The Changing Digital Consumer
Being a consumer has never been easier – simply pull out your cell phone, open an app, and with a few clicks and taps, you’ve placed an order! Online purchasing was a popular form of shopping even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. But in 2020, the world of online shopping has exploded in the North American market and across the globe, seeing exponential growth in year-over-year comparisons from 2019.
Although this growth is definitely not surprising, it brings into question whether the typical brick and mortar model of shopping will be able to sustain its presence, now that the world understands how easy it can be to simply shop digitally. In fact, even as stores have reopened, consumers are choosing to shop from home, both because of social distancing in a pandemic, and also simply for convenience. Global revenue for digital shopping grew by 71% in Q2 2020 as a year-over-year comparison to Q2 2019, showing just how irresistible the convenience of online shopping has become for today’s consumer.
Let’s take online grocery shopping for example. Grocery delivery and curbside pickup were options available to consumers at various grocery stores before the pandemic, but many consumers hadn’t established it as a need. In fact, a delivery service may have been less convenient for some consumers given that they had to make sure they were home by a certain time to receive their groceries. With the current global climate, consumers’ perception of grocery deliveries quickly shifted, with the majority of people finding themselves home all day every day, and not wanting to go out for errands. Needless to say, the convenience outweighed any additional delivery cost that may have been associated. Stores who had never offered a contactless option (delivery or curbside pickup) quickly adapted to incorporate this into their offerings, knowing how important it was to consumers to have this option available, and recognizing how easily customers could take their business elsewhere if their preferences were not met.
The pandemic has also allowed consumers to be introduced to new brands via online purchasing. Picture this – you’re sitting on your couch scrolling through Instagram (again!) and you come across an ad for an ergonomic chair that would really add a nice touch to your home office. You take a look at the features, maybe glance at the price, and add to cart. With more time spent at home and on mobile devices, brands are reaching consumers who have never heard of their store or brand before through digital marketing, ultimately gaining sales from new customers. According to McKinsey, 75% of U.S. consumers have shopped different stores, websites, or brands during this global crisis. Of these, 60% expect to integrate the new brands and stores into their lives after the pandemic. This represents a huge shift in customer attention, as brand loyalty is truly up for grabs right now.
Looking toward the upcoming holiday season, it can be expected that consumers will continue to leverage online platforms for purchasing their holiday gifts as the uncertainty of the pandemic continues. In fact, 77% of surveyed online shoppers intend to purchase more than half of their holiday gifts online. Companies are already gearing up for the explosion of online holiday sales with the addition of thousands of seasonal workers for their eCommerce warehouses. As Black Friday and Cyber Monday are quickly approaching, in-store retail sales will surely be down, but eCommerce sales for the holiday season are predicted to be 25%-30% higher than last year. It’s also expected that retailers will be offering large sales earlier this year, rather than relying on the traditional Black Friday and Cyber Monday sale days. As a result, consumers will begin their online holiday shopping as early as this month.
In the customer service world, this means preparing for potentially the largest (and earliest) seasonal ramp ever for eCommerce companies. Leveraging predicted growth insights to help forecast contact demand will be extremely important to ensure the right amount of additional hiring is done to handle all contact types. With retail brands creating their own “sale days” prior to the typical November timeline, contact center companies have been adjusting their workforce management plans and proactively hiring to help their retail and eCommerce brands excel during these upcoming high volume periods.
Given the digital consumer audience, offering real-time support in the form of chat, SMS, or a messaging platform will also be a key success factor in these high volume periods. Consumers are more likely to perform a real-time chat with the brand’s customer service representatives than pick up the phone and call, if they are wondering where their package is, or need help completing their checkout. Not only can agents assist customers to have a seamless digital experience, they can also notify consumers of unique offerings and deals, and make product recommendations, which can ultimately result in increased sales for the brand and a higher quality consumer experience.
In the current at-home work environment, hiring agents for this eCommerce ramp season may have its perks, as there is no need to worry about physical capacities in brick and mortar contact centers. However, accurate agent demand forecasting will be crucial in ensuring departments like IT are set up for success in procuring the correct amount of devices/workstations needed for all agents to have a successful at-home working environment.
As the trend continues to shift towards more permanent digital purchasing habits, brands will be challenged to predict, plan, and respond to consumers’ shifting needs. This may include new ways of engaging digital consumers, monitoring workforce management trends, and adjusting loyalty programs. Brands who have gone above and beyond when it comes to customer service during this pandemic will be remembered by consumers, who will become loyal customers as we move beyond the pandemic.