Across the globe, countries are riding out the same storm in varying degrees. Suddenly, the term ‘essential’ has come up repeatedly to distinguish which stores were allowed to remain in operation as the nation remained on lockdown.
Recently, however, non-essential stores had been permitted to open up shop once again with enhanced safety protocols. In a previous article about the return of non-essential stores and changing pleasure-based retail habits, we discussed how long queues that recently formed outside stores like Primark and Apple indicated how badly people wanted to leave their homes. Additionally, this showcases a larger reality – people view this anticipation as something that is valuable. The act of accessing these stores is a sign of luxury and exclusivity.
Crowding the digital sphere
Customers who physically browse in stores spend more time doing so than they do when they shop online. But with the absence of the former option over the course of just a few months, both consumers and brands had been crowding the digital sphere instead.
And yet, studies have pointed out that despite this surge, consumers actually prefer the tactile nature of shopping in stores. This elicits a positive stimulation in emotions as they can literally experience, see, and touch items firsthand – even if they do not end up purchasing them. As this is off-limits for now for obvious reasons, this is the reason e-commerce has seen a surge; it fosters a similar boost in pleasure while being even more convenient.
A survey conducted among participants in the UK found that two in five people claim that because of the pandemic, they will continue purchasing goods online even if stores were to reopen. It is not that they no longer derive satisfaction, but the impetus is more on compliance, safety, and practicality. If they were to venture out, it may be to support smaller, local stores instead.
Adapt or die
While major retailers offer multi-channel experiences, bridging the gap between their online and offline channels for seamlessness, smaller businesses may not have the capacity to do so. What was the norm before cannot be co-opted to suit the current global climate, so businesses across the board have to keep the adapt or die mindset.
Brands today – even those who did not have brick and mortar locations previously – are keenly aware of the tools needed to make their businesses viable given all the other competitors online. Digital marketing agency Ayima emphasises how SEO is a key area e-commerce businesses must focus on in order to literally deliver results potential customers are looking for.
Although some retailers are opening shop once again for curious customers, it can’t be argued that carving out a digital niche is a necessary step towards thriving in the current climate. Maintaining the best practices in terms of SEO and analytics is the baseline for innovating a business for e-commerce.
Rethinking the norm
Everything else follows from here, and an article by Harvard Business Review details how online shopping experiences will be better than they ever were before. Consumers can expect more mobile-responsive sites, greater personalisation and AI-enabled functions, and upgraded integrated options to purchase online and pick-up in store, and numerous contactless payment methods.
It may be a bit of a stretch to say that brick and mortar stores will become obsolete altogether, but for the foreseeable future, all brands must rethink their operations and focus on the digital realm. If brands opt to maintain their brick and mortar stores, they will have to make it all about the customer experience.
That is to say that the store experience must be compelling enough to get people to visit and spend on their brand, following the proper safety protocol.
One thing that is for certain is that it is consumer preferences that will dictate the future of retail for brands to abide by and actively follow suit. From what we can see right now, retail is already changing for the better. This is the new reckoning of retail as we know it.
Article written exclusively for retail-reflections.co.uk