For both businesses and consumers, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented plenty of adversity—but the constraints imposed on businesses in the last year are also an opportunity for massive growth and change.
Some of these changes have already begun with consumers turning to digital commerce and DIY solutions in record numbers. And while it may be tempting to see this last year as a momentary blip on the retail radar, our research suggests that a radical shift in commerce is on the horizon—and here to stay.
Businesses that want to make the most of this moment are going to need to adapt. We’ve put together a couple of tips to help you catch the wave of the retail rebirth.
Things are looking up, and your customers have noticed
When Gladly surveyed consumers last year, one in three said they had a positive outlook for the rest of 2020. That trend held even among those who had been economically hurt by the pandemic.
In hindsight, that optimism seems to have been warranted. While the pace of economic recovery has slowed in recent months, U.S. household wealth has hit a new record, corporate earnings are expected to grow by 35% by the end of the year, and consumer confidence continues to rise as the economy bounces back.
The takeaway here? Consumers are feeling confident, empowered, and ready to spend. This makes it a great time to focus on meeting customers where they are.
The digital revolution is here
In the last year, businesses have seen unprecedented growth in online sales as consumers increasingly move to the safer (and more convenient) world of digital retail. And this isn’t likely to be just a passing trend: Gladly’s surveys suggest that consumers plan to continue using online retail at a higher rate than they did prior to the pandemic.
Businesses looking to succeed in an increasingly digital-first retail environment are going to want to meet the new demand through investments in their websites, tech support, and customer service.
Seasonality is so last season
If the last year has taught us one thing, it’s that you can never count on a “normal” season. Retail’s traditional assumptions about “seasonality” rest on an assumption of uninterrupted normality—and as 2020 showed, that assumption is shaky at best.
In fact, consumers have reported a significant decrease in “seasonal” spending (like spending on summer clothing) over the course of the last year. While you can expect some of this seasonal shopping to return as the country fully reopens, it’s worth leaning into the new shopping trends that have emerged in their place.
Brands that have historically relied on seasonal shopping can focus on reminding consumers that gift-giving is a great way to connect—regardless of the time of year. And with more and more people now working from home, brands losing out on seasonal sales may want to invest in work-from-home trends like comfortable house wear and goods for the home.
Customer experience is key
Providing an excellent experience for online consumers is especially important.
More online retail means more competition to really stand out in the digital space. And as more consumers move online and business increasingly shifts toward ecommerce, customers are expecting a service experience that’s seamless, personalized, and accessible through the channels they already use (think chat and texting support).
The increased importance of exceptional online service can seem like a burden (a full 43% of companies reported spending more than they expected to on customer service last year), but it’s also an opportunity to build customer loyalty and put your brand ahead of the digital pack.
Look for opportunities to invest in better tech for your support agents, streamline your customer service experience, and provide your online shoppers with a personalized experience.
This year’s brought about a paradigm shift in the way we do retail—but don’t assume the change stops here. The future will bring its own set of unforeseen challenges, and your brand will want a contingency plan for when the going gets tough.
When it comes to making plans for the future, we recommend that you go beyond simply adopting another businesses’ plan—instead, you’ll want to shape your own, unique playbook, so you can adapt to a changing market while staying true to what makes your brand successful.
Major, world-changing events like the COVID-19 pandemic have happened before and will happen again.
Brands that want to thrive in an always-changing world will need to stay attentive to the market’s shifting trends and demands and continue to offer top-notch, radically personal service wherever their customers are.