How Covid-19 has shifted consumer expectation – and digital commerce investment

The global coronavirus pandemic has driven half of shoppers to buy products they have never bought online before, with 70% admitting to buying more than usual, according to a new report. But what does this mean for customer experience?

According to Bloomreach, in a study put together alongside Forrester, heightened customer expectations has meant a greater shift in investment from brands.

Overall, the impact of Covid-19 has been variable. Based on 50 global decision makers for digital campaigns, two in five said their business continued to grow due to a spike in online sales, while just over a quarter (28%) said they would need to downsize significantly.

Yet one element which has shone through is investment in online and digital processes. Since Covid, almost two thirds (64%) said they were increasing budget in direct websites, while mobile apps (58%) and social media (52%) were also cited by the majority.

This is not to say these areas were of no concern before the pandemic; indeed, slightly more (65%) advocated an increased budget for direct websites pre- rather than post-Covid. Yet in areas such as wholesale distribution (66% said increase pre-Covid, 46% post-) and offline retail stories (52% pre-, 24% post-) a disparity has become apparent.

40% of customers, and 56% of B2B customers, say they would pay more for a better experience, adding they would not purchase again from a store which gave a bad experience. Almost four in five said they abandoned purchases because of poor website navigation, irrelevant search results, or unclear product information.

If it wasn’t already, online is the way to go. Almost two thirds (65%) of respondents said they researched a product online before they went to a physical store; and customers most frequently buy either through a retailer or manufacturer’s direct site, a reseller, or an online marketplace. For retailers and brands, clarity of information is the most important aspect they can provide: the report found that when deciding to shop on a site during the pandemic, the importance of information on product availability went up 11% as a critical requirement for both consumers and B2B customers.

In terms of items in the retailer’s arsenal, the verdict was good, but could do better. 57% of the 320 respondents polled here said they had autofill, while 54% provided product images and 48% product availability information. Just under half (49%) passed the test for easy website navigation, while just under a third (32%) offered ‘rich, detailed’ product information.

Not surprisingly, this means that while many organisations were moving towards a digital future before the pandemic, the roadmap has become more urgent now. More than half of decision makers said their companies planned to either moderately or significantly increase investment in digital technology to support the current situation.

Yet companies are now realising the foundations need to be built solidly for such a change to take place – and this can be seen when looking deeper into investment areas.

Pre-Covid, priorities were predominantly focused around the customer; improving customer experience – 88% saying it was either a high or critical priority – improving customer retention (88%) and improving products and services (85%). Now, the focus is on enabling their workforce to deliver this change; improving team productivity (80%), accelerating response to business and market changes (80%) and improving the use of data insights in business decision making (80%) all polled above customer-centric priorities.
The report offers three key recommendations to commerce providers:

  • Rethink how you deliver digital commerce experiences that go beyond transactions: ‘make sure your experiences turn inspiration into action through great search, helpful content, and flexible payment and delivery options that address the needs your customers have today and tomorrow’
  • Nail the commerce must-haves to drive new sales and loyalty: if companies don’t take areas such as relevant suggestions, accurate and detailed product information seriously, then customers will flock to other providers who do
  • Look for partners to tailor and optimise experiences: ask your search or content provider to do the heavy lifting, such as embedding AI capabilities, and ensure these digital experience building blocks can easily interface with other core eCommerce functions

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