How to Achieve Remarkable Brand Experiences in the Time of COVID


As businesses begin reopening physical locations, we’re hearing a lot about the “new normal.” Consumers have changed their attitudes and preferences when it comes to how they shop and what they expect from a shopping experience. Online shopping, contactless curbside pickup and payments, and virtual appointments are changing the retail landscape.

This post examines what businesses can do to get ahead of the trends of this “new normal” and take advantage of changes to consumer behavior and preferences.


A Look Inside the “New Normal”

Customers praise convenience and safety

When it comes to shopping, the pandemic has greatly increased consumers’ desire for safety and convenience. Services such as Buy-Online-Pickup-In-Store (BOPIS), contactless shopping, curbside pickup, and the ability to set up private “shopping appointments” have proliferated as businesses work to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 and provide their customers with a safe and convenient shopping experience.

Data from Apptopia shows significant spikes in average daily downloads of Instacart (218%), Walmart Grocery (160%), and Shipt (124%) from February to March, indicating a substantial new interest in these types of services that is likely to carry over well into the future.

E-commerce trends spike

It’s no secret that e-commerce as a portion of total retail sales has been increasing at a breakneck pace in the last decade. U.S. Census data shows a 200% increase from about 4% of total sales in 2010 to nearly 12% in 2020. This trend will only continue to increase as consumers grow more accustomed to online purchasing and retailers continue to improve their technology and their customers’ digital shopping experiences.

While it’s probably still too early to tell how large an impact COVID-19 will ultimately have on this trend, there’s little doubt this event forced consumers to seek alternatives to the traditional shopping experience. Even once the full threat from the pandemic has lifted, many people will remain extra conscious of their behaviors and how they can continue to protect themselves and their families from any future threat.

Demographics changing

With stay-at-home mandates and social distancing orders in place, many people who hadn’t done much online shopping before or used BOPIS-type services began doing so for the first time. This is especially relevant among baby boomers. A study by the National Retail Foundation shows 45% of boomers doing more shopping online as a direct result of the pandemic, a significant statistic given that 82% reported making less than half of their purchases online before coronavirus.

Higher customer expectations

With more and more people shifting to online commerce, contactless shopping, and pickup services, expectations are changing as well. Consumers want these services to be easy to understand, simple to use, and responsive to their changing needs.

Given retail behemoths like Amazon and Walmart are setting high standards for what customers can expect (from massive inventories to fast shipping and truly contactless pickups and payments), it’s incumbent upon competitors to do the same or be at risk of being left behind.

A level playing field

Coronavirus ushered in a wave of community support for smaller businesses and has incentivized consumers to source more products locally, especially if those businesses have invested resources into building a great brand and making their shopping experiences as easy and convenient as it would be with larger competitors.


How to Gain a Competitive Advantage in the “New Normal”

Though the disruption and impact upon sales and growth has undoubtedly been painful for many retailers, the innovations that have emerged in response to changes in consumers preferences will accelerate trends and enable new opportunities for great brands to prosper.

Innovations and technology

Consider the example being set by Best Buy. In addition to offering contactless pickup, they’ve reopened some of their stores using an “appointment only” shopping model. Though done in response to the pandemic, this model is quite powerful. It allows a much more personalized shopping experience and one-on-one attention to each customer’s needs. The retailer has also developed a data analytics model to help them understand major factors affecting sales patterns and have implemented an employee training program to help de-escalate situations resulting from “scared, frustrated, and occasionally hostile” customers. Beyond their present functions, all these programs have the potential to play a significant role in increasing the retailer’s post-pandemic market share given the creative approaches to meeting customer needs.

Increased consumer demands for Buy-Online-Pickup-At-Curb services have many retailers scrambling to put these systems in place and make them user-friendly. To do this, companies are using tools such as AI-driven chatbots, curbside pickup logistics to decrease wait times, post-pickup cross-sells and up-sells, and a high quality back-end experience that helps employees coordinate orders.

Helpful guides and tools

Customer-oriented guides and tools enhance the virtual experience and are necessary to allow consumers to better identify with your brand and recognize the unique value you offer.

Menswear retailer Alton Lane was doing 90% of their business in physical locations pre-pandemic. As they were forced to close their showrooms, they decided to begin offering “virtual shopping appointments.” They mailed customers tape measures, a self-measuring guide, and even fabric swatches so their clients could get the true feel of colors and textures. They’ve seen a 25% increase in new customers, and they’re estimating virtual appointments have the potential to make up 25-50% of their future business.

A better brand story

Many consumers want to shop from brands they can identify with – that make them think, “this is something for people like me.”

Take Patagonia jackets, for example. Why do consumers pay a premium for Patagonia jackets when there are hundreds of similar-quality, lower-cost replacements available? The reason is because Patagonia’s brand story is about sustainability, helping indigenous populations, and giving back. People pay a premium because they believe in the brand.

Accomplishing this level of brand identity means having all the right tools to support your ability to stand out, tell your specific story, and deliver a unique and seamless customer experience as good or better than the top brands.

Delivering unparalleled value is a must

Consumer expectations in the “new normal” are being set by big marketplaces like Amazon, Walmart, and Alibaba. Customers expect a wide selection of inventory, tons of useful details, good prices, fast shipping, and solid guarantees. And that’s just the competitive floor. To really stand out, your brand must deliver unparalleled value.

To enable this, your e-commerce platform needs to make it easy for you to deliver a seamless, responsive, and customized Amazon-level shopping experience – giving you all the tools and technology you need to level the playing field with the behemoths and articulate your unique brand value.

Fabric’s e-commerce platform offers out-of-the-box enterprise-level functionality with all the tools and technology you need to compete, customize, and build a unique brand experience that is effective in the post-pandemic landscape. And Fabric’s “modular replatforming” approach means you’ll see ROI in just weeks. Check it out here.

Topics: News
Mari Ström

Global strategy and field marketing @ fabric. Previously @ Suplari and Accenture.

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