How the pandemic changed consumers

A year of distance has created a new wave for retail.

When researchers analyze the pandemic of 1918 a few things come across very clearly.

  1. Sanitation improved dramatically.
  2. Innovation became essential.
  3. Retail Evolved.

When seasonally adjusted retail indices make this obvious, mail order retail increased from 0.8 in 1918 to 12.1 in 1919. Much like today consumers completely shifted their shopping behaviors to meet the problems of a lifestyle controlled by a virus. On the back of the 1918 pandemic, 1919 was a booming year for the retail industry, among others. With a study from the Chicago fed notion only 5 retail businesses surveyed reporting a curtailed store performance, with 968 reporting active store attendance.

While the 1918 pandemic and 2020 pandemic have shared issues, unemployment, recession, shutdowns, they both have another thing in common, progression. Much like the 1918 pandemic boosted Mail Order Retail, the 2020 coronavirus has created a new era of eCommerce. Retailers of all sizes have the ability to create an effective online presence and then leverage a multitude of advanced tools to drive more engaging experiences for their customers. 9/10 shoppers are now prioritizing experience using retail platforms that enable a seamless experience in store. The combination of targeted social media experiences with seamless selling has positioned social commerce as an effective solution for driving brand awareness and sales.

But, while retailers are enabling more from their experiences, one thing is becoming evidently more clear: business is not going to return to “normal” customers are ready to reimagine their baseline requirements and take their demands from customers to the next level. Retailers have already adapted their experiences to adapt operations to comply with the challenges of the virus and concurrent health & safety concerns. The Harvard Business Review notes:

“Retailers have to make sure their sites are mobile-responsive, offer integrated and deliver a consistent, reliable digital experience across devices and channels.”

But, a lot has changed for retail and the way consumers will shop going forward. Consumers are ready for a new wave of retail in which they are prioritized as people, rather than just potential sales. Here are some aspects of this new wave of retail that retailers need to adapt to:

  1. Extraordinary is expected.

Elevated in person customer experience is the critical opportunity for retailers to think differently about how service pertains to their shopping experience. Service is no longer just support for sales and can no longer be limited to generic processes; greeting customers and handling brief questions. Personal shoppers, technical experts, stylists and advisers will all enable consumers to have a more engaging in-store experience. Some businesses have created advisor programs that allow customers to get free consultations in store or online. This is especially effective with complex products, such as technology or specialty footwear.

Customers are now expecting digitally native customer experiences, platforms that allow them to pursue the same experience in-store as well as online. Platforms like real-time inventory management, predictive analytics and personalization can take the experience to the next level; driving customers to engage with your brand and evolve within the customer lifecycle.

This is not the time for brick and mortar retailers to attempt to ride out the challenges of the marketplace and patiently wait for the return of a traditional experience. Brands have to take a proactive and progressive approach to create a holistically engaging experience.

  1. Turbulence is here to stay.

It has been said many times that the pandemic accelerated existing trends rather than creating entirely new ones. This accelerationist shift is one that is invariably here to stay and continually driven by a number of factors. Consumers are changing the way they think, act and live. Demographic changes are one factor playing a significant role, more people are living alone, in cities and moving away from their extended family units. With these changes becoming more prevalent, consumers of ranging ages are searching for high quality products at an affordable price. Value is now prioritized over luxury for the first time in recent years. Disruptive ecosystems like Amazon have added challenges to retailers, moving into the apparel and home goods space, providing consumers the ability to get fashion conscious clothing (that they can try on at home) for half the price of many brick-and-mortar competitors. Retailers are going to have to continue to innovate in order to compete, adapt and find success in a consistently inconsistent marketplace.

Retailers either have to elect to ride the wave of eCommerce and follow the innovations of big players like Amazon, or develop a localized strategy that helps them to succeed with their specific customer segments. For the latter it is essential that new experiences are developed that help to circumvent the flaws of the traditional retail model.

  1. New is not always better.

While the so called “legacy laggards” are very visible and visibly failing, new innovation can be equally as dangerous for businesses with established credentials. It is important to recognize that the market has not changed completely, many verticals will be very similar to the pre-covid era, and older demographics still like to do things in traditional ways. Look no further than outrage towards mask mandates, or switching brand over the way they have handled the virus. Innovating unsustainably is equally problematic to not innovating at all. Brands should look to upgrade what they currently provide, not change everything for change’s sake alone.

There is still time for legacy retailers to shake loose this trajectory and create a value proposition that is tailored to the target customer segment you really want to delight. There is value in creating an assortment for specific customer segments, brick-and-mortar can do this really well, combined with associates that take a more engaged role, and a store design created for communication; retailers can access a winning formula. But, each customer segment is not the same, Gen Z has moved beyond conspicuous consumerism and therefore purchases on convenience alone. Gen Z shoppers desire deep personalization and rich communication to drive their decision making. Integrated CRM’s, omnichannel order management and real time inventory are not optional for this shopper. But, Gen X might be more receptive to waiting for a product to be in stock, or heading down to their local store to pick up the item. Being able to identify where your consumer segments shop, why, how often and what they buy is the most essential facet of succeeding in this new wave of retail.

Teamwork Commerce is specifically designed to enable seamless retail across channels, allowing you to build a customer experience that is tailored for every single shopper and provides award winning customer service. Learn more: