The polarity of the pandemic is undeniable. On the one hand, COVID-19 has fostered anxiety and uncertainty across the globe, yet it has also highlighted the strength of the human spirit and our ingenuity in finding ways to be together even when we're apart. It has also dramatically affected consumer behavior, exposing unforeseen gaps between businesses and customers, but highlighting brands' ingenuity in quickly pivoting, adapting and demonstrating resiliency to meet their new needs.
That's what is happening: through all this uncertainty, businesses and brands across industries have responded by evolving, innovating and re-imagining the customer experience.
For some, resiliency has meant tweaking the omnichannel experience or rethinking their online shopping experience altogether. For others, the pandemic has caused them to adopt new contactless and buy online, pick-up in-store (BOPIS) practices. Businesses have become living labs, testing new technologies and piloting programs at a pace they might not have in a pre-COVID world.
Whatever the path to business resilience, the impact of the pandemic on the customer experience is quickly becoming apparent.
Here are four key lessons businesses are learning.
Be omnichannel, but focus on where the customers are
Online shopping has driven commerce during COVID-19. According to data from Adobe Analytics, e-commerce between April and May spiked to levels higher than the volume experienced during the 2019 holiday season.
Some industries have adapted to the pandemic by adjusting their omnichannel sales and support strategy to focus their teams on digital operations. Take grocery shopping: consumers are still shopping in-store, but online has exploded. Data on 2020 U.S. grocery shopping trends from the Food Industry Association found online grocery shopping climbed from 10.5% of all grocery spending last year, to more than a quarter (27.9%) in the March/April period.
US grocers like Albertsons, Kroger and Walmart have adapted by hiring more workers and repositioning existing workers to fulfill orders for pickup and delivery. It's all about providing omnichannel support and being able to pivot to where the customers are — whether they're shopping in-store, buying online for pickup or getting groceries delivered.
Another example is the gaming industry. According to research from Think with Google, searches for “best online games" grew 100% between this year and last. To respond to the exponential surge in interest and customer support requirements, TELUS International quickly retrained over 2,000 existing customer support agents who were at the time supporting non-gaming clients, and virtually hired, onboarded and trained 1,200 new team members to be able to address the immediate need.
Pivoting team member focus and adjusting the omnichannel approach has helped businesses meet rapidly changing consumer demand.
Design better online shopping experiences
In addition to adopting e-commerce, brands are building better online shopping experiences including mobile shopping, which has been spiking during COVID-19. According to research from Adobe, the share of products purchased through smartphones grew by 10% in May when compared to a pre-COVID January.
That spike in interest helps illustrate that it's becoming more critical for businesses to optimize their mobile sites in order to stay resilient in the ever-evolving digital commerce environment. According to Think with Google, consumers that have a negative experience while shopping on a brand's mobile site are 60% less likely to buy from that brand in the future.
The pandemic has also made the case for brands to launch their own shopping apps to create even more personalized CX. According to a June 2020 report in Mobile Marketer, shopping app engagement spiked 40% between April 2019 and April 2020.
Others have tapped into pre-existing technology to capture online shoppers. In June, Target launched virtual shopping on both its main Instagram page and its Target Style account. The move makes it one of the first mass retailers to use Instagram Checkout. Target already has a shopping app where users can buy online but adding "shoppable" posts builds on the brand's efforts to make online shopping easier and more visual.
Streamline pickup and delivery procedures
The BOPIS experience was gaining traction prior to the pandemic but in May alone, the new way of shopping spiked 195% compared to May 2019, according to stats from Adobe. Nearly one in four (23%) online shoppers surveyed “said they prefer buying online and picking up in-store or curbside over in-home delivery."
As stores are reopening, BOPIS is likely to play a growing role in CX amidst a second wave and beyond. Since April, Bed Bath and Beyond has expanded BOPIS and contactless curbside delivery to 750 stores. The pandemic also helped spur the retailer to convert a quarter of its stores in the U.S. and Canada into fulfillment centers.
With higher volumes of click and collect and delivery, businesses can enhance CX and streamline curbside pickup by using location services technology that requests a customer's location when they're en route to the store and relays that information to the store's employees to give them a real-time update to ensure they are ready with their order upon arrival.
Contactless transactions can also introduce speed and efficiency and, most importantly, safety. According to data from Mastercard, 46% of consumers have moved contactless cards to the top of their wallet, 82% view contactless as the cleaner way to pay, and 74% plan to continue to use contactless post-pandemic.
Turn your business into a real-time CX lab
Consumers' shifting expectations and openness toward trying online channels during the pandemic has inadvertently given brands an opportunity to explore digital CX innovations. Those innovations are transferrable to in-store and even post-pandemic shopping experiences. Businesses that recognize this are using it as a motivation to continue experimenting.
In June, Etsy launched an augmented reality (AR) feature through its app allowing shoppers to visualize how a painting or photograph sold through the site would look on their walls. Elsewhere, a TD Bank survey of furniture retailers found nearly half (49%) plan to introduce AR technology in the future alongside digital showrooms. Similarly, MAC Cosmetics announced it was blending virtual and in-store experiences by installing virtual try-on mirrors at 120 stores while also investing in technology to allow customers to use their webcams to do the same at home.
Despite the many unforeseen challenges created by the pandemic, resiliency has proven to be about more than individuals protecting themselves. From a CX perspective, consumer openness has proven to be an opportunity. By taking a weighted and personalized omnichannel approach, building better e-commerce experiences, streamlining pick-up and delivery and integrating innovative tech, brands and businesses aren't just protecting themselves. They're building great CX experiences that can outlast COVID-19 and help define them in a post-pandemic world.