At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, 10 years of e-commerce growth happened in just 90 days. This means that there are new rules, new priorities, and new expectations; it’s essential for businesses to adapt to the customer of 2021.

IBM’s 2020 US Retail Index suggests that the shift to digital shopping has come five years earlier than expected. This digital shift has resulted in more customers, more competition, and a complete transformation in shopping habits that may be permanent. Retailers need to take an omnichannel approach to provide an experiential online shop that focuses on personalisation, customisation, and convenience.

The customer

New customers

With the closure of physical stores, many customers adopted online shopping for the first time, with an estimated 17.2 million people in the UK permanently redirecting their shopping online. It is essential that businesses invest in their data analytics to understand these customers.

New shopping habits

The pandemic not only led to the arrival of new digital shoppers, but it also transformed the habits of those that already existed. Many people faced severe income instability, resulting in a much more necessity-focused and cost-conscious customer. Groceries, health and hygiene, and home essentials thrived whilst sales of occasionwear were replaced by loungewear and activewear as many homes doubled as workplaces, schools, and gyms.

Consumers' priorities also changed regarding online shopping. Sustainability and inclusivity are more important than ever, with a recent McKinsey survey finding that 75% of Generation Z consumers (born between 1995 and 2010) willing to end relationships with companies they perceive to be sexist, racist, or homophobic. This is something for retailers to consider when consolidating their supply chain, product range, and their social media presence.

With an increased desire and expectation for convenience and simplicity, it’s important to ensure that a 2021 approach to retail provides a satisfying experience both in-store and online.

The solutions

In-store

Securing a future in retail requires offline-online innovation, with investment in new technologies to digitally integrate the experience. Potential ideas include interactive advertisements VR technology and games at physical retail locations, which have been shown to boost shopper engagement and conversion rates.

Digital

This integration is even more important online as many key benefits of physical shopping have not previously been available online - expert store assistants, returns processes, and access to physically products before purchase.

With an increased emphasis on convenience, customers will also be expecting new ways to transact. 77.6% of US consumers who use social media to shop report that they sometimes abandon a purchase due to a lack of built-in functionality. To address this, retailers will aim to introduce seamless payments systems, gamification, loyalty programmes and a focus on personalisation. Customers much prefer when their experience is tailored to their unique needs. Smarter HQ has learned that 72% of customers only engage with personalized messaging.

To meet the demands of these new online shoppers, it’s important to understand them and retain them.

“The brands who do a better job of making it easy for people to buy their first product will be the ones that win out over the ones that have very intricate beautiful stores, but no one knows how to shop on them.”
Loren Padelford, General Manager at Shopify Plus

Retailers need to provide a customised experience, where customers are shown what they want as soon as possible, a key differentiator online. We’ve discussed possible approaches to this in other blog posts such as going Direct-to-Consumer (D2C), replicating the personal shopping experience online, and limiting choices to increase conversions.

One trend that is certain to stay is the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in retail. Retailers are turning to AI to build a unified view of their product and customer data, providing intuitive product recommendations, and improving everything from operations to inventory management. This level of personalisation helps provide good customer service, increasing that all-important retention rate.

There are many ways to implement these suggestions but one way is using technology like that offered by BOON. This kind of multi-solution technology uses AI to bring the in-store experience online, boosting engagement and conversions, whilst providing retailers with key data insights to understand their 2021 customer.