Omnichannel consumer journey: How the pandemic changed shopping behaviour

Consumer journey in retail has become complex with new touchpoints emerging frequently. Omnichannel is no longer just stores and a website; social media, apps, adverts and other touchpoints are becoming increasingly popular and impactful, particularly among the younger generations. The Covid-19 pandemic has further accelerated the growth of these new sales channels, forcing retailers to improve customer experience at each touchpoint.

One of the most prominent shifts has been the shift to digital due to physical stores being closed and consumers showing concern for safety during COVID 19 pandemic. Around the world, over 2 billion people shopped online in 2020 alone, spending over USD 4.2 trillion on goods and services, according to Statista; and many consumers are continuing to shop online due to convenience. As a result, in the UK, retail footfall on the week of 3rd July 2021 was at 72% in comparison to the same week of 2019.

Online shopping, retail app use, social media are some digital touchpoints that were on the rise prior to the pandemic. However, with physical shops being closed and very little options for entertainment, consumers were forced to interact with brands digitally. We can use social media use as an example, which increased during the pandemic across the board: PWC reports, by 2021, 73% of consumers interacted with brands via YouTube, 67% via Google, 66% via Facebook, and 56% via Instagram. According to Statista’s data, 71% shoppers are buying more online than before the pandemic.

This shift in consumer behaviour requires a shift in the way retailers serve consumers, which is something 80% of companies agree with. So, in order to improve, retailers need to be aware of their consumers’ motives and desires, understand how they are interacting with each touchpoint, and improve customer experience at each stage.

Millennials and Gen Z are important groups of shoppers who are already redefining business strategies for retailers. More millennials and Gen Z are adapted to shopping through multiple channels and prefer to shop online (39% Millennials and 40% Gen Z) in comparison to Gen X and boomers. As a result, their buyer journey often starts on social media or Google/website where they will purchase the product or choose to interact with the product in store before buying. PWC’s data reveals percentage of shoppers from different generations use their mobile phones to shop daily and weekly: 11% boomers, 28% Generation X, 43% Millennials, and 35% Generation Z. Millennials and Gen Z are clearly using online stores the most and contributing to the 30% mobile sales growth in 2020 and 33% in 2021. Therefore, retailers should pay particular attention to the younger generations when improving digital touchpoints.

In store, Gen X and Millennials are groups to focus on because their earning potential and reasons to buy, for social reasons or entertainment, makes them active consumers. Millennials are the least loyal consumers, according to PWC but the pandemic forced most consumers to try new brands: 50% Gen Z, 60% Millennials, 48% Gen X, and 38% boomers have reportedly tried new brands. Therefore, retailers must implement things like contactless stores which 44% Millennials want, smart interactive mirrors which 37% Millennials want, other digital in-store innovations which 26% Millennials want. However, retailers would be pleased to know it’s not a one-way street; 49% millennials are willing to share their DNA for better shopping experiences, which is a shockingly high number for such a privacy conscious generation.

Ethical trading and sustainability are also big concerns for 47% Millennials and Gen Z consumers. Retailers need to do more to be ethical and sustainable, as well as taking the lead on educating consumers of the matter. If done correctly, retailers can encourage Gen X to spend more money as they are willing to pay the more premium prices for ethical products.

Consumers have very high expectations from brands to provide great customer experience. 80% of consumers consider experience to be as important as products. In fact, it’s predicted that experience will overtake product and price as brands key differentiator in the near future. Therefore, it’s great that 91% of British retailers are introducing more experiences in their stores, adding digital innovations, extra layer of service, personalisation etc. (Read: Roadmap to recovery: 8 ways to get your retail store ready for reopening based on new shopping trends)

Online touch points also have space for improvements as 38% of UK consumers are frustrated with the service they receive online. Omnichannel sales and marketing has to be supplemented by great customer service. Whether it’s social media, online website, or a targeted ad, all the information about the brand and product should be easily accessible. Furthermore, live chats should always be available to solve issues quickly and efficiently.

Facebook and Instagram adding branded shops gives retailers an opportunity to add another sales channel, especially since consumers are using social media to interact with products more and more, whether through influencers or the shops.

Therefore, it is paramount that retailers are treating each touchpoint as the sales opportunity it is. In order to anticipate customer expectations, retailers should use data and analytics to understand their needs and make quick changes.

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