The world is awash with debate about the future of retail – the uncertainties, the predictions and plenty of advice for the road to recovery. It’s no wonder that, for the people in charge of retail – and particularly those planning its customer experience strategies – the next few months present such a challenge.

We all know that customer habits have changed. During the pandemic, consumers have become more promiscuous, buying from a larger number of retailers due to stock availability and the best delivery times. The old trends of customer retention and loyalty no longer apply, with 23% of consumers starting to shop with a retailer they hadn’t used before and 24% no longer shopping with one of their regular retailers during the pandemic. (RetailX Coronavirus Consumer Confidence Tracker April 2020).

Hazel Morton, Head of UK Marketing at Critizr

Customer priorities have also changed, and they will continue to do so. People are being more cautious, they want new standards of hygiene, social distancing, contactless payments, home deliveries and a reassurance that they are safe on the shop floor. There’s also an expectation of instant answers about opening times, queues and stock availability in their local stores, as shopping trips become more regimented.

These new habits and priorities will benefit some companies while hurting others. For both, it’s critical to look at business through the customer lens to create a blueprint for customer engagement and loyalty in the months ahead. Here are six strategies to consider:

 

Nurture new customers

For the businesses that have seen a surge in new customers over the past few months, the opportunity is there to retain them. A primary barometer of customer experience will be how a business that people frequented and depended upon during the pandemic is able to deliver an experience that meets their new needs and expectations in terms of connection, with empathy, care and concern. (RetailX Coronavirus Consumer Confidence Tracker April 2020 show that 30 to 45% of consumers say they’d be willing to stick with a new brand discovered during COVID-19). To cement these new relationships and drive loyalty, build a customer experience that meets the needs of shoppers in the new retail landscape – with a focus on easy communications, local relevance, a personalised service and convenience.

 

Strengthen loyalty with existing customers

As people try new brands and drop others, the pressure also mounts for retailers to secure the loyalty of their existing customers. The retailers that will win are those who engage with their customers on a more personalised level and understand the growing importance of local communities and compassionate service. Also it’s important to build upon the greater emotional ties that brands have enjoyed with their customers throughout the pandemic.

 

Keep listening

The agile capabilities shown by many retailers during lockdown has been impressive, and it’s important to keep this up. Take the real-time pulse of changing consumer preferences across stores to understand customer needs and pain points as they arise. Collect feedback from your customers, but act on it and show that you are listening by responding and taking action to meet their expectations.

 

Bridge the gap between on and offline

With social distancing measures and a new nervousness about physical interaction, it will be harder for sta to engage and create a connection with customers in the physical world. Those conversations will increasingly move online as customers will still want to be heard and to hold conversations. That means brands will need tools to create a bridge for store sta between the oine experience and online.

 

Think local

The impact of COVID-19 varies across regions, towns and communities around the UK. That means long range planning at HQ level will only work to a certain extent. To adapt and keep track, businesses need to be able to listen to and understand changing consumer preferences across all of their stores around the UK.

 

Remember the power of your frontline staff

Retail’s essential workers are being rightly hailed as heroes for their incredible service to communities across the UK during COVID-19. They face ongoing challenges in their day to day roles, but their commitment and service is needed more than ever to deliver for customers in the months ahead. Involve your store teams by making feedback visible and give them the ability to respond, this empowers the team and motivates them to better serve customers.

To find out more download our free e-book: Human Centricity is key for physical retail in the new COVID-19 world.