The rise of the ‘post-lockdown customer’

Retailers must evolve their digital offerings to satisfy customer expectations

Since the first UK lockdown, retail customers have shopped online in greater numbers than ever before – with online shopping peaking at a record level of 37.8% of all retail sales in January 2021. As this major shift in consumer buying behaviour is expected to last, James Moses, Head of Commerce Projects at Columbus UK, discusses how retailers can safeguard their post-pandemic future and adapt to better serve the new habits and expectations of ‘digital first’ customers.

Columbus conducted dedicated research during the pandemic to better understand how consumer buying habits had been affected throughout this disruptive period. The research highlighted five key takeaways for businesses to tackle post-lockdown to satisfy long-term consumer expectations and consistently provide excellent CX:

    1. Omnichannel is no longer ‘nice to have’ – it’s a critical piece of the retail puzzle

As the UK’s dedicated pandemic restrictions disappear in the rear-view mirror, consumers have become firmly comfortable with online shopping. Columbus research found the percentage of consumers making over 75% of their purchases online more than doubled to 48% post-lockdown, indicating that many customers are set to continue leaning towards online shopping over brick-and-mortar stores.

Consumer expectations will also continue to rise following greater exposure to the convenience of online shopping – and for businesses, this means providing a seamless, user-friendly online experience to ensure customers enjoy the same benefits and convenience they expect to receive in-store. A dedicated content management system can help businesses tailor digital experiences by consumer type to ensure a seamless customer journey at every touchpoint.

    2. Timing’s an issue, but not as big as you might think

Supply chain disruptions have continued to plague retailers, but it appears customers are becoming more understanding – with sentiments around delivery timings set to relax. Columbus research found that pre-lockdown, 34% of customers were flexible on delivery dates and 7% expected delivery within 24 hours. But attitudes have since changed, with 43% of consumers being more flexible on delivery dates, and only 3% expecting orders within 24 hours.

Yet customers will not be as forgiving to consistent delivery delays and a lack of transparency could diminish existing brand loyalty. Clear website messaging and effective support teams with assistance from a customer relationship management system, can help businesses provide accurate delivery windows that keep customers informed at all times.

    3. Pricing benefits from a quality makeover

Pre-lockdown, strict budgets heavily influenced the buying behaviour of more than half of all consumers. However, Columbus research found 44% of people didn’t mind paying more if it’s an item they want and it meets their quality expectations – up from 33% before lockdown.

As with delivery expectations, businesses now have an opportunity to meet the shift in pricing expectations. A product information management system can help by providing customers access to real-time product information. But with an extended cost of living squeeze underway amid widespread price rises, retailers must remember to remain transparent in their justification for pricing items above competitive alternatives.

    4. Demonstrate ethics and true green credentials – they’re strong selling points

Today, more consumers look to align products with their personal values. For instance, Columbus research identified an uptick in ethical consumerism – with 24% of people having second thoughts about buying a product if there are any ethical questions raised compared to 20% pre-lockdown. This means greater transparency and visibility over greener supply chains will remain vital for the foreseeable future.

Retailers that can demonstrate their commitment to sustainability – whether this is how sustainable and cruelty-free their manufacturing processes are, or how much packaging and waste they produce – will win over loyal customer bases and secure long-term growth.

    5. Small businesses with agile eCommerce strategies can flourish and grow

The collapse of several major high street empires over the past couple of years reflects a shift in consumer preferences away from the big players. Columbus research found smaller brands emerged as the real ‘lockdown winners’ – with preference for buying from small online business increasing by a staggering 200%.

The local shopping boom is certainly set to continue as hybrid working models provide consumers with more convenience and time to shop in the local area. This gives local retailers an unprecedented opportunity to sustain business growth throughout these uncertain times with the help of eCommerce strategies such as exclusive subscription offers, extended sales and enhanced social media presences.

eCommerce will persist: Don’t disappoint customers with an ‘expectation gap’

As shoppers move to online channels on a more permanent basis, retailers who have long held a mentality focused on brick-and-mortar stores must embrace this cultural change to survive. Further investment in eCommerce platforms and supporting technology will underpin sustained future growth by helping retailers adapt to ever-changing consumer expectations, even in this new post-pandemic era.

About the Author

James Moses is Head of Commerce Projects at Columbus UK. A highly motivated results-driven Head of Commerce Projects with considerable experience in Project and Performance Management, E-commerce Delivery, Process Improvement and IT System Implementations. Highly IT literate with extensive experience of Microsoft Office, Optimizely/Episerver and Magento. Connect with James Moses on LinkedIn.

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