Well before the pandemic hit, I was doing most of my shopping online. Time is tight for everyone - and for entrepreneurs like me, efficiency is more than a word. It’s a way of life.
But what’s changed the most for me (and most other people) is that shopping online isn’t just about convenience anymore. It’s evolved into something much bigger. For example, my daughter is nine years old, and the in-store experience -- as she knew it for the first eight years of her life -- has changed forever.
Instead of our annual shopping trip to get back to school clothes this year, she built her cart from the iPad, and shared it with her mom and me, and we did our “editing.” In essence, it’s the same process as before, but leading up into this fall, it was done in the safety and comfort of our homes.
The clothes arrived at our doorstep, everything fit, and she went back to school in her fresh gear.
What’s most interesting here? The new clothes and supplies for back-to-school will always be a need for a growing kid like my daughter. But how the clothes get into the house will continue to evolve significantly over the coming years.
Retailers winning from a distance, both big and small
The transition to buying a back to school wardrobe online isn’t seamless for every retailer. Distanced selling, in my view, is all about recreating the in-store experience online, where the store can operate, sell and serve just like they used to.
Easier said than done, right?
At the onslaught of the pandemic, those who were able to get their head above the water fastest were the brands who had their digital frameworks already in place to bridge the online and offline experience. Our clients at MAKE UP FOR EVER are the perfect example.
Raphael Abascat, General Manager for the LVMH-owned brand, credits the work that started two years ago to connect with customers online as a key reason they were able to future-proof their company during the pandemic.
"Bridging the gap between in-store and online became a focal point of our strategy two years ago when we started working with Heyday. Ultimately, we wanted to find a way to better connect our massively growing digital awareness with sales. Without question, our AI chat is a key piece of that puzzle: we turn visitors into retail buyers."
MAKE UP FOR EVER had the foundations in place to continue to sell online and also experiment with new channels for connectivity like webinars.
What I’ve been amazed at seeing, though, is smaller merchants adapt on the fly. Shopify grew a staggering 97% in Q2, with thousands of small retailers leveraging their 90-day free trial to get their businesses online.
I watched my local butcher adapt: they got online and ramped up home delivery options. Before the pandemic, going to the butcher was one of my neighborhood rituals, and it’s something I’ve missed. But I’ve also adapted to the new normal, and I still get the same great service and great products by leveraging their convenient, reliable, and safe delivery option. Plus, it allows me to support a local business that I care about.
The fact is, if you put the mechanisms in place for your local customers to support you, they will.
Long-term consumer shifts and the must-have tools retailers need to have in place
While the convenience of online shopping was always crucial for me, my expectations for the in-store experience have changed significantly in the past few months.
If I’m heading to a store, I take all of the steps to make sure that the product is actually there before I head out. I’ll chat with a bot or a person on Business Messages about stock at a nearby store -- a step I’m willing to take to make every visit count.
And that level of pre-qualifying before a store visit isn’t unique to me. McKinsey has extensively reported on the new customer experience imperative that’s based on building safe, trustworthy, contactless environments. And, Heyday’s VP of Partnerships, Brad Wing, speaks about this at length right here.
Safety is just the beginning. As the way shopping - and the meaning of the store - evolves, retailers need to start planning for the unexpected now to ensure they come out on top in the coming months and years.
Here are three key pieces of advice I have for retailers based off of my research, client conversations, and personal experiences.
1. Be present wherever your shoppers are, and available to speak to them 24/7
The new customer expectation is to have your store open for business, 24/7. It might seem daunting at first, but a couple of small steps can get you there. Start small by automating your FAQs like order tracking and store hours. Add AI to your customer chats for personalized shopping experiences and make navigating and buying throughout your website simple, fast and enjoyable.
Even if a complex question comes through in the middle of the night, keep your customers assured that they’ll hear from a personal representative soon. In the new online shopping space, a little transparency goes a long way.
2. Ask yourself: what can we do to make every shopping experience feel like white-glove service?
Luxury experiences are no longer reserved for the select few shoppers who get to enjoy them. With personalization becoming an expectation of consumers everywhere, technology - and the brands that leverage it - has to follow suit. Vogue recently reported on Gucci’s investment in video consultations, but this feature will soon become more mainstream for any type of merchant. And, where booking personal shopping appointments was previously reserved for big spenders, this feature is now rolling out in stores everywhere. Consider bringing appointment booking onto your tech stack.
3. Rethink the meaning of brick-and-mortar -- because your customers already have
The in-store experience, as we know it, has changed forever. Retailers who start to re-conceptualize the meaning of their physical footprint now will win in the long-run. Start thinking about using your store as a way to experience the brand in a new way, and consider your digital storefront as the central machine for sales and 24/7 customer service. It might feel like a lot to adapt to at once, but if your customers can change swiftly - you can, too.