The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the world in a significant way and retail is no exception. Physical stores were forced to shut their doors during lockdown under preventive measures against the risk of infection. While some physical stores shut their doors entirely, others took their sales activity online to survive the ordeal. Amid this unprecedented crisis, e-commerce came to the aid of several retailers and hence thrived, despite odds.
The buyer is currently expecting a seamless shopping experience as physical stores reopen. While online shopping has set a whole new trend with dedicated e-commerce sites, many consumers still prefer to shop in a physical store. However, some of the common questions going through retailers’ minds now are what the new normal would be, how consumers will behave after the pandemic, and what retail business will look like after the crisis eases.
There are no clear answers to these questions but there are certain trends that have emerged:
Buyers Using Physical as well as Digital Channels - In the post-pandemic setup, the consumers are using a blend of digital and physical channels while buying. Keeping this in mind, the retailers are also working towards enhancing the shopping experience through digitalization. For instance, customers can now return purchases made online using QR codes.
Retailers Offering Hybrid Experiences Now - Understanding the fluctuation in shopping habits during the pandemic, retailers are adopting omnichannel routes and that will continue to pervade the retail world. This means brands are opening their brick-and-mortar stores as well as keeping their e-commerce plan intact to maintain how they served consumers before the pandemic as well as after the crisis.
According to marketing experts, choosing between online sales and brick-and-mortar stores would not be the answer. Instead, retailers must offer an omnichannel experience so that they are not caught off guard, in case a fourth wave kicks in, leading to another phase of lockdowns. Also, the hybrid approach is allowing the retailers to direct customers to online channels in case a product or a particular color is not available in physical stores.
E-commerce is Expected to Lead the Way - The e-commerce boom provided a whole new experience to the world of shopping as big brick-and-mortar stores fitted inside a small mobile app. E-commerce business and retail have already begun to see new behavioral shifts in shopping habits and the trends set in the past year are likely to continue.
While the digital economy boomed during COVID-19, at least 67 percent of consumers report they shop differently now due to the pandemic. From new trending product categories to new launches, the buyer can see everything on his/her mobile screen. Online shopping has not only saved the time of consumers but also given them a sense of security amid the virus threat.
From contactless payment to social media shopping, e-commerce has clearly offered comfort and a sense of fulfillment to both consumers and retailers. Although post-COVID commerce is expected to be omnichannel, marketing analysts predict that e-commerce sales will continue to grow by double digits through 2023 worldwide.
The Way Forward
To remain relevant in the changing environment, the retailers should guide their aspirations for customer experience. This would require taking specific actions like doubling down on providing digital experience, injecting innovation into omnichannel, transforming store operations, embracing an agile operating model, and reimagining the physical network.