How Retailers Can Maintain Relationships with Consumers in 2021 and Beyond

Consumers are not unfamiliar with electronic commerce. Globally, online sales exceeded $3.5 trillion in 2019. Unsurprisingly, the trend continued upward in 2020, with sales exceeding $4 trillion. As more people are vaccinated and an end to the global disruption approaches, brands must be cognizant of the behaviors consumers have adopted since the pandemic began, particularly in light of the lessons learned over the last year.

For the better part of the last year, consumers were forced to shop online if they required (or desired) something. According to a recent report by my company, TELUS International, as lockdown restrictions continue to ease, their shopping behaviors in the “next normal” will likely remain relatively similar. Despite this status quo, businesses must continue to prioritize innovation in the delivery of their digital customer experience (CX).

Convenience is Key

Consumers may have avoided brick-and-mortar stores during the pandemic, but they continued to shop. Nearly two-thirds (61%) of Americans said they made the majority of their purchases online during the pandemic, with more than half (55%) believing they purchased more goods online since the pandemic began.

Therefore, how can retailers sustain this online momentum in the months and years to come? According to a recent study conducted by TELUS International, convenience was the primary reason for consumers’ online shopping during the pandemic. Customers praised the convenience of stores being “open” 24 hours a day, as well as the implementation of curbside pick-ups and mobile ordering, as well as the company’s ability to support customers via a variety of communication channels.

Consumers will continue to demand convenience in all aspects of their interactions with brands in the future, from increasingly personalized experiences to 24/7 customer support and availability. By providing frictionless support to customers across multiple channels, including voice, email, chatbots, and social media, brands can build on relationships that began during a time when there were few other purchasing options.

Concerns about Privacy and Security Remain a Priority

While the majority of consumers shifted to online shopping during the pandemic, privacy and security concerns was the primary deterrent for those who did not. Along with our company’s survey data on the subject, Pew Research discovered that 79 percent of Americans who use the internet are concerned about companies violating their online privacy.

Assuring the security of sensitive customer data by asking hard questions about whether you’ve invested sufficiently in the right, up-to-date technology or partnered with the right companies that will protect your customers’ privacy is an excellent first step toward establishing trust and loyalty with customers. Additionally, be transparent about the use and storage of their data. Retailers need to understand that consumers are willing to share personal information in exchange for improved services and recommendations.

Digital Support Still Needs to Have the Human Element

Consumers have grown accustomed to interacting with brands via a variety of digital channels, including live chat, social media, and chatbots. While these digital tools offer numerous benefits and enable respondents to receive prompt, convenient responses more quickly than ever before, they are not without a cost.

When consumers had negative digital customer experiences during the pandemic, a quarter expressed frustrations with their inability to reach a live person, while 14% attributed their frustrations to the impersonal nature of the brand interaction.

While convenient, when not properly deployed as part of a comprehensive digital CX strategy, these digital tools can be detrimental to brands. Retailers must walk a fine line between technology and human interaction, balancing convenience with trust and empathy. Brands can better meet these needs by utilizing available data to gain a better understanding of the customers on the other end of the line (or chat). To ensure that your brand retains a personal touch, ensure that access to human support is always available and provide ongoing training to employees on how to provide empathic customer service.

In the remainder of 2021, brands must continue to innovate their digital CX strategy and execution in order to build on the momentum created by their 2020 next-generation technology investments. With populations’ worldwide still experiencing varying stages of the pandemic, it’s difficult to predict where we’ll end up in terms of shopping habits in the next normal. What we do know is that retailers’ ability to adapt quickly and continue to provide the optimal blend of human and machine support will be important.

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