Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

How retail brands should embrace the new (ab)normal

By: Louise Clements, Chief Marketing Officer, Paysafe

Fast forward to this time next year. Travel is allowed, restaurants are busy, and people are now wearing complete outfits again to work. The danger has passed, and things have gone back to normal.

Or have they?

From the Bubonic Plague in the 14th century to the outbreak of Spanish Flu in 1918, pandemics have permanently changed the way societies function. The outbreak of COVID-19 is no different, and the biggest question on most of our minds is what will the aftermath of this pandemic look like?

Are we on the brink of a watershed moment that will fundamentally change the world as we know it? Or are we just experiencing an intense but transient jolt that will transform society in the short term but leave it unchanged in the long term?

Brands, behaviours, and opportunities 

It’s clear that within a very short space of time, the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed consumer behaviour. With more time on their hands, over 80% of consumers in the U.S. and UK say they have consumed more content since the outbreak, with broadcast TV and online videos being the primary mediums across all generations and genders, according to Global Web Index.

Regardless of what type of content they are consuming, the fact is that every generation is relying on their devices more than ever before – creating a huge opportunity for brands.

This levelling of the playing field won’t go away once the pandemic is over, and brands need to re-think how they engage with audiences – embracing new personas to cater to a broader target market and tailoring strategies to suit a new, more digitally empowered generation.

Most importantly, brands need to think more inclusively with a new and energised focus on a broader set of stakeholders – to ensure services are designed and accessible for all.

Focusing in on the retail sector 

What is certain is that COVID-19 has forced everyone to make major adjustments to the way we live, work, and communicate, which is universal across generations. However, what’s come with this, is a new set of consumer expectations.

For instance, the COVID-19 crisis has upended the retail sector due to the temporary closure of many physical stores, and this is causing uncertainty for the future of the in-store experience. In reality, the pandemic has only accelerated the already pressing need for the retail sector to reset and revolutionise its offerings.

The omnichannel retailers that were ahead of the curve in being digitally focused have adapted more easily than those who prioritised physical stores and in person engagement. We have seen some stores innovate further creating virtual stores for consumers as well as creating seamless experiences in new payment methods which are accessible to everyone.

Within two weeks of lockdown starting, shoppers became tech savvy. According to our latest Lost in Transaction research, in which 8,000 consumers globally were asked about their payment habits, COVID-19 has led 21% of UK consumers to try online shopping for the first time and 12% using a digital wallet for the first time to make an online payment. These figures were even more pronounced in the US; 25% of consumers shopped online for the first time following the outbreak and 18% used a digital wallet to make a payment for the first time.

Overall, almost two thirds (65%) of US consumers said they had tried at least one new payment method when shopping online during the pandemic.

Resetting and revolutionising

This is not a trend that will disappear, we are seeing consumers and retailers alike make a permanent shift to online. It’s expected that demand for online shopping with home delivery or dedicated pick-up points will at least double in the next year. Off-the-shelf platforms are available such as Shopify and Big Commerce will continue to emerge. Increasingly, retailers are turning to white-label delivery apps to make the transition from in-store browsing to delivery. The self-service till is now redundant and in the next few years, traditional scanning tills will all disappear. Instead, retailers will need to integrate mobile ‘Scan, pay, go’ into their payment offerings.

On the flip-side, ensuring that the digital experience is truly frictionless will be vital to making ecommerce appeal to all generations. It’s easy for some generations to feel alienated by some methods, so it’s the retailers’ duty to guarantee that all digital channels are integrated and offer consistent services (such as payment options) and experiences (such as shopping carts updated in real time across devices). If retailers miss the mark and their service isn’t user friendly, they risk losing a whole customer base.

Although we may not know exactly what the future holds, we do know that COVID-19 is ushering in a new era. With all new beginnings comes responsibility – brands within the retail sector owe it to their customers to reinvent the wheel. The pace of change in the post-pandemic environment has and will continue to force retailers to reassess their strategies and ensure they’re catering to all demographics and making their offerings available to everyone.