By Anastasia Lloyd-Wallis
COO & Head of Insights, Retail Doctor Group

The past few years have certainly seen some big changes in consumer behaviours! It helps to know which of these changes are going to be fleeting trends, and which are here to stay. In this article, we’ll have a look at retail adaptation strategies, best-practice tips retailers can action now and what to plan for the future.

Post the wave of lockdowns, it quickly became abundantly clear that staying connected with your consumers was vitally important. Retailers were urged to use this time to build long lasting emotional connections that would ultimately drive loyalty to their brand. More importantly, this time gave retailers a chance to understand what consumers expected from them at the time and what messaging would gain better penetration.

Retail Adaptation Strategies

So firstly, we will look at how can you stay connected with your consumers in times like these. It is critical to stay visible and keep speaking to your consumers during periods of uncertainty. Whilst your physical stores may be closed, you can still interact with your consumers through a variety of other mediums. Let’s have a think about what they are.

  1. What is your consumer database strategy going to be? What can you tell them about what is happening in your business during these times? and what is new? For example, are there new products or an additional service you can offer during this time? Is there a subscription model where they can stay connected with you for minimal effort? How will you communicate your offer during this time?

Email is the fastest and easiest way to communicate with a database you have already built.

  1. What is your social media strategy going to look like during this period? Will you be using a number of different platforms to communicate and stay connected with your consumers and really build an emotional relationship? The messaging may just be showing that you care, or it could be information on your products and services.

Social media has become the go-to choice for consumers to stay connected to the world. We are social beings by nature and a human connection is sought.

Social media gives retailers the chance to build relationships with consumers on a daily basis. These emotional relationships then lead to loyalty and word of mouth (currently the #1 influence on trying a new brand for the first time, RDG Insights)

RDG Insights research into consumer behaviour shows that more than two thirds of consumers are now using YouTube to interact with brands and retailers. 

This is even higher for certain retail sectors and demographics. Thus, it is important to understand where your consumers are, what platforms they spend their time on and want to interact with you. It is no longer as simple as having a Facebook page.

Given the lack of things to do during lockdowns, it was inevitable that the rise of TikTok would result in a large percentage of all consumers saying they use it to interact with brands. So even if this is not a platform you would use yourself, you have to put yourself in your consumers’ place, and ask, “What do they want?”.

  1. Then we need to think about the tone of messaging you are going to use? Different consumers are going to react to the situation in very different ways, therefore requiring different messaging, tone of voice, and imagery to be used to really stay connected with you and bond with you emotionally during times like these. For instance, certain consumer groups would seek out reassurance, security and reliability. They want you to look after them and the messaging will all be around how you can do that and how they can rely on you. Another group of consumers would look for what is in it for them – really direct to the point, what the end outcome will be, and what they can expect. Finally, there’s an emerging group of consumers that are looking for optimism. They want to know what the silver lining is, what they can expect at the end of the tunnel, what they can get from you, and what will be the upside of all of this.

By really understanding how to talk to your consumers and what messaging and tone of voice used can really make a big difference to how they connect with you and if this messaging gains penetration from them.

We have looked at retail adaptation strategies and how to stay connected with consumers during pandemic or uncertain times, but what does the future consumer look like? Will their behaviour ever return to what it was pre-pandemic?

We have talked to consumers to understand the key trends that will continue into the future, so here are our predictions:

  • Convenience – Consumers have got used to having everything they need at their fingertips, increased online presence, and being able to connect with brands 24/7. Even consumers who were typically not digital are now purchasing online e.g., we are seeing older demographics (65+) now purchasing groceries online. These habits have now been built and will continue going forward. We have seen that 1 in 3 consumers have used “click and collect” in the last 12 months. Whilst we expect this to slow in popularity, we would still expect consumers to want convenience and simplicity. Therefore, it is vital to understand your consumer journey, how you can remove friction from their paths and make it easier for them to purchase from you.
  • LoyaltyConsumers are more loyal than ever before to the retailers that have supported them during the pandemic. We are seeing that 89% of all consumers are now members of loyalty schemes and ¾ of those say it influences their behaviour by either visiting stores/ sites more often, spending more or talking about it with friends. The importance of building a connection and having an appealing loyalty offer is paramount. Understand who your consumers are and therefore what relationship they want from you, is transactional. Do they want an experience? Do they want security? And then determine how your loyalty program can offer this.
  • Local – During the lockdowns, consumers have been forced to shop local, and this mindset of local retailers, local produce, Australian owned has become a vital part of our daily life. Consumers now rank local more important than sustainable. Whilst this is an obvious effect of the need for emotional support and human connection, this trend will be set to continue as the economy rebuilds and consumers establish new routines.

The key takeout for retailers is listen to your consumers, determine who they are (not just a number), get to know them on a deeper level to be able to provide the support they need at the moment and in the future, understand the desired customer experience: Is this transactional or emotional? and how you can cater to this.

Acknowledging the emotional drivers of your consumers allows you to not only support them but also predict their future behaviours. This, in turn, opens the way to build differentiated solutions and offers for your brand. Businesses, therefore, cannot afford to not being able to grasp the deep insights into their consumers’ minds, more so in this unprecedented period where the industry needs retail adaptation strategies to both survive and thrive.

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2024 Consumer Loyalty Whitepaper