In the wake of COVID-19, brick and mortar retail has seen a sharp decline in activity with expected losses of $2.1 trillion globally in 2020, according to recent predictions by Forrester. In the United States, the pandemic’s hold can and will be felt until it can be managed and navigated safely.
While restrictions are beginning to loosen and shoppers are slowly returning to stores, the shopping experience has invariably needed to change.
Retailers have to make concessions that could literally mean life, death, or potentially lasting complications for their customers. Shoppers are refusing to spend long amounts of time looking through aisles, trying on clothes, or even being near other customers as a matter of safety.
As evidenced by 65% of female and 54% of male shoppers becoming apprehensive about trying on items in stores because of safety concerns detailed in a survey by First Insight.
What do you do when customers don’t feel safe in the shopping experience that your brand has painstakingly curated? You adapt.
Grocery, apparel, electronics, personal care, and hospitality (among others) have all had to drastically shift their operations to accommodate for a new reality and a new set of personas based on habits that have emerged because of the pandemic.
This means that in order to survive, your brand must retreat from the way things were done and embrace a safer alternative. Within the tides of this massive shift, there are opportunities to install lasting efficiencies to optimize your customer’s experience.
The question now for retailers is, “How do we preserve the customer experience while maintaining the safety and well-being of employees and shoppers?” The answer is clear.
Reduce friction in your sales funnel by swapping out manual processes for contactless options like near field communication (NFC) enablement, already widely available in Europe.
The sales funnel is typically broken up into four distinct stages that trace the customer journey from their first interaction with your brand through to making a purchase.
The pre-pandemic and COVID-Era sales funnels will fundamentally follow the same structure, but they will have to account for very different consumer behaviors and tolerances.
There are distinct areas–Awareness, Interest, Decision, and Action–in the sales funnel that require an operational overhaul. Shoppers want a clean, functional, and quality experience and products to match. High-touch and high-traffic are now red flags.
Awareness - Traditionally where a customer first comes into contact with your brand through an activity like coming across a mention in a podcast or seeing an ad.
Interest - The stage where the customer begins to seek more information and compares options. It’s often the case that your customer is seeking information on competing offerings as well.
Decision - Your brand has successfully demonstrated its value and utility. The prospect is ready to purchase and may have pared his decision down to a few options. This is where your brand can go the extra mile to secure the conversion.
Action - Your prospect has become a customer by completing a purchase. This stage’s main focus is on the customer’s checkout experience because a poor experience can cost you a returning customer or even kill a conversion.
The stages themselves haven’t changed, rather the processes that guide your prospects to becoming customers have changed. Here’s a look at how each step in the funnel has changed definitively.
Shoppers are more discerning than ever before. This is your opportunity to show shoppers what your brand is doing to keep them safe or what you’re doing that the competition isn’t.
In a Deloitte survey of US shoppers, 38% of shoppers reported that they would buy more from brands that responded well to the pandemic.
Make sure it’s clear that your brand has safety in mind.
You’ve got your prospect’s attention. Now begin to nurture that relationship with a potential buyer by reassuring them that your brand has taken necessary precautions to combat the pandemic.
Integrate safety into your messaging in a time where people are genuinely afraid that if they take the risk of transacting with you they could be infected.
Educate them using email, blogs, social media, SMS, ads, and etc. Put up signage in your shop to show you’re compliant with official guidance on how to prevent the spread of COVID in your store.
This is where shoppers would normally “kick the tires.” In most cases, this isn’t a feasible option anymore because having a product exposed to multiple customers increases the risk of infection to both employees and patrons.
This portion of the funnel has been profoundly affected as companies have had to scramble to find ways to help customers experience their products without physically interacting with it.
Partnering with technology and service providers that specialize in minimizing friction by streamlining the sales process and removing unnecessary touchpoints (pun intended) is often a necessity to pivot quickly. Digital platforms are often the most successful iteration of a contactless experience because they don’t require face-to-face or high-traffic interactions.
Products like Fit:Match for the apparel industry, Instacart for grocery shopping, BarPay & Tambourine for contactless restaurant menus (and payment) offer customers the peace of mind and level of safety they need to start feeling comfortable again.
Contactless payments, delivery, and buy online pick up in-store (BOPIS) options reign supreme at this stage.
BOPIS alone is projected to grow 60% this year, according to data from Microsoft.
Cash has become a pariah in today’s transactions as a potential source of virus spread. People are invariably opting for contactless or at the very least, cashless transactions for payments.
Returns are expected to cost US retailers $550 billion in 2020 and with contactless options becoming more widely used, that projection from 2019 could be expected to balloon over the course of the pandemic and beyond.
In certain circumstances, retailers can use technology to mitigate returns or rethink their returns policies to protect themselves from losses due to costly returns.
Boutique women’s undergarment store, Olivia’s Gossip has traditionally had women come into the store and try on and get fitted for their most popular product, “The Amazement Bra”. However, that’s not an option with the current state of affairs.
In an effort to stay open and continue to serve the women that rely on their product, Olivia’s decides to partner with Fit:Match to offer shoppers the ability to leverage technology to create an avatar based on 3D measurements to reliably get the perfect fit.
They promote this in new capability in advertisements, podcasts, social media, and even receive press coverage for their innovative partnership.
A potential customer, Sarah, comes across a YouTube influencer who documents their experience with the process and the product. She decides to dig deeper and do more research and compare it to other available options with price, quality, and safety in mind.
After weighing those options, Sarah decides to order her first “Amazement Bra” through Olivia’s Gossip.
She chooses the option to buy online using Klarna to spread out the payments across four installments with no interest.
Sarah drives to her local store to pick up her new “Amazement Bra” and picks up the order at a counter where it’s already prepared and packaged so she spends minimal time in the store or interacting with staff.
She tries it on at home and it fits perfectly, but she doesn’t like the style. Fortunately, Olivia’s’ partner ShipBob offers returns management services, so Sarah is able to exchange the product without having to visit a retail location again.
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