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How to click with customers in the post-pandemic shopping space

Covid has changed the way we shop, and brands and retailers will have to adapt

The acceleration of online shopping will continue. In the US, online sales are now predicted to exceed $1 trillion by 2022. Photograph: Getty Images

The Covid-19 pandemic profoundly impacted Irish society and its behaviour patterns. However, as the vaccination tally grows, so too does consumer confidence, as people return to shops, pubs and restaurants. Retail experience is back on the menu.

Numerous brands and retailers adapted to the nation’s changing needs, as the focus turned to safety, sanctuary and supply. Brands must now provide for the expectations of post-pandemic consumers. Going forward, how do brands thrive in a more digitalised omni-channel retail landscape, where people increasingly feel comfortable shopping across different channels?

This week Sharon Yourell Lawlor, founder of Think, Plan, Do, a strategic retail and shopping consultancy, joins us to look at shopper marketing and how it can help with the challenges of an increasingly complex consumer journey in a post pandemic economy. Listen now: 

For brands and retailers alike, the key strategic principles of marketing remain.


"The brand objective is to understand your target customers, their problems and needs, and deliver relevant solutions. What sets you apart from the crowd are the stand-out consumer and shopper experiences you provide in the process ," says Claire Cogan, behavioural scientist and founder of BehaviourWise.

Retail technology has raised the bar. Brands need to work harder than ever to deliver experiences that set them apart from the crowd, knowing customers are navigating through an increasing blend of physical and digital touchpoints.

The pandemic accelerated changes in shopper behaviour at a pace no one could have foreseen. Almost overnight, cashless became the norm. Social media influencers were encouraging “swipe ups” to buy leisurewear, barbecues and cosmetics at the press of a button. Working from home was interrupted by the arrival of the courier with yet another online purchase.

Brands and retailers must understand that the shopper journey has evolved into a wider set of decision touchpoints, both physical and digital. So what are audiences are looking for?

Theatre and excitement

Shoppers gravitate towards brands that deliver “physical” theatre and excitement. Smart retailers have risen to the occasion. People look forward to the window display in Brown Thomas and, once inside, the store appeals to their senses, with bold colours, beautiful aromas and visual theatre. However, during the pandemic, shoppers had to transfer desire for retail therapy to online channels. Now, brands and retailers need to consider what “theatre, inspiration and excitement” looks like from both a physical and digital vantage point. They need to reassess the role that platforms such as Pinterest, Tiktok and Instagram have to play in supporting people’s quest for inspiration, and the ability of brands to create excitement through these touchpoints.

‘Phygital’ shopper experiences

Brands such as Nike have been clever in how they use technology to create “immersive experiences” for shoppers. In its flagship store in Paris, Nike aims to deliver an experience tailored to how post-pandemic consumers shop, with everything from interactive Kids’ Pod gaming to augmented reality (AR) to display its latest product concepts. “When consumers step into Nike Paris, they will experience our largest, most digitally connected and immersive retail concept in the world,” says Heidi O’Neill, president of consumer and marketplace.

Virtual shopper inspiration

Brands need to consider how they evolve for the needs of shoppers who cannot physically visit stores. The desire for inspiration and excitement still exists and progressive retailers are capitalising on this. The Kilkenny Shop, for example, offers those who visit its online store a virtual shopping experience whereby you can explore, discover and buy online, going from shop floor to shelf to cart in a number of quick clicks.

Convenient, seamless and personalised

For those forced to shop online, expectations increased around convenience. Is the website easy to navigate? Are desired items laid out in a format simple to visualise and find? Do personal details auto-fill and does delivery come with a promise of easy returns? Influencer-led shopping exploded on social media platforms such as Instagram, with friendly “influencers” offering tips on fashion, food and ways to fill time. Posts often came with an “affiliated brand” swipe-up button, allowing the browser to quickly convert to purchaser.

Remove barriers to purchase

One key principle for convenience is to remove purchase barriers to make the shopping experience simpler. In the case of Sweaty Betty, for example, the brand has cleverly introduced a “leggings quiz” to visitors on its website, allowing shoppers to decide the most important features when purchasing leggings.

The shopper is now more comfortable with including digital touchpoints in their decision process, relying on a mix of touchpoints for guidance and ultimately for the conversion point to be online. As a result of this, we can expect the acceleration of online shopping to continue. In the US, online sales are now predicted to exceed $1 trillion by 2022.

Evolving role of bricks and mortar

The convenience of online shopping doesn’t have to be at the expense of its bricks-and-mortar equivalent. However, the role of the physical store is evolving. Many visiting physical stores may begin as a digital-first shopper, seeking inspiration and education online as part of their decision process.

Key for brands are ensuring benefits for shoppers visiting the physical store, removing friction and physical barriers to purchase. Within Ikea, the free pencil and measuring tape acts as a tool to make more informed decisions.

Expect services such as click and collect to grow in appeal, as consumers purchase online at their leisure and collect with less hassle or queueing. Demand will continue for pre-booked store visits and stores will increasingly become a focal point for purchase, fulfilment and experience. Statistics show that once visiting a store to collect pre-purchased goods, eight in 10 shoppers will buy additional items. Ultimately, bricks and mortar and online touchpoints shouldn’t compete. Both should work together to nudge the shopper to convert to purchase.

Authentic and purposeful experiences

During lockdown, the local butcher and deli grew in importance and changed shoppers’ perceptions around retail experience on their doorstep. Today, many continued shopping locally, attracted to both the convenience and more personalised shopper experience. Every €100 spent in the local economy is worth €500.

Many consumers experienced a desire to adopt more sustainable behaviours, for both themselves and the planet. A recent Deloitte survey shows that nearly one in three consumers claimed to have stopped purchasing certain brands or products because they had ethical or sustainability-related concerns.

Sharon Yourell Lawlor

Proactive brands and retailers are responding to these needs. Recently, Arnotts launched an initiative, The Circular Room, selling pre-loved designer bags both in store and online. Alan Jope, CEO of Unilever, agrees that “any company that wants to stay relevant in the future should think about sustainable behaviour”. Businesses need to be part of a sustainability solution that strives to support people, planet and purpose.

The path to purchase has been redefined. For brands and retailers, it’s about being at the key decision points that matter to consumers and shoppers. Equally, it is important to ensure that when audiences meet brands on their purchase journey, their experience is one to remember for the right reasons.

When it comes to standing out from the crowd, the brands and retailers that succeed will provide excitement, convenience and purposeful experiences.

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