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Founder and CEO of market research consultancy, Alter Agents; believer that powerful insights can change businesses.
Brands, retailers and other businesses that are hoping for a return to a pre-Covid “normal” are waiting in vain. What we’re going through is a major event — an inflection point — and we need to adapt to a new world. Most consumers changed their shopping behaviors during the pandemic, but after a year, many of these behaviors have become established habits. In fact, some recent studies show that a significant portion of people plan to continue many of the activities and behaviors they’ve picked up, including the way they shop. Shoppers aren’t looking to go back to old ways of doing business.
But consumer behaviors aren’t the only things that have shifted. Between insurrection, riots, protests, social unrest driven by political grievance, long-standing injustice and lies, the past 12 months have left widespread fear and distrust in their wake. Covid-19 has directly impacted the collective psyche, with our research showing that 46% of people are experiencing high levels of anxiety about their family’s physical health, and 38% say they feel more stressed across the board. It has clearly been a rough year emotionally. The needs of so many aren’t being met, and brands face a wary and frustrated shopper as we begin to emerge from the crisis.
Moving forward, brands and businesses should acknowledge shoppers’ new habits and the persisting anxieties they’re experiencing. Matching those new habits and providing the comfort to alleviate that anxiety means taking a close look at all consumer touchpoints in your business to uncover how they can create meaningful experiences, powerful comfort and unwavering stability for customers. People need reassurance, so give it to them.
• Be transparent and informative. Transparency has become the word of the day when it comes to how we do business. In our uncertain reality, we are constantly being asked — as individuals and as businesses — to adapt, expect the unexpected and be unfailingly flexible. Living in this state of flux means that a little transparency can go a long way toward getting us back on solid footing. You don’t need exhaustive reports and paragraphs of text on your website to be transparent about your business practices, but make sure that all the information is easily accessible in case a customer wants it. Depending on your business, this information can include what you are doing to address Covid, where you are sourcing your materials or what you are doing to contribute to your community during a difficult time.
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• Give your customers confidence. No matter your category, consumers are anxious about their finances, their futures and their decisions. Our research into consumer fear, which includes three waves of data from before and during the pandemic, shows that anxiety is on the rise. Financial confidence is dropping, especially among households with an annual income of less than $75,000. It’s up to brands and businesses to do everything possible to put audiences at ease in order to make purchase decisions easier.
• Create a warm and welcoming space. Whether in person or online, every shopper should feel relaxed, supported and engaged by the experience. Look at your user interface or sales floor with a critical eye and proactively seek solutions for any points that might generate negative feelings in your customers. Changes can include everything from putting up colors that are calming and welcoming to easier, intuitive navigation and messaging that creates a sense of community. In stores, it will be especially important to balance fostering a comforting atmosphere with increased attention to safety protocols that assuage worries shoppers may continue to have about personal interactions.
Change is constant in business, whether we welcome it or not. The reality is that there will never be a return to exactly how we did things before Covid hit. Brands and businesses need to meet this moment: those who will win the recovery aren’t those planning for a return, but a renewal.
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Author: Rebecca Brooks, Forbes Councils Member