Adapting to the New Normal in Retail and E-commerce

By Team Session AI on March 6, 2020

Digital transformation has taken on a new meaning and urgency in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. The pandemic manifested an array of different levels of digital capabilities in companies across all industries. Retail is no different. While some companies, like Amazon, Target, and some other digital-first companies are coping better than those who relied more on stores. Even those who were perceived as fairly advanced and omnichannel were caught flat-footed and fell woefully short in fulfilling consumers’ need for clear information and essential products. According to Gartner, 71% of even the most digitally advanced companies are not helping customers with their most pressing questions and problems.* 

This is not to say that retailers are not trying. They are doing their best to juggle multiple high priorities — from ensuring the safety of their employees and customers to managing supply chain disruptions, beefing up their shipping/delivery, to trying to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on revenue. Certainly, these are difficult times, but with the much-anticipated reopening expected to happen in phases after 3 months of sheltering in place, businesses have to start adapting to the new normal.

What Is Happening in Retail So Far

The pandemic has undeniably changed the retail industry, especially physical retail. It’s clear that doubling down on a digital-first strategy is critical given the changes in consumers’ buying patterns. Even when it comes to e-commerce, the preferred option of shopping, and for many the only option, during the lockdown, consumers are browsing and not necessarily buying as much online. It is important at this point for retailers to move fast and adapt their digital strategy to consumers’ changing needs and buying behavior.

The availability of e-commerce and hygiene considerations are now key deciding factors for consumers to shop with a brand. Many are now trying out new shopping models that they haven’t tried before, such as buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS). More importantly, consumers are expected to stick to some of these new methods even after the pandemic.
“To remain relevant in this changed environment, retailers should set a North Star to guide their aspirations for customer experience, with specific goals across five actions: double down on digital, inject innovation into omnichannel, transform store operations and win on “SafeX,” reimagine the physical network, and embrace an agile operating model,” Mckinsey noted in an article, Adapting to the next normal in retail: The customer experience imperative.

McKinsey & company

Examples of How Retailers are Responding

We have reached the stage during the pandemic where consumers’ expectations from brands are more than getting an email with information on how a brand is protecting its employees and customers. To win their trust and catch their attention at this point, brands need to:

  • Demonstrate their values through added benefits
  • Show that you understand what your customers are going through by making changes that demonstrate respect and understanding
  • Unblock that which causes your customers stress
  • Improve customer experience by expanding your partner ecosystem

Below are some examples of the many retailers who are demonstrating that they are truly in this together with their customers.

Additionally, most retailers are offering free or lowered shipping fees as well as a lowered threshold for loyalty tiers.

Successful COVID-19 Retail Strategies

As the impact of COVID-19 continues to unfold and states plan the reopening of the economy, uncertainty still looms. The situation changes every day and consumers’ expectations evolve accordingly. Agility in pivoting business and customer engagement strategies is critical. In today’s reality, staying in touch with consumers without overburdening their data plans is key. Consider sending SMS or push notifications to customers to inform them if an item they wanted to purchase is available in another color/size or show them complementary items, or if the item they want is available for pickup or delivery. You can create urgency by reminding users how much remaining time they have to get same-day in-store or curbside pick-up for an order. For a more detailed discussion of other successful strategies, access our webinar: 7 Strategies to Win Customers in Times of Crisis – What You Need to Succeed in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond.

All retailers can agree that it’s not business as usual. In today’s rapidly changing consumer consumption environment, businesses need a solution to understand the shifts in online buying behavior in real-time as well as provide hyper-personalized customer engagement. Even as stores start to open, consumers will be apprehensive about flocking to the malls. As a result, an omnichannel personalization strategy is key to helping customers, making it easy for them to do business with you without any safety concerns, understand winning their trust and loyalty and retaining them.

“When consumers find those brands that prioritize the customer with care and superior online shopping experiences,” said ZineOne CEO and Co-founder Debjani Deb in a recent article, “they reward the companies with preference, advocacy, spend, and — the most precious currency of today — trust.”


*Gartner COVID-19: Take Immediate Action to Help Customers, Kristin Moyer, Hung LeHong, Rui Zhang, 30 March 2020

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