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Lessons in Design Thinking #4: The next generation of customer experience in a post-COVID world

COVID-19 has rapidly accelerated a change in consumer behaviour, particularly for the eCommerce industry which has been catapulted 5 years into the future. 

We are now driven by a new wave of digitally savvy buyers who are redefining their relationships with brands online in our era of a ‘new normal’ – post-COVID world. 

Though many retailers have been hard hit by the pandemic, it’s now clear that eCommerce saw a huge spike in sales as people sought a safe and convenient way to buy, with IMRG reporting a 50-60% uplift online. 

After six months of restrictions reshaping behaviours, COVID-19 has permanently changed the way in which customer experiences are being perceived, as online becomes the dominant channel and consumers adjust to little or no physical touchpoints in buying journeys. 

eCommerce businesses are going to need to adapt to the increased demand and heightened expectations for digital-first experiences if they are to remain two steps ahead of the competition in their respective markets. 

Your audience may have grown, but so has your competition. So it’s now more important than ever to prepare for a future that has come early. 

A new age for Omnichannel

If you’re a retailer with physical stores, it’s time to review your entire customer experience if you haven’t done so already. With store experiences restricted and avoided, the way in which you integrate your online and offline experiences has become increasingly important. 

Customers don’t see convenience as a luxury anymore, they expect it. Whether that’s through more flexible delivery options, or adjusting to fit with their personal wants and needs, customer service now arguably dominates over the product you’re actually selling. 

A good example of a brand that adapted well to this challenge is the shoe retailer Clarks. They provide parents with the option of measuring their children’s feet at home, with a clear measuring guide to order online. Parents who still prefer an in-store fitting can now book a time-slot online with the reassurance of safety procedures and the elimination of dreaded in-store queuing systems.,They can even tailor the experience by selecting a ‘Quiet Time Fitting’ for children (or parents) who are anxious around crowds, loud noises or bright lights.  

Clark’s have not only realigned their Omnichannel experience to fit with changing demands post-COVID, but they’ve shown their customers that they understand their unique needs and requirements – a sure win for brand loyalty and repeat purchases.   

Digital-first experiences 

If you don’t have bricks and mortar stores where you can deliver on intimate brand moments, now may be a good time to consider how you can level-up your customer experience using new technologies to stand out amidst growing competition in your market. 

Puma were on the ball early with their creative AR campaign that promoted their limited edition footwear collection. Customers could download the app, scan their Puma shoes and play around with special effects and games. This provided their younger, digitally-native customers with a reason to choose their brand over others; whilst providing Puma with a low-cost marketing boost when their customers subsequently shared their visuals across social media – clever!  

Communicating with empathy 

During the crisis, there’s been general confusion for brands surrounding how to move forward with marketing comms. Do you continue as normal now lockdown has started to ease? Or should you address the situation at hand? Do you communicate the safety measures you’ve taken or assume that consumers are taking this as a given now? 

It’s difficult to know how much communication is too much, inboxes have been bombarded with ‘messages from CEOs’, so are consumers even paying attention anymore? 

One fact remains true; there’s a general consensus that brands are still encouraging online shopping over in-store. The focus therefore needs to remain on your digital channels with a reallocation of budget towards digital marketing.

There are however some messages you should avoid. Whilst you may want to encourage purchases online by offering free shipping and other loyalty perks, avoid using discount codes or any mentions of ‘COVID’ as the driving factor – remember this is still a highly sensitive subject matter.

It’s also important to show more empathy towards customers. Now more than ever, consumers want to know that you’re a responsible brand; looking after your staff and participating in charitable or sustainable initiatives. 

A good example of this is Missoma, who released a special edition necklace to raise money for the NHS. Demonstrating that you’re doing your part and are sharing a common experience with your customers humanises your brand and does a lot for your reputation. 

Changes to how customers search 

With more customers than ever before shopping online, search engines have become a key strategy in increasing conversions. Google recently conducted a study that stated that 20% of searches in the Google Search app are now done by voice, and they predict that voice search will grow exponentially as a result of the rapid changes we’re seeing in eCommerce. 

Technologies such as Amazon Echo, Google Home and other smart speakers have meant that searches are becoming more and more intuitive and driven by voice over tactical searches. This has also been influenced by the growing importance placed upon our millennial and post-millennial generation, who are now gaining higher purchasing power as they get older and are more likely to be using smart speakers – meaning that investment into this new technology will be critical if you are to continue engaging with this demographic. 

The main difference between the use of natural language over tactical, typed searches is that with voice, searches tend to be led by questions. For example, typically eCommerce brands would optimise SEO around keywords such as ‘Cheap Shoes London’, whereas now online brands need to be considering how to optimise these keywords in the context of questions being asked ‘where can I buy cheap shoes in London?’. 

Consequently, one of the best ways to optimise for voice search is to adapt your content using question and answer formats in your blogs (without turning it into a FAQ!). 

Brands should be considering that voice searches are almost always in situ, so localise your language dependent upon the location(s) you’re operating in and ensure your use of written language on your site is natural (long-tail keywords) and human (use of tone and personality). 

It’s possible that your eCommerce site is already prepared for the soar in voice search, but what about your checkout pages? 

Attracting potential customers who use voice search is just the beginning, it’s purpose should be to increase conversions. One way that Amazon has ensured this is a possibility is by introducing voice enabled purchase on Amazon Alexa! This may be a way off for brands who don’t sell everyday items – but there’s no denying voice search will continue to grow and revolutionize customer experience as we know it! 

Flexible Payments & Delivery 

COVID-19 has transformed the customer’s perception of standard service and now flexible payments and delivery no longer seems to be considered as a luxury, it’s quite simply expected. 

If you’re not already offering flexibility on payments and shipping, now is the time to make those improvements in order to increase conversion rates for those customers who know that your competitor is offering ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’. 

Payment integrations on your site such as Klarna and Clearpay offer customers more options for payment and can make a big difference to your average order value and conversion, customer acquisition and customer retention rates. 

The same goes for delivery. Customers expect flexibility and transparency around delivery now that there are barriers to shopping in-store. You should be considering how you can improve choice around how and when deliveries are received by your customer. If possible, it’s also worth considering the third party providers who can work with you to enable next day delivery, alongside text alerts and ‘not at home’ options.  

eCommerce brands certainly have a challenge on their hands adapting to the ‘new normal’ of customer experience. Customers have rightfully become more demanding, expecting on top-level service at no extra cost. The pandemic has forced them to become more savvy when shopping online and the way they search for, discover and engage with brands is changing as technology evolves and in-store experiences begin to shift and become second favourite to shopping online. 

If you’re an eCommerce brand worried about how you’re going to adapt to the ‘new normal’ of customer experience online, get in touch with our Head of Design about about Discovery Workshops: joe@wearejh.com