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As You Ramp Back Up, Don’t Forget to Meet Consumers’ New Expectations for Shopping

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There’s a great unknown about the post-COVID-19 world that we are (hopefully) approaching. Stores are reopening, restrictions are easing and bulk purchasing is subsiding … except for wipes and hand sanitizer, of course.

The current retail landscape is vastly different than the one we left in March. However, it’s proven how quickly retailers can innovate. When most had to close their bricks-and-mortar doors, many found new ways to generate sales — from curbside pickup offerings to designing full-scale e-commerce experiences.

For the first time, the majority of consumers had to go online to find the products they needed.  In early April, a ShipStation study found that COVID-19 didn’t slow e-commerce spending. In fact, 55 percent of those surveyed said they were shopping online more.

While retailers ramp back up to cater to an expected increase in demand, they must also keep in mind the new expectations consumers will bring to the shopping experience. Here are three areas retailers should consider as part of their long-term business strategies:

Continue to offer more ways to shop — COVID-19 sparked a digital and physical retail revolution. Those who did not have an e-commerce presence quickly scaled to get one, and those who served local consumers relied on tactics like curbside pickups and on-demand deliveries to get their goods to customers.

Consumers adapted to these new options well. Our data found that half of those surveyed said they have taken advantage of curbside pickup options, with:

  • 49 percent of consumers have taken advantage of curbside pick-up options or the ability to buy online and pick up at/in store.
  • 64 percent say they will now expect more brands to offer this in the future.

So retailers, even when your storefronts are allowed to re-open, a multi-channel selling strategy can help you capture the most sales. Many consumers may be hesitant to visit retail storefronts for a period and will expect other ways to access the products they need.

Keep extended returns windows and provide packaging — COVID-19 significantly impacted retailers’ returns processes and priorities. Because many storefronts were forced to close or reduce their hours and had a greater demand on the supply chain (resulting in delays), many customers will need additional time for returns. In this situation, free returns and longer returns windows can help. In fact, our data found that:

  • 44 percent of those surveyed said that they now expect brands to provide free returns.
  • 58 percent of consumers surveyed now expect longer returns windows.

Additionally, many consumers may be hesitant to make returns in-store or at a post office, even as storefronts re-open. By providing returns materials for consumers in their initial order, it will reduce the friction in the returns process.

Communicate and understand customer supply chain pain points — Earlier this year, one-day and same-day shipping options were an expectation by many. Now they’ve turned into a hard-to-find luxury. In fact, our study found that more than half of consumers surveyed (55 percent) reported having had a delivery delayed or canceled due to COVID-19. Interestingly, we also found that for 68 percent, current market situations made them lower their expectations of delivery speeds.

What do consumers expect? Communication. Our study found that 94 percent of consumers surveyed now expect retailers to have information readily available on their website about shipping delays. So, any communication with your customers about changes in policy, inventory or availability should be clear and easily accessible. This is especially true for perishables like food and flowers.

While it’s hard to say what the retail landscape will look like over the next year, we know that it has forever changed. Retailers who provide more ways for their customers to access their products, who communicate proper timelines and expectations, and who provide easier returns are in the best position to adapt and thrive.

Krish Iyeris head of industry relations at Austin, Texas-based ShipStation, which offers shipping software for e-commerce fulfillment.

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