This holiday season is unlike anything we had ever imagined. COVID-19 has changed everything that signifies the holidays – the gatherings, the travel, and well, the shopping! Retailers around the country are gearing up for the most important time of the year while maintaining the safety of their customers and employees.
COVID-19 has changed consumer behavior dramatically. Digital adoption has accelerated years’ worth of progress in a matter of months. More so than ever, consumers prefer shopping from the comfort, and most importantly safety of their own home. Per Google’s 2020 Retail guide, more than a third of U.S. consumers who normally shop in store for Black Friday say they won’t this year. And half of U.S. consumers say that the pandemic will affect how they’ll shop for the holidays this year.
Online, mobile, digital, and contactless
These were the four most important trends for e-commerce in 2020. Customers will expect brands to meet them where they are and offer the same level of experience in an online digital world. Per this McKinsey report, 77% of Americans have tried new shopping behaviors during the pandemic, including new methods, brands, and places, and plan to stick with them in the long-term. Also, with safety and convenience top-of-mind for consumers, Buy-Online-Pickup-In-Store (BOPIS) options have become critical. Brands that have already operationalized these trends will naturally gain an advantage over the competition. Another subtle trend we notice this year is the willingness to do business with local vendors. Similar to large brands, the local brands that offer digital services have naturally led the pack. This has given the middleware vendors such as online two-way marketplaces, eCommerce platforms, and ordering apps, a new level of importance.
Less of a sprint, more of a marathon
I’m sure you’ve already noticed large brands offering their ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Cyber Monday’ deals throughout the month of November. And most likely this trend will persist throughout the remainder of 2020. It’s a win-win situation. On one hand, it helps brands avoid supply chain nightmares of the holiday rush and maintain safety precautions by limiting the crowds on sale days. On the other hand, it helps consumers score the perfect deals when their budgets are tight. According to Google, 27% of U.S. shoppers said they had started their holiday shopping, and in June, searches for “best affordable” had grown globally by over 60% year over year, as of August. This year the holiday rush is going to be more of a bell curve, than the usual spike.
Consumers are also looking for more assistance as they take their business online, which will increase the need for shopping assistance and customer service. Brands that have deployed digital assistants such as chatbots and Intelligent Virtual Assistants to augment their human shopping assistants and customer service representatives will naturally have an advantage over the competition.
The 2020 holiday customer experience trends conversation would not be complete without the mention of the impact that COVID-19 has made on the travel and hospitality industry. The travel industry is still far away from recovery. Customers are very still anxious about the safety precautions that need to be taken during travel, as well as the rules and regulations that vary by location. They look to their travel brand to provide that information and ensure safety. Similar to the retail industry, brands that had already deployed digital assistants to augment their staff to take on this additional load of responsibilities were able to keep up with pandemic related changes.
Digitally transformed brands have the upper hand
If digital transformation was revolutionary before, COVID-19 has made it evolutionary. Brands simply don’t have a choice. If they want to stay relevant, they need to keep up with changing customer expectations. Although digital transformation may mean different things to different industries, the core concept remains the same – offer digital tools and services for customers (and employees) that enable personalized, contextual, and quick means of getting things done. Whether you are just starting with a website or mobile app or are already at a more mature stage of digital transformation with an omnichannel connected customer experience strategy, you can’t deny that digitally transformed brands have an upper hand during this holiday season.
Ready to learn more on how technology can elevate customer experience? Check out our complete guide to IVAs.