64% of American consumers say they will prioritize brands they’ve purchased from before in the next year or two. We can expect a further convergence of the digital and brick-and-mortar experience. BOPIS (Buy online, pick up in store) will continue as digital retail channels evolve and provide better user experiences.

But ultimately, we feel that once the pandemic is over, people will largely flock back to retail stores. The demand is there. And though the tools and channels may change, we envision a post-COVID world where people are happy to get out of the house, and enjoy a leisurely day of shopping.

What are your thoughts? Let us know.

 

 

 

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