As brands prepare to reopen stores and restaurants in the U.K., there are numerous insights we can glean from the essential retailers who have remained open throughout the pandemic. Essential businesses have shown what it takes to provide an outstanding customer experience in a very challenging environment.
We set out to determine what the next normal will look like—and what it will take to succeed within it—by combining cross-client analyses with a second wave of proprietary COVID-19 research. Here are some key takeaways to consider as you implement your reopening strategy:
1. Communicate clearly + often
One of the most stressful factors of this pandemic has been the uncertainty involved in navigating so many unknowns. So with questions like “How long are we going to have to live like this?” remaining unanswered, frustrations and anxiety are high.
Though fears of personal safety have eased some since the end of March, 76% of customers are still concerned about their health.
Brands that have implemented a concise, transparent, and timely communication strategy are the ones easing those anxieties and winning loyalty right now. Customers want to know what steps you’re taking to reopen safely—things like how you’re adhering to physical distancing measures and what personal protective equipment (PPE) your staff will be required to use.
Customers also expect regular notifications when it comes to their order. For example, people are more forgiving right now for longer delivery times as long as it’s being communicated to them. Again, it’s the unknown that makes people uncomfortable, so inform customers on the status of their order and keep them happy.
Another good example of an effective communication strategy is using customer feedback to keep pace with evolving expectations. When it comes to reestablishing trust, your feedback program is the best barometer. Collect and measure feedback across as many channels as possible. Respond to reviews and close the loop with customers so they know you’re listening. And share feedback across your organisation so every person on your team is in the loop.
2. Be transparent with protective measures
Consumer expectations are heightened and they’re likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future. Though these expectations differ by geography, our data tells us consumers are paying attention to precautions being taken as Cleanliness is no longer favoured but expected, and PPE has become part of our everyday lexicon.
When we look at customers who were highly dissatisfied with Cleanliness in January, only 31% gave the highest score on Overall Satisfaction. But in March/April, only 17% of customers unhappy with Cleanliness were highly satisfied with the overall experience.
Prioritizing safety doesn’t just mean elevating cleanliness-related processes—it’s about demonstrating to customers you are doing so. Use in-store signage to communicate your safety efforts. Be very transparent that your staff is implementing operational standards to protect customers’ well-being and meet their expectations.
Also make sure your PPE usage, sanitation procedures, and physical distancing practices are consistent across locations. It’s important to remember customer attention has shifted in the COVID era, and your first impression upon reopening will be a memorable one.
3. Prioritise ease of navigation
In the age of physical distancing, consumers are more concerned with the ease of moving through the store. Customers want to get in and out quickly, and it’s important for brands to find ways to minimise the time consumers need to spend inside.
When we look back at the week of 14 March, Ease of Moving Through Store was one of the lowest key drivers. But over the past month, it jumped to the top of the list and is now tied with Ease of Finding Items as the second highest key driver of satisfaction.
While there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach for most brands—given the variety of store sizes and formats—it’s important for brands to recognise bottlenecks, manage queues, and create a safe environment for consumers.
4. Amp up the digital experience
With more consumers relying on e-commerce, brands can’t afford to overlook their digital strategy. The retail industry is seeing a shift in consumer behaviours and future intent. Non-essential closures and the push to avoid public spaces have forced even the latest adopters to move to digital channels.
Whether brands are succeeding with their e-commerce strategies, a portion of these new users will likely evolve their shopping habits—and that will have a long-term impact on the consideration stage of the shopping journey.
In fact, when we asked respondents about how future interactions with retailers will change after the pandemic, 36% of customers said they’d visit supermarkets less frequently and avoid crowded locations more. Most brands likely have digital transformation efforts underway, but those initiatives will need to be prioritised and accelerated to keep pace with rapidly shifting behaviours.
Our data also shows 1 in 3 online grocery orders are now made by customers 65 or older. The increased usage in this demographic demonstrates online shopping is being adopted by consumers across the board. It’s also a behaviour that is likely to carry on long after the pandemic.
To drive your digital efforts, focus on ease of navigation, consistent experience across platforms (i.e., website, app), and a transparent purchase experience. As previously discussed, today’s customers don’t mind there being a bit of a delay so long as communications are clear.
Stay safe, healthy, + informed
While we can’t fully anticipate customer expectations when we enter the next normal, brands can lean into what we’ve learned during the pandemic to prepare for reopening. To keep tabs on all our latest research and best practices, check out our COVID-19 Resource Center.
Tom Wakeman | Director, Client Insights