Rob White, vice president of marketing for Nationwide Marketing Group, took viewers of the Virtual PrimeTime show March 17 on a walkthrough of the changes in consumer purchasing habits in the year since the effects of COVID-19 began to be felt. The overarching message in his talk, “Understanding the Customer Journey & the Impact of COVID-19,” was that retailers must be sure to accommodate and support digital shoppers all along the route to the buy.
Putting viewers of the presentation in the shoes of the consumer, he used the example of “Betty,” a fictional but typical buyer in need of a new washing machine. White explained that part of the process in Betty’s shopping journey includes “a phase of consideration and then active evaluation” – and that journey in COVID times now begins online, in-home, and on a computer or other device, rather than in the store.
He told retail members, “If you’re not relevant [to Betty] at this stage, she won’t ever consider purchasing from you.” And he added that what really makes a retailer relevant to this shopper, especially if Betty is buying under duress (i.e., replacing an unrepairable or outdated washer), transcends product features, benefits and value, extending to engendering peace of mind after the transaction.
“The journey doesn’t stop after the sale,” he said; its continuation includes the touchpoints of delivery, installation, service, warranty and beyond. “Loyalty is a powerful word, and if you do all these things right… the next time she’ll skip consideration and evaluation and head right back to your store and your website.”
While the customer journey is linear on paper, he went on to say, in reality, it’s complicated with considerations on both rational (i.e., models and buying channels) and emotional levels. “Emotional is not easily defined – it is driven by feelings and a path to assurance” – a sense felt by the customer that they are getting unbiased information, and that they can count on help with issues such as navigating confusing new product features.
White told members that Nationwide has dedicated teams at the ready “to help you understand your customer’s journey” by providing strategies that are regularly being “tested, adjusted and automated,” because, he added, today’s customer journey “won’t be the same tomorrow,” as it is changing along with consumer behavior and technology.
He noted that COVID-19 has revved up the need for retailers to improve their digital skills, citing a recent article that said online buying as a method of purchase accelerated in several weeks’ time during COVID to a point that it might have taken multiple years to evolve to, in non-pandemic times.
Adding to the urgency of getting up to speed in digital, he said, is research showing that even 30 percent of shoppers 65-plus plan to do more online shopping in future. Moreover, shopping locally is also a growing preference – but to capitalize on it, retailers must recognize and cater to the fact that that, according to a survey he cited, 95 percent of local-shopping consumers will now be very mindful of physical protection and social distancing, and may seek a “no-touch/low-touch” experience when they choose to shop in person.
“Retailers who embrace these trends will quickly render competitors obsolete,” White said. “The preference for local and loyalty go hand in hand. It’s something big box can’t compete with.”