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The New Normal: Customer Expectations Post-Coronavirus

Few industries have been hit by Covid-19 as hard as the retail sector. After years of concern around the future of the high street, retail stores across the UK and around the world have again had to face unprecedented disruption with the lockdown. While many businesses are occupied by coping with the present challenges, it’s important to prepare and plan for the future.

‘The New Normal’ is not going to be a return to how things were before Covid-19 - business owners must ask fundamental questions about the future of the retail industry. Some organisations may have to reimagine their business models, operations, supply chains and workforces.

Improve Your Customer Service

Customer service has always been a factor that separates a successful business from those that are less so - and experts agree that customer service may be on the verge of historic improvement. As a result of social distancing, many companies have had to adapt their offering to provide online ordering facilities, apps or store pickup services. Businesses that have done this successfully will have built goodwill and improved relationships with their customers. However, having enjoyed this convenience, consumers may expect it to continue after lockdown ends. People previously resistant to change will also have had their first experiences with online channels and many will change shopping habits from in-store to online permanently.

Expectations for both in-store and online customer experiences will be at an all-time high. Companies that figure out how to adapt, incorporate new technology and develop deeper human connections will come out on top. Adding automation to your website, improving your e-commerce capabilities and adding flexible payment and delivery options are all great ways to improve your online experiences, but these options aren’t available to every business and can be very expensive to implement.

The most effective way to improve your customer service is available to any business owner - simply listen to your customers. Train customer-facing teams in empathy and flexibility, respond to reviews and pay special attention to feedback to determine how you can improve.

Ambient Wellness

Throughout the lockdown, people have grown far more hygiene-conscious when in public, with frequent handwashing and sanitiser use at an all-time high. As they enter the new normal, they’ll revert to less hygienic habits – though the desire to remain safe and well will be stronger than ever.

The government and the British Retail Consortium have set out advice and guidelines for adapting your retail space, such as sterilising your merchandise, providing PPE to your staff and implementing social distancing across your store. However, these are the baseline requirements – going the extra mile will give both your staff and customers peace of mind and improve the experience of everyone that enters your retail space.

Think about how your customers interact with your physical spaces and the impact they have on aspects of their physical and mental well-being. Identify opportunities to alleviate negative impacts, or even offer health-boosting measures within the environments that your customers pass through. This could be anything from creating a calming, stress-reducing atmosphere through scent, music, colour and lighting, to installing air purifiers to enhance air quality.

Reduce Waste and Improve Sustainability

Sustainability and transparency have been at the forefront of the consumer mindset for the last few years. The pandemic will bring these values into sharp focus, intensifying discussions and further polarising views around over-consumption and irresponsible business practices. Analysts predict antipathy toward waste-producing business models will grow post-lockdown.

This presents a dilemma for some luxury goods retailers with seasonal offerings who will come out of lockdown with a surplus of seasonal stock, as stock destruction is no longer an option. To improve their long-term outlook, brands may need to tailor their discounting strategies and revise product calendars to reflect the “new normal.” Some businesses may need to consider changing to a seasonless stock model, or consider repurposing or reusing older stock for future seasons.

Having a more sustainable offering may also reduce the need to discount your products – sustainability credentials can be employed to regain consumer trust and messages based on values are welcomed by more receptive ears. Whatever you choose, your sustainability messaging must be grounded in authentic behaviour and rigorous practices.

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