There is no doubt that the global pandemic has had substantial effects on consumers’ shopping habits, and that these patterns will continue to change everyday. This is most likely due to a higher unemployment rate, a resulting shift in priorities leading to greater investment in necessities, and the induction of social distancing measures that make in-store shopping more challenging.
What’s interesting is that most consumers report that their changed behaviors will continue post pandemic - whenever that might be. In other words, the dynamic changes faced by the retail industry are more permanent than most people might predict. This makes it even more important that retailers adapt to consumers’ new shopping habits, and implement long-term strategies that can sustain in the future.
While quality and price remain the top two driving factors behind making a purchase, consumers’ main priority has shifted from brand loyalty to simply product availability. This is not surprising, given the current product shortages in stores and delayed shipments. This makes customer retention more challenging as they are less concerned about the brands they used to care about, but also creates a good opportunity to acquire new customers that might have not shopped your products before and are looking to discover new fashion brands.
Consumers Are Shopping More Consciously
Lately shoppers have been more eco-conscious. They care about the impact that their purchases might have on the environment. They are trying harder to reduce waste and invest in sustainable products. They are also trying to help local independent stores more due to the poor economic conditions. This is why more companies are beginning to sell merchandise using the direct-to-consumer sales model, cutting out big departmental stores as middlemen and creating greater transparency between clothing brands and shoppers.
There Is a Greater Sense of Community
Contrary to popular belief, consumers now feel more connected to their community than before due to greater effort via digital communication. Therefore, they are more inclined to make purchases that benefit the society as a whole rather than ones limited to personal gain. These days, services and experiences that can be shared and enjoyed with others are more appreciated. Brands should challenge themselves to make their products and services more prosocial.
Consumers Are Divided
This pandemic has divided customers into two large groups - the cautious ones who have tried to adopt changes into their lifestyle, like being more active or learning new skills; and the others who have been more unwilling to change, sticking to their old habits and carrying on indifferently. What this means for retailers is that they will have to approach these groups differently when advertising their products. They need to rethink their marketing strategies, customizing them more. The days of one-size-fits-all marketing are over.
There Are Significant Differences in the Generational Demographics
Gen-Z is 32% of the global population, giving them enormous buying power. Their shopping behavior post-pandemic will be less materialistic, and they will choose gaining meaningful experiences over products that reflect social status. One survey found that about 80% of the consumers are delaying making purchases until the pandemic is over, although Gen Z is least likely to do so. Also, they will focus on purchases that “provide a higher return on investment and this return could be social, financial, educational or gross happiness,” (as Kian Bakhtiari writes in Forbes).
Consumers Want to Engage More Digitally, and They Want Better Service
It’s no surprise that e-commerce has skyrocketed since the beginning of quarantine and that customers are spending way more time browsing websites. Compared to March 2019, there was a 25% increase in page views in March 2020 for consumer packaged goods. Browsing data was pretty similar to last year, but the conversion rate for actual sales was down. A key factor behind this, besides increased unemployment and reduced income, is that people simply didn’t have any place to go where they could wear new outfits.
However, as cities are opening back up, consumers will be more inclined to buy new clothes, shoes, and fashion accessories. Retailers can use this as an opportunity to showcase their upcoming products and allow pre-orders by tracking their browsing data - like how much time consumers are spending reading an item’s description and checking out pictures. They can also ensure that issues like high shipping costs, longer delivery times, and a complicated return process remain low so people aren’t discouraged from doing business with them.
Consumers are interacting with retailers online in ways that go further than just browsing products. Data shows that question submission – “when a shopper submits a question around a particular product, such as asking for dimensions or whether they can use it in a specific way – is seeing positive growth year-over-year, with an increase of 54% in April,” (Suzin Wold, Marketing Week). Page views and orders placed increased by a whopping 95% and reviews posted rose by 32% for all consumer goods.
Retailers can make the online shopping experience more seamless and informative by encouraging customers to leave reviews, adding more detailed descriptions of products, and including videos of a model showcasing the outfit for better visuals.
The increase in customers reaching out to retailers and interacting with products shows that brands need to try harder to engage with consumers. This can be done through replying to comments on social media, answering the questions asked on websites, and sending emails. About half of the consumer population is using technology to stay connected to their favorite brands, with e-mail being the preferred channel of communication with brands. Around 50% of consumers across all generations would like these emails to contain special offers for delivery.
Customers Want Back In
Despite most transactions and interactions shifting to online platforms, consumers still like going to stores to make purchases. Consumers are planning to resume some social activities soon, and shopping is first on the list. This is why curbside pickup, drive-through service, limited in-store foot traffic have all risen lately, especially with lockdown rules easing up. Because most potential customers miss the actual experience of shopping and being able to touch and try on clothes (which is a major drawback of online shopping), retailers can book appointments in advance to allow for limited in-store foot traffic throughout the day, which would allow shoppers to move around comfortably, in a way that’s streamlined for the store staff.
Customers Are Seeking an Omnichannel Platform
One thing is clear by now - consumers want an omnichannel platform from retailers. They want flexibility and they expect brands to adjust to their needs. So the question is, what can retailers do to ensure a smooth omnichannel service and take advantage of this strategy to increase profits?
There are several platforms for retailers to showcase their product - shopping malls, independent stores, social media channels like Facebook and Instagram, marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy, and of course, having their own website. Brands need to evaluate what combination of outlets works best for them, so they can reach their target market through the most opportune touch-points.
Edin Sabanovic, senior CRO consultant at Objeqt, says that “the most important thing is to match the message across all the channels and present a unique and consistent image to your customers.” Track the best performing channels and take Sabanovic’s advice to personalize each channel’s customer buying journey accordingly.
Ultimately, most of these changing behaviors don’t come as a surprise. Younger consumers have had more buying power for a while now; they always look for more experiential purchases and are open to trying new things and taking chances, which makes them less brand loyal than previous generations. E-commerce has been on the rise for the last few years, gaining more market share annually. These shopping behaviors and patterns have only been more emphasized and prominent due to the ongoing pandemic. As things start to look more hopeful and lockdown measures ease up, consumers will look for a diverse, omnichannel platform to complete the buying journey. They will look for the perfect balance between social interaction and experience, and at the same time stay safe and remain cautious about Covid-19 in their shopping practices and preferences.
Marketing Intern @MakersValley. Tashfia is a recent graduate with a degree in Business Administration. She loves working in fashion and learning about marketing and the global supply chain, which makes MakersValley a perfect fit for her. Her favorite hobbies include traveling, bar hopping and spending a day at the arcade.