This was originally published on Techonomy
It is no longer a revelation that COVID-19 has deeply impacted the retail and experiential landscape. The retail industry has seen staggering declines since March, brought on by mandatory store closures and decreased consumer spending. Despite the impact, pockets of retailers who were already ahead of the curve in digital transformation have sustained strong sales. It’s clear that COVID-19 has and will continue to demand unprecedented acceleration in the digital experience and virtual excellence. Retailers are at a critical juncture, where they must invest in solutions, and future-proof their brand, to flourish in this new environment. The way forward will require much more than a short-term remedy, because the “new normal” of retail isn’t temporary: It’s here to stay.
Transformation of the retail landscape is a daunting reality. Identifying where, how, and when to engage with the new normal is the only way to win the trust and loyalty of employees and customers. Rational has been tracking these changes and using these unique trends to influence and drive impact for our clients. Some retailers have already begun to adjust the way they earn and maintain the trust of their customers, and of those, many have already seen measurable benefits. Among the emerging consumer tendencies unfolding across the industry are radical housekeeping, a demand for virtual interaction with products, and customer satisfaction guarantees.
It’s clear that customers have responded to the crisis and are driving the way forward now more than ever. It’s critical that retailers have a clear picture of who their customers are and invest in the customer experience now to stay in the game. As quarantine restrictions are relaxed and stores begin to reopen, customers will require a new model of interaction that is dependent on their level of comfort and the shopping preferences they have developed in response to the pandemic. While there is no “one size fits all” approach to the new landscape, there are three emerging personas that retailers can use to help guide engagement strategies.
The first, Persona A, craves a sense of “normalcy”, cannot wait to get back into stores, and will be willing to engage with store associates. This persona represents the minority, but it should be noted that they will be more willing to interact with a demo device or compare products and services in person. Consider Persona B: They are more hesitant to engage in physical spaces, and thus will require a different solution. Perhaps Persona B has an aversion to touching devices in the store but is receptive to an in-store QR solution that allows for a non-tactile experience. Then there’s Persona C, who has shifted almost entirely to online shopping. While they no longer seek in-store experiences, they might readily embark on a virtual store tour customized to their retail preferences.
For Personas B and C, retailers should consider virtual mobile stores and virtual concierge desks. These solutions would enable them to stay connected to the brand with peace of mind, while having access to new services, products, and store activities that they just don’t get through traditional online shopping. A scan-and-go model, where customers can self-scan with a mobile payment option, would be a viable solution for Personas A and B, allowing a space for them to continue to visit stores, but with an added convenience option that accommodates the social distancing element required by Persona B.
To navigate the way forward, it’s crucial that retailers understand their customers and work to provide experiences that meet them where they are. As they continue to build on their digital transformation strategies, retailers should consider new ways of thinking about line management and point of sale, engaging with customers when they do step inside the store, and even AR experiences. By understanding each of their customers and their unique needs, retailers can create experiences that will engage each in a meaningful way at every point of their shopping journey, ultimately inspiring trust and confidence in their brand.
The new era of connecting digital and physical is at a critical tipping point, and customer solutions are just the beginning. Consider the broader opportunities that emerge as retailers invest in digital transformation and the customer experience:
COVID-19’s presence has served as a constant reminder that the future is uncertain. Among the few things we can know for certain is that customers will not revert to their old ways, and consequently, neither will the retail industry. The current shift in landscape represents one moment in time, and there’s no guarantee it won’t be followed by other disruptions. If brands are not ready to adapt to the rapid changes as their customers do, they will be left behind.With a retail model rooted in the customer experience, sales, traffic, and engagement will continue to build and gain traction. The opportunity is here, and now the question is: Who will be willing to take it?