Lessons From A Pandemic: What Brands Can Learn About Customer Experience

January 15, 2021

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The Pandemic has truly shaken up the eCommerce industry, demand or online goods has skyrocketed meaning the user experience has had to improve rapidly, we take a look at what brands can learn about the user experience from strangest year...

The pandemic has wrought uncertainty about almost every aspect of our lives. Economic uncertainty, constant worrying about health, work and life shifting into the digital realm, and lockdowns have all had profound effects on customer behaviour. As this painful year grinds to an end, let’s take a look at how the COVID crisis has changed the expectations and demands of consumers, and how brands can offer positive customer experiences in our new reality.

Digital Growth And Evolving Experiences

A McKinsey survey found that an overwhelming 80% of companies “believe that their core business model should be digitized to remain economically viable.” It’s easy to see why purchases are migrating online, but building a blueprint for positive customer experiences can be tricky in such a fluid situation. We already knew some of the keys to creating positive eCommerce experiences: getting rid of time consuming forms and procedures, limiting delivery times and costs, and offering an easy and generous returns policy.

But as brick and mortar suffers what could be a fatal blow, and millions of customers around the globe are unwilling or unable to visit stores, digital retailers would be wise to invest heavily in creating enjoyable online shopping experiences. Many retailers have experimented with moving outdoors. While supermarkets have offered curbside pickup for years, the technique has expanded to other industries. One of America’s largest athletic and outdoor stores, Dick’s Sporting Goods began offering curbside pickup when stores closed in March, and they were so successful that DIY and clothing stores followed suit

Other retailers have gotten creative with pop-ups. Beauty and fragrance brand D.S. & Durga introduced Fumetruck earlier this year, a pop-up store resembling an ice cream truck which cruises the streets of New York, allowing consumers to try out products in a safe outdoor setting. A Canadian startup called Grocery Neighbour is an app based mobile supermarket that allows customers to replicate traditional shopping experiences in fresh, droplet free air. The company’s app notifies users when a supermarket truck is in their area, which enables them to visit the shop, and personally choose the pieces of fruit and cuts of meat they are purchasing. Going outside is a good way to build goodwill.

New Realities

Augmented and virtual realities are also a trend worth watching. Trying things out before making a purchase is one of the biggest inducements to shopping in brick and mortar stores. As the pandemic has forced retailers to lower their shutters, new technology has stepped into the void, allowing customers to gain the ability to try out products from the comfort of their sofas.

Ikea’s new Ikea Place app allows consumers to virtually place furniture and accessories in their living spaces, paving the way to increased online sales. The app, which is powered by iOS 11’s ARKit technology, renders true to scale, realistic 3D images which you can easily move around your home. The Swedish industry leader’s press release noted that the app “automatically scales products, based on room dimensions, with 98 percent accuracy.” The app lets you save a list of favourite products, share your purchases and images on social media, and immediately make a purchase in Ikea’s online store. This is one case where AR is improving on in-store experiences, and it seems like a sure-fire hit.

Beauty retailers like Sephora and Ulta are also using AR to allow shoppers to try out shades of mascara, foundation, and lipstick without actually touching any surfaces or visiting a makeup counter. Ulta’s GLAMlab technology allows you to virtually apply beauty products to your own face, or use a photo of a model with a similar complexion and skin type. 

In the clothing industry, many brands have explored technology that enables users to try on new looks in the digital sphere. American department store Kohl’s has collaborated with Snapchat to build a “virtual closet”, where consumers can use their selfie lenses to experiment with new clothes, and make purchases without leaving the Snapchat app. Levi’s has also launched a new app called Squad, an online co-watching video app, which allows friends to enjoy the experience of shopping together. 

We all know that eCommerce options create uniquely convenient and safer ways to shop. But anyone who says they don’t miss the experience of sampling products, socializing with friends and family, or exploring exciting new products in store is either a misanthrope or a liar. While VR and AR experiences are still works in progress, a number of creative and exciting options are out there, and we see a bright future for these technologies once the kinks are ironed out.

At The Store

While foot traffic has dipped enormously during the pandemic, some stubborn shoppers are still intent on shopping at physical retailers. And while before COVID most retailers had optimized their layout in response to consumer psychology, retail spaces are undergoing a dramatic shift. Experts predict that stores with spacious, uncluttered, and minimalist designs are going to become increasingly popular. This style will maximize the ability to maintain social distancing, while also making it easier for staff to clean and sanitize the space, necessary actions which make shoppers feel safer and more relaxed. You’re probably already aware that consumers are clamouring for contactless payment options, and we’d also expect to see this trend continue through 2021 and beyond.

Many forecasters also expect more stores to adopt a “one way” customer flow system, which will minimize face to face contact and smooth the traffic flow as customers go about their shopping. Many also expect to see huge growth in technology hardware and digital assistants in store. This will allow struggling retailers to keep staffing costs low, while also minimizing the potential for virus transmission. Many experts predict that retailers will gravitate toward an Argos style model, a spacious showroom where orders are placed via tablet or app, and collected when the shopping is done. 

 We are entering a brave new world in customer experience, as COVID has driven rapid evolution in retail. Crowded stores piping in Christmas music are now a distant memory. If you aren’t already working hard to create safe and fun ways for consumers to shop, you need to start looking for answers today. At Adimo, we have a wealth of experience creating shopping solutions in the world of eCommerce, and we’re waiting to hear from you! 

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