Shops have reopened across the UK and high streets are once again bustling with activity.
From enjoying a pint at the pub to indulging in a bit of retail therapy, it’s exciting to see people returning to town centres and supporting businesses after such a challenging start to the year.
The latest figures published by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) show sales increased by 10% in May compared to the same month in 2019 .
BRC CEO Helen Dickinson said: “Retail sales were buoyant in May thanks to the reopening of hospitality, coupled with the afterglow of non-essential retail’s own return. Pent-up demand for the in-store shopping experience, as well as the first signs of summer weather, helped retail to the strongest sales growth of the pandemic.”
But at the same time, almost 40% of retail sales took place online, proving the online shopping habits customers picked up over lockdown are well and truly here to stay.
“There was still high penetration of online spending in May, reinforcing the view that the pandemic has seen a step up in online activity as some consumers maintain their use of this channel out of habit and choice, and some remain nervous about venturing back into stores,” Paul Martin, the UK Head of Retail at KPMG said.
“Retailers now face an interesting few months as they assess how they best entice their customers back to stores and what the right blend of offline and online will be as spending patterns settle in a post-Covid world,” he added.
So, what does this mean for retailers?
The latest stats confirm that online sales and digital customer service channels should continue to be a priority for retailers, even now that physical shopfronts have reopened.
While pent-up demand for in-store shopping experiences will boost physical sales over the next few months, the Covid-19 online shopping boom looks set to last long after the pandemic has ended.
In fact, research conducted by Shopify shows the percentage of UK consumers who prefer to shop in-store will drop to just 42% post-pandemic, down from 65% before lockdown . The categories predicted to see higher online sales include: toys, homewares, craft supplies, automotive parts, health and beauty products, luxury goods, outdoor and garden supplies, pet care, groceries and alcoholic beverages.
So as the economy recovers and these new shopping habits solidify, we can expect online retail and digital customer service channels to become even more widespread [3, 4].
Ongoing challenges for retail stores
The risk of new outbreaks and variants of the virus also pose long-term challenges for brick-and-mortar stores.
While retailers have done a fantastic job ramping up cleaning regimes and making stores feel welcoming and safe, there are still many customers who feel anxious about returning to the high street.
Masks, social distancing measures and stock quarantining can complicate the in-store shopping experience for customers. Certain customer demographics, such as the elderly, people with serious medical conditions, and people who haven’t yet been fully vaccinated, may also feel nervous about shopping in crowds .
It’s therefore important these customers are not overlooked as physical stores reopen. Customers that are unable or hesitant to shop in-store should still be able to access the same quality of service and care via your website and/or other digital channels.
How to stay connected with your customers
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that businesses need to be proactive and agile. So to support your customers and build loyalty at this critical time, we recommend you:
- Find out how your customers are feeling. Have their needs changed? What do they expect from your brand moving forward? Why not send out a survey or use Speech Analytics to analyse your customer calls and feedback.
- Review your customer service channels. Are they running smoothly? Are they well-orchestrated? Have they noticeably improved since before the pandemic? Salesforce’s latest ‘State of the Connected Customer’ report shows 88% of customers expect companies to have accelerated digital initiatives during Covid-19.
- Talk to your contact centre agents. How are they coping? Do they feel they have the tools, knowledge and insights they need to support customers going forward?
- Consider introducing a video channel. With more people now travelling less, shopping local and using video on a daily basis, would your customers benefit from a more visual customer service experience?
- Keep up regular communication with your customer base. Are your customers up-to-date on what’s going on in-store, online and in your community?
These measures could mean the difference between retaining the customers you gained over lockdown or losing them to your competitors.
Support your retail customers with an omnichannel contact centre solution
The last 12 months have radically changed how people shop and interact with brands.
To deliver exceptional customer service and experiences now and in the future, retailers will need a contact centre solution that seamlessly connects all their channels and empowers agents to deliver the same level of attention and care customers would receive in-store.
As BRC CEO Helen Dickinson rightly said: “Now is the time to consider what our future high streets and town centres will look like a decade from now. We must adapt to these changes, not only to build back better but also to build forward.”