The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we shop, when we shop, and where we shop. Brand loyalty has been fractured. As a result, today's consumer purchasing and spending behaviors are different.
Which changes are here to stay? Let's take a look at some of the trends that merchants should be aware of.
Will customers return to the store?
Digital adoption increased dramatically through Covid and peaked during lockdowns when most shops were closed to the public. According to data published in a Centre for Cities, article eCommerce spending between September 2020 and September 2021 stabilized or fell in most places, but never quite back to 2019 levels.
This illustrates a sign of new behaviors sticking as people become used to shopping online, but also that people still like to shop on the high street for certain types of goods.
Reliance on digital technology for all areas of life including communication, entertainment streaming, banking, shopping, and learning was already growing before the pandemic began, and a significant amount of this online penetration is expected to remain after the pandemic is over.
According to a report from McKinsey:
- 20-30% of businesses moved online during the pandemic’s peak
- Online grocery penetration settled at 9-12% at the end of 2020
With the broad expansion of product categories shoppers are likely to order from online retailers, Walmart grew its digital grocery business in 2021, and according to eMarketer, they’ll outsell Amazon in that category this year.
As a result, we can expect that more people will continue to shop online than ever before, and there will be an omnichannel shopping experience where most consumers use a mix of both in-store and online shopping even for traditional retail categories such as groceries.
New technology emerges during the pandemic
Trends emerged during the pandemic to help users with a better online shopping experience. Digital shopping can feel impersonal and disconnected, and consumers miss the personal touch of speaking to a sales rep and getting personalized advice and product recommendations based on what they are looking for.
Of course shopping online also makes it harder to get a true picture of the item you’re buying because you can’t pick it up, touch it, or see it fully in 3 dimensions. Online retailers adapted quickly to the challenge, not just by encouraging more eCommerce purchases, but also by adopting technology that allowed them to engage with customers and improve their customer experience. In order to help consumers the new technology has been integrated into online shopping experiences. Let’s look at a few of these eCommerce tech innovations.
Live video shopping
You can buy products directly from a live video stream. It is called Live stream shopping, or Live stream e-commerce and it combines live video content with two-way communication between buyers and sellers. It helps to better demonstrate the product to buyers and also allows for an interaction where consumers can ask questions and ensure the product is a fit for their needs.
During the pandemic, we have seen brands and retailers putting a lot of effort into the production of the live stream. Studio productions are often a team effort with several professionals both in front of and behind the camera. To draw further attention to the stream influencers with a similar target audience are often invited.
Product guidance based on the users’ input is an innovative way to replace the personal shopping experience consumers are used to in-store with a sales rep helping them with their purchase. The guided selling process involves a shopper answering a few questions before the tool presents a small selection of the most relevant products based on the user’s input.
Guided selling can help with choice overload, and help online shoppers feel more confident they’ve chosen the right product for them, which in turn leads to more conversions and fewer returns.
A product finder is available to help customers 24/7 without the need for team members to manage the process which gives an advantage to eCommerce store owners. International shoppers can get support and advice no matter what time zone they are in. It’s also useful for serving customers during peak shopping hours that might not coincide with your business hours, for example, Sunday evenings are a peak time for eCommerce sales.
Chat with an expert
Chatting with a sales rep online is another trend that has seen growth since the pandemic. The process involves a consumer chatting via instant messaging or a video call with someone who knows the product category and can answer questions and offer advice. This type of tech was first used in travel eCommerce where travelers could talk with an agent and get advice on options that met their schedule and budget but is now popular across many industries.
What do all of these technologies have in common that made them become popular in eCommerce? Each one shares a similar attribute - they all put the customer in focus and treat them as individuals by providing a more personalized experience. Research from McKinsey shows that 71 percent of consumers expect companies to deliver personalized interactions. And 76 percent get frustrated when this doesn't happen.
From the eCommerce retailers' perspective, there are a number of advantages to adding this kind of technology to their websites.
Help the flow of new inexperienced customers
Covid accelerated online shopping for those already familiar with spending online, but also resulted in many first-time users, including older generations looking to order groceries or other essential goods from the internet.
Tools like guided selling and instant messaging help those new to eCommerce through the process of finding a product and placing an order. These steps help to build trust with them and guide them through to completing the purchase. The same is true for experienced eCommerce consumers who are new to your specific eCommerce store. They don’t know you or your products yet, and the types of technologies now available are useful in building a relationship with new users.
Profitable and less staff-intensive
What these technologies have in common is that they are efficient and cost-effective. Live chat assistants help multiple customers at the same time, live video shopping can reach an unlimited audience, and guided selling is a lightweight tool that provides personalized product recommendations for each individual.
Another reason why many opted for these during the pandemic, is that it allowed them to activate underutilized store employees. Key employees, they did not want to lose, because of their years of experience in customer service and expert product knowledge. Skills are also highly suitable for the online shopping environment when enabled by the new customer-centric technologies.
However, now that eCommerce sales are slowing down from the Covid peak, it’s important for store owners to minimize costs and maximize profits. Guided selling is the lowest cost, and most profitable solution of those listed above because it is 100% automated without the cost of employees.
Other eCommerce trends and how a product finder can help
According to a Nielsen IQ report, 67% of consumers report they shop differently now due to COVID-19.
These changes include more cost-conscious consumers that are less loyal to the brands they love compared to before the pandemic.
Search for value: The rise in internet purchases hasn't made up for the overall drop in consumer expenditure. One-third of Americans say their household income has decreased as a result of the crisis, and 40% say they are watching their expenditure cautiously. Consumers anticipate spending less on discretionary items like clothing, autos, and vacations and more on necessities like groceries and home supplies. A product finder can help by showing only items that are around the consumer’s price point and allowing them to compare similarly priced products in the same category easily.
Less loyalty: Three-quarters of US customers have modified their shopping habits since the crisis began, including one-third who have tried a new shopping mode such as delivery or curbside pickup and almost one-third who have switched retailers. The major reason for this surprising change to alternative companies is value—which might include cheaper pricing, discounts, greater box sizes, or less expensive delivery. There has been a shift toward lower-priced items over brand loyalty. Offering personalized product recommendations, and allowing them to be saved as a list and sent to the user’s email address can provide a reason for shoppers to return to your eCommerce store
Homebody economy: 80% of US consumers are apprehensive when they leave the house. Consumer spending mirrors this transition, with more people investing in at-home hobbies like gardening and software and devices for working—or learning—from home. New hobbies can mean a lack of knowledge, especially around equipment and accessories. Guided selling helps by asking important questions and using the customer’s input to deliver the right product recommendations for them.
Buying less, buying better: Some customers now buy less often but look for higher quality goods that will last longer. While all customers are searching for value in their purchases, lower-income shoppers are trading down more than higher-income shoppers. Although the hunt for bargains is prevalent regardless of income level, customers are prioritizing the quality of goods when making purchase decisions. As a result, consumers undertake more diligent research before buying, and a product finder is a good way to help them along this journey.
Dialogtrail is a lightweight product finder that can be designed to fit your brand style with no coding required. Products can be uploaded and connected to the software and then automatically update in real-time as you adjust your inventory.
Our guided selling tool enables brands to deliver more personalized shopping experiences, and complete more sales. Find out more about our product finder software or contact us for a product demo today!