No question, 2020 has been an unprecedented, anxious year, for people and businesses. Yet as we at Miller Zell reflect on what 2020 entailed and what we can expect from 2021 and beyond, we can’t help but conclude that the more things change, the more they also stay the same.
As in: In 2019, businesses needed to create the best possible customer experiences that outperformed their competition. The same held true in 2020, despite unprecedented circumstances. And so it shall be in 2021 and beyond.
Of course, what constituted a “best possible customer experience” in 2020 changed dramatically when COVID-19 invaded the world and then upended norms for public spaces. Keeping customers safe, providing contactless paths to purchase and leading with convenience became mission critical, as did BOPIS, app development and online and delivery options.
Still, much stayed the same. Consider this checklist we’ve been obsessing over for 2021.
- Businesses must continue to bring value to their clients at a higher level than competitors. (same as before)
- Businesses must give customers real reasons to spend time with their brands and to engage in a way that leads to product/service sales. (same as before)
- Retailers must understand how their customers have changed. These changed customer needs vary significantly in different types of retail verticals. (similar to before, but with changes)
- Customers must feel that the retailer understands their needs and is addressing those needs. (same as before, but with new needs)
So, yes, putting the customer first, being nimble, streamlining operations and relying on proven partners are as important now as they ever were. Only now, as Ron Lutz, our Chief Retail Officer noted, for example, “Differentiation has moved even to the sidewalk,” as BOPIS elevates to BOPAC — “Buy online, pick up at curb” — and becomes a curated service with opportunities to increase basket size.
With the expedited arrival of vaccines as 2020 concludes, we can now see a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Thankfully, society shall re-emerge, if gradually. The timeline toward some sort of pre-pandemic normalcy and the process for getting there is unclear and, therefore, worthy of serious focus and painstaking analysis.
It’s safe to say that many shopping behaviors that emerged during the pandemic will endure, at least in some form, particularly those that greatly improved convenience. It’s also safe to say a large segment of the population will be eager to restart their social lives, which includes visiting stores they love.
As the Wall Street Journal noted this month:
American consumers still love to get out and shop. In January, before the coronavirus swept across the U.S., just over 15% of retail sales occurred outside of physical stores. That number spiked to about 20% of sales in April and has since leveled back to about 16% of sales in the three months ended[ing] in September. That doesn’t point to a populace that no longer enjoys shopping outside of the home.
We also know that, despite the tragedy and economic hardships of the pandemic that asymmetrically hit individuals as well as businesses, consumer spending remains robust. As reported by Statista, “In 2020, holiday retail sales were forecast to grow by approximately 3.6 percent compared to the previous year.”
In the coming weeks and months, retailers, banks, QSRs and other businesses need to take multiple measures of their customers’ feelings about shopping and social spaces as we move toward a post-pandemic society. They need to know their customers’ mindsets today and next month, project forward and analyze what changed and what remained the same and how they can meet those customers as they evolve.
And evolve. And evolve.
That is quite a challenge. But creating great customer experiences is quite a challenge. And it always has been.