Tapping into a new audience and rebuilding the consumer journey: the future of Retail starts here

17 June 2021Reading time: 4 min.

The pandemic has ended years of conservatism in the retail sector. There’s no reboot without a full understanding of the new audience to be intercepted and satisfied. Let’s see how to navigate new habits and the necessary multi-channel powers to rebuild the user’s journey.

Gianluca Diegoli’s next piece aims to deepen the post-COVID Retail survival strategies. Our first post offered a general overview. Today, we shift our focus to the actual starting point of the post-COVID sales strategies: the new consumer. 

How has the pandemic changed user behaviors and models? And how can we start from them to redesign the consumer journey? Let’s find out! 

The pandemic marks the end of retail conservatism

Every marketer knows that nothing is harder than changing a habit, especially if it’s satisfying. Fans of easy innovation believe that consumers are constantly looking for more efficient alternatives. In fact, if they’re satisfied with their current consumption model, then they won’t change their behavior. This is also what Geoffrey A. Moore argued in his authoritative book on innovation, Crossing The Chasm. He pointed out, as evidence, how a target minority of “early adopters” had enthusiastically welcomed many products that were then rejected by most of the public. 

Retail had long benefited from this attitude. There was a running joke on how the latest, real innovation was either the supermarket or automatic checkouts—depending on the version. “People are happy like this,” they used to say at conferences.

However, this way of reasoning is dangerous. It turns into a cataclysm when it meets unpredictable events like COIVD-19. When people are forced to experiment, they find that some of their old habits weren’t as good as they thought. In fact, other types of experiences can give them access to better prices, more convenient and timely services, and an almost endless catalog. This is exactly what happened in 2020: 69% of Italian consumers have tried out new shopping habits since the start of the pandemic. Moreover, around 72–83% intend to abandon all conservatism and go with new discoveries, even when the emergency is over.

Understanding the new audience between old returns and new habits

As in all experiments (indeed, this was a fundamental element), the majority didn’t judge all new purchasing and consumption models as satisfactory. They realized that food delivery wasn’t the same as dining at a restaurant (where other variables enter like the mood, socializing, etc.). However, it’s been a new “good enough” for many evenings. Likewise, Netflix can’t replace the “big screen” experience, but it can definitely fill up the weekly schedule. Some pandemic behaviors are here to stay as components of the new normal. In some cases, they’ll even go up (e.g. online shopping, drug prescriptions, virtual medical consultations, and housekeeping). Others will suffer an inevitable decline or shift, if not a definitive disappearance (e.g. distance learning and virtual entertainment). 

new consumers behaviors

Source: McKinsey 

The indispensable power of multi-channeling pervades the consumer’s journey

We’ll easily forget some of these “lockdown” behaviors and products (furry slippers, cute pajamas, grabbing a drink in front of the PC, or following a yoga course on Zoom). However, an experience of absolute power has now become a habit of the majority. This is the freedom for all to say: “Maybe I can’t try on a sweater, but I can see a hundred in a few minutes. In the end, that dressing room wasn’t all that comfortable compared to the possibility of free returns.” Clearly, the consumer doesn’t want to lose such a feeling of omnipotence. In fact, this fuels the so-called post-COVID “stickiness to digital,” which is a fitting expression for the permanence of the virtual. This alternative, an ever-present latent superpower, sneaks into the journey and diverts a considerable part of them toward online purchases. “Why miss out on it now that I know it works for me?” seems to be the mantra for a considerable slice of consumers. In Italy alone, about 92% of users declare that they want to continue shopping online, even post-pandemic. 

People got used to multichannel navigation, QR codes, and the most popular apps for product searching and for booking click-and-collect in the supermarket parking lot. Even paper flyers, which have returned to mailboxes after two months, look like they’ve suddenly aged ten years. The same insights from Google Trends have revealed global spikes in user searches  for terms like “app,” “online shopping app,” “QR code scanner,” or “qr code” since the start of the lockdown.

Yet the digital had set foot in purchasing processes, even before the pandemic. It did it in unexpected sectors, such as clothing or furniture, where the “touch” factor seemed to be an insurmountable threshold for online purchases. Quite simply, many brands decided to wait for all the evidence to show that the consumer was ready to “jump the fence.” That evidence is here. Nevertheless, the accumulated delay can affect market shares and preferences at a never before seen pace, undermining balances that have long been frozen.

Rebuilding the customer journey is the real challenge for the reboot

Buyers are now set free from their past behaviors. Companies must rethink every experience of their journey and follow in their data footsteps to understand how to keep their attention in the daily micro moments—both online and in everyday life. Today, every retail company must create this framework. All of this needs to happen by leaning on rewards and relevant communications to balance the reluctance toward privacy intrusions, which has grown by 5% since 2013

The key of the strategy is to understand how and when each customer likes to be contacted, i.e., keep an “intimate” yet digitally-scaled relationship. First, consumers decide whom to pay attention to based on the methods proposed. Then they choose how to allocate their own time and, only in a third and last moment, to whom they’ll open their wallet. People go first for the how, then the what and the use, rather than possession. Retail can’t ignore this fact. It must begin to strategically redesign the consumer journey. This means:

  • integrate, at last, physical store KPIs into the pre-, during-, and post-purchase data flow of apps and the web;
  • reposition stores and “live” interactions as “long and wow moments” compared to “digital micro-moments,” and
  • reshape the old product-centered model toward services and experiences. 

In other words, it’s necessary to integrate the old parameters, such as stock rotation, to finally consider each customer as a value. This directly depends on the relationship, satisfaction, and connection that we manage to create. Knowing the consumers’ data and preferences means that we’ll be able to model their ideal catalog and journey. This must be online, offline, or hybrid, because they’re no longer willing to compromise on this. 

What are the right tools for this? Don’t miss the next two articles: subscribe to the MailUp newsletter and stay up to date. Also, don’t miss Gianluca’s [mini] marketing newsletter on Friday. Stay on the pulse of interesting content about the Retail world!

This article was written by

Gianluca Diegoli

Gianluca Diegoli

Digital marketing consultant for 10 years, professor of marketing and multichannel strategy at the IULM University of Milan, and co-founder of Digital Update, Italy's first digital training school, Gianluca Diegoli is one of the best-known digital strategy experts in Italian marketing. He deals with strategic marketing consultancy, digital transformation, e-commerce, and omnichannel strategy.

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