24 mar 2023
Kelli is the senior content strategist for Order Protection.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us spent the better part of the past three years quarantining, taking extra precautions, and limiting in-person activities. Now, as restrictions have been lifted and vaccines are readily-available, even the most careful are ditching their couches and looking for an escape from the confines of their homes.
One such escape is shopping in stores vs. online. “Shopping in stores is a social activity,” said Brian Nagel, who covers the retail sector at Oppenheimer & Co.
But it’s not just socialization that’s causing consumers to take their shopping habits back to brick and mortar stores. Inflation is causing many shoppers to pump the brakes on big-ticket purchases like electronics and furniture, which are often purchased online. Payment data released by Mastercard and eCommerce stock activity in 2022 reflected this shift in consumer preferences.
Despite this resurgence of in-store shopping, eCommerce is not expected to lose traction in 2023. In fact, online shopping is more important than ever. Shippo’s State of Shipping Report, released in February 2023, found that 60% of consumers do at least half of their shopping online, up from 41% in 2021. And, when given the choice between shopping online vs. in-store, 61% said they preferred making online purchases.
Those companies who put eCommerce at the heart of their business strategies seem to be best equipped for success in the post-pandemic era, even as shoppers return to physical stores.
So, which is it?
Should retailers place more of their focus on refreshing their brick and mortar stores, or continue to enhance their online presence?
The answer, annoyingly enough, is both.
Omnichannel retail is the future
A hybrid approach seems to be the winning formula for the future of retail. Just as hybrid work environments have emerged and become more commonplace thanks to the pandemic, retail is also becoming increasingly hybrid.
Consumers aren’t abandoning their online shopping habits, but instead merging the two as they incorporate more in-store shopping to their post-pandemic lives. Many shoppers want the option to research and explore a brand online before interacting with them in-person, or perhaps even the reverse—a chance to physically see and hold items before eventually placing an online order. To ensure they’re capitalizing on this trend, brands need to build a cohesive selling strategy and customer journey across all channels.
How does omnichannel differ from multi-channel retail?
While similar in nature, omnichannel takes multi-channel a step further in not only synthesizing sales across multiple channels, but making sure the entire customer shopping experience with a brand is fluid, no matter where they’re purchasing or even just interacting with the brand.
This means creating an experience that feels seamless in physical stores, on a DTC site, on retail sites and marketplaces, through social media and apps, and in marketing efforts. The images and information about a brand’s products should be consistent and available across all channels where a shopper might interact with them.
Trust is king, especially in an omnichannel retail world
Consistency is key in building trust among consumers. Think of it this way: if consumers have one experience with a brand on social media, then a different experience on the website, and yet another experience in-store, where’s the trust? How will they know which is the real experience and, most importantly, will they want to spend money with that brand? If the items in-store don’t look the same as they do online, or don’t match the description, and vice versa, shoppers may lose trust in not only the information that brand is sharing, but ultimately their products and services as well.
Adobe surveyed 13,000 consumers and over 4,000 customer experience and marketing professionals across 14 countries to better understand the digital economy, and their findings further emphasize the importance of trust, especially in challenging economic times.
Their survey found that consumers rank trust #1 when choosing where to spend their money when economic conditions are uncertain. This was especially true among younger generations, with trust outranking price by 13% for Gen Z and 15% for Millennials.
Online or in-person, retail success is driven by the customer experience
It’s settled: yes, in-store shopping is making a comeback, fueled by pandemic stir craziness and a handful of other factors. But eCommerce is also firmly here to stay. And the overwhelming common denominator is a consistent, robust customer experience.
That same Adobe survey found that over 70% of marketers say their customers now expect “much better experiences.” Younger consumers are leading the pack here as well, with nearly 60% of Gen Z and more than half (53%) of Millennial consumers expecting more personalized experiences from brands, compared to 39% of consumers overall.
There’s also a correlation between customer expectations and economic conditions. Understandably so, consumers want to be sure that they’ll receive an excellent experience if they’re going to spend their hard-earned money during tough times. Half of consumers say they expect better experiences from brands when the economy is down, and over a quarter (28%) say their expectations are much higher in a weakened economy.
Don’t forget about the post-purchase experience
The customer journey doesn’t end with a sale. In fact, many of the issues that can greatly impact a consumer’s experience with a brand—shipping issues, wrong orders, missing or damaged items, etc.—will happen post-purchase. So it’s important to create a customer-focused experience from start to finish, including everything that happens after the sale.
A strong post-purchase experience is key to ensure customers feel cared for and valued, especially when it comes to online shopping. Without that face-to-face touchpoint that customers get when shopping in-store, and the instant gratification of walking away from a sale with the product in-hand, online shoppers need to feel like they will receive an amazing, personalized experience throughout the entire journey, until they receive their purchase and beyond.
These expectations include easy and accurate order tracking, coverage for issues that can happen during shipping and delivery, a simple return process, and even rewards or loyalty programs to encourage repeat purchases and customer retention.
Ultimately, modern consumers want a consistent shopping experience that meets them where they are—whether that’s online from the couch, or in-person, out in their communities. As we continue to define what life looks like in a post-pandemic world, reinforcing the consumer experience in complementary ways across all channels will be critical for retail success.