This article is part of a larger series on Payments.
COVID-19 changed consumer behavior. Shopping during the pandemic involved shifts to online shopping, contactless payments, and multichannel options, as well as behavior changes, such as customers focusing more on value than brand loyalty.
While the retail world is slowly trying to regain foot traffic and brick-and-mortar sales, there is no denying habits formed by consumers shopping during COVID-19 are here to stay.
Here are five critical post-COVID consumer shopping trends that we predict are staying and what your business can do to adapt.
1. Increased Ecommerce Demand
COVID-19 accelerated ecommerce growth. Companies needed to heed the call with people on lockdown and shoppers forced to buy online. This contributed to an additional $218.53 billion to ecommerce’s bottom line over the past two years.
Shopping during COVID also leaned toward the essentials. While ecommerce shopping increased, it notably went to buying groceries (a category that shoppers previously resisted via ecommerce), protective supplies like masks and sanitizers, and hardware for home improvement projects.
Even with the pandemic restrictions easing up, online grocery spending has not decreased, and it is expected that consumers will continue shopping online. Studies show that convenience and speed are now the top motivators for people to shop online instead of just discounts, which were primarily used by most online stores pre-pandemic.
How Your Business Can Adapt to Ecommerce Demand
Businesses need to establish an online presence to keep up with the changing times. Even if your business is primarily brick-and-mortar, maintaining or opening an online component will do you good, as 63% of shoppers research major purchases online before buying.
Learn how to start an online store. Choose from our top picks for best ecommerce platform and apply our ecommerce design tips when building your online shop. After creating your store, use our sales-driving strategies to grow your online business.
An online presence isn’t the only thing you need. Lightning speed delivery is also a requirement. Shopping during COVID-19 shortened the time between clicking the “buy” button and when shoppers expect the package to arrive on their doorsteps. The surge in click and collect and local delivery orders are forcing retailers to streamline their supply chains and operations, which will have lasting benefits for shoppers.
Remember that additional sales channels can increase sales, but your business must be ready for the surge. Invest in digital infrastructure and operation logistics. Retailers should ensure that their online and mobile storefronts and operations can support the volume—increasing warehouse efficiencies and upgrading the quality of customer support (e.g., chat functions).
2. Contactless Payments Here To Stay
In 2020, 70% of US merchants experienced contactless payment requests from customers due to fears of contracting COVID-19. Nearly three-fourths of merchants shared that since the COVID-19 outbreak, they prefer customers to pay with a card or app instead of handling cash.
This trend is here to stay, with two-thirds of retailers offering contactless payments in 2021. This is a win for retailers and shoppers. Retailers save time processing payments. A Square survey shared that it took businesses 542 hours to process $100,000 in non-digital payments. This is compared to only 189 hours to process the same value in digital payments.
How Your Business Can Adapt to Emerging Payment Trends
Some 80% of US consumers have used contactless payments in the last 12 months, according to Raydiant’s State of Contactless Payments 2021 Report. With cash payments losing popularity among consumers, it’s time to get your payments up to date. The first step is ensuring that you can accept credit cards. Make sure you have a merchant account, and then learn more with our guide to accepting credit card payments.
Explore other forms of payment trends as well. Contactless payments, QR codes, and even cryptocurrency are increasingly offered by retailers (and are even expected by shoppers). Give your customers a multitude of payment options to help them buy faster.
3. Customers Expect Multichannel Approach
Originally started as a safety precaution during the pandemic, click and collect services are now preferred by nine out 10 shoppers. A third of US shoppers hope to continue ordering online and collecting items in-store after pandemic restrictions are lifted.
And the sentiment extends to retailers. Nearly 90% of retail executives plan to invest more capital in multichannel capability over the next five years. The convenience brought about by shopping during COVID is expected to stay. Retail businesses needed to keep up.
How Your Business Can Adapt a Multichannel Approach
Aside from adding an online shopping cart for your retail business, provide shoppers with many options to fulfill orders, such as buying online, in-store pickup, and curbside pickup. Nearly 40% of all shoppers plan to continue curbside pickup (a socially distanced version of click and collect), so learn how to set up click and collect in your online checkout process.
Learn more about multichannel POS systems you can use for your in-store and online sales.
We cannot stress how important convenience is for shoppers of today. It will be important to provide consumers with the products they want, when and where they want to buy them. As your business grows, investing in an omnichannel retail experience will increase your bottom line, give a better customer experience, and increase brand loyalty.
Another way to increase your reach is to maintain a social media presence and establish a way for shoppers to purchase through these channels.
Purchases via social media are becoming more common, with social buyers expected to increase by 75% by 2025. This has been brought about by a shift in consumer behavior as more and more people spent more time on social media, especially during the pandemic. According to research by NPD Group, consumers also go to social media to discover new brands.
Did You Know?
According to GlobalData, the retailers that adapted a multichannel retail approach during the pandemic achieved the highest growth rates. Many traditional retailers like Best Buy, Target, Walmart, and small businesses on Shopify are now growing faster than more online-focused retailers like Amazon.
4. Focus Shifted to Value (& Values)
Shopping during COVID also brought about a shift in consumer loyalty. McKinsey reports that three-fourths of consumers have changed how they shop and which brands they buy. Supply chain issues and shortages affected so many brands that shoppers were forced to try an alternative, and this brand discovery stuck with them. More than 80% of shoppers intend to continue to shop and discover new brands.
Value—which can come in lower prices, promotions, bundles or upgrades, or free shipping—is the primary reason for customers’ waning loyalty. With many losing jobs and trying to be smarter about spending, shoppers are moving to less expensive products.
The pandemic also increased social justice awareness, which made consumers prefer to support brands that share their own beliefs and values. It also made consumers feel closer to local businesses. Three-fourths of Americans expressed intent to support local businesses more, with 69% willing to pay more to shop at small businesses.
How Your Business Can Adapt to Changes in Consumer Priorities
Now more than ever, businesses need to stay connected to their customers to increase brand loyalty. Develop an effective retail marketing strategy by conducting regular email campaigns, employing two-way communication (like responding to social media posts), rolling out customer surveys, planning regular events, and launching a customer loyalty program.
Be transparent about your company values and what you stand for. Make it visible across your channels—website, social media, communications, and marketing materials. Customers who share your values are more likely to support and become brand advocates. This is further validated by Google’s report on consumer insights, “The notions of ‘value’ and ‘values’ will continue to converge. A product’s perceived value will be less about its price point and more about its alignment with a buyer’s values.”
5. An Engaging In-store Experience Is Critical
In-store experiences took the worst hit when COVID-19 happened. Shopping during COVID transformed into an entirely new experience that many predicted as the beginning of the end of brick-and-mortar stores. Some businesses transformed their stores into fulfillment and warehouse hubs, fulfilling orders from their online stores and offering curbside pickup or click and collect.
However, in-store experiences aren’t going away anytime soon. In 2021, more consumers spent more time and money shopping in-store—an 11% uptick, and forecast reports say that 89% of US retail executives are optimistic that physical stores will drive as many—or more—sales for the businesses as they did before the pandemic.
Most retail businesses have also rolled out new ways to connect with customers to keep the in-store experience alive. For example, the Chicago restaurant The Dawson struggled to translate the upscale environment their restaurant gives its customers into takeout and delivery. They did roll out Saturday weekend markets to stay connected with their customers while still staying true to their brand.
How Your Business Can Create an Engaging In-store Experience
Provide an easy and streamlined buying experience as much as you can. Improve your checkout process by utilizing a cash wrap and streamlining your store layout. Introduce several payment options and channels where they can start, continue, add to, or finish their purchases.
Have order online, pickup in store as an option. According to Jie Zhang, Professor of Marketing and the Harvey Sanders Fellow of Retail Management at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, it provides the most significant opportunity for retailers as it helps bring people back in stores.
Once they’re there, Zhang says, retailers can make the most of that moment. “Once you give shoppers a reason to go back to the store, you put them into an environment most conducive for stimulating impulse shopping. They’ll pass around other aisles and potentially purchase other products of interest that they did not plan to buy in the first place. It becomes a mutually beneficial experience for both retailers and shoppers.”
To entice customers into shopping in-store, Improve your visual merchandising, create stunning store displays, leverage good lighting to highlight products, and implement an efficient retail store design.
Of course, your sales team is your best frontrunner. Train them on how to welcome customers to your store correctly, upsell and cross-sell effectively, and help customers find what they need right away.
The ability to touch and try out a product in person is the key factor that motivates people to go to retail stores. With COVID-19 precautionary measures still in place, implement virtual fitting rooms. This helps your customers feel safe and protected and speaks a lot about how your business prioritizes your customer’s health and well-being.
And lastly, if customers can’t go to your store, bring your store to them. Learn how to open pop-up shops in local areas. Explore pop-up ideas or put up kiosks outside your store for those customers who want to shop but aren’t comfortable staying too long inside a store just yet.
Change is the only thing constant in this world (Google points out that 15% of daily search queries it has never encountered before), and it applies even more now in retail. For businesses to recover and move forward from the pandemic, they need to embrace the new normal and adapt to consumer-driven shopping changes.
As brand loyalty decreases and brand value (culture and product-wise) increases, there is also a call for businesses to be transparent and communicate about what they stand for to foster relationships and loyalty with their customers.
Brick-and-mortar stores aren’t going away anytime soon, but utilizing a hybrid approach that converges online and in-store shopping experiences, along with contactless and a variety of payment options, is necessary to be top-of-mind for shoppers all the time.