How to predict your customers’ needs post COVID-19

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“The best way to predict your future is to create it.”
~Abraham Lincoln.

With retailers beginning to emerge from lockdown a big question to ask is… What do our customers now want from us? How has lockdown changed their needs and desires? What is our new normal. 

As stores start to open their doors to customers it is clear that the post COVID-19 retail world will be very different and largely due to the shift in the mindsets of our customers.

Whilst the first period of this crisis saw retailers quickly responding to the change in business dynamic, closing stores, re-deploying staff and updating their online fulfilment, it is now apparent that it is now the time to focus on future planning and changing customer demands.

  • Will you still have the same customers?
  • Will they behave in the same way?
  • Will their demands from you as a retailer, have changed?
  • Will there be a long term shift in how consumers interact with brands/retailers and how they consume data?

During this period one thing that is certain is that the amount of data available is overwhelming and consumers have been digesting it faster than ever before. We can already see that 51 per cent of Gen Z are consuming more online videos than pre-pandemic (Source: Visualcapitalist.com) and for anyone that has discovered Tik Tok you will know that the pre-pandemic figure was already remarkably high!

Since the start of the pandemic customer behaviour has changed dramatically, where there was panic and uncertainty this has now settled into routine and forward planning. Customer sentiment about the future is now looking more positive, however we need to understand how the changing perception will affect our stores and strategic plans for the next six months.

How well do you know your customer?

I always say a starting point for any future plan is how well do you know your end consumer, their needs and the reasons WHY they behave the way they do. Understanding why a customer wants to interact with you, why they chose you over several other stores gives you a good starting point for predicting their future behaviour. It is vital for any retailer, during this time, to have a clear understanding of who is their target customer right down to the nuances of their personalities as well as their demographics.

This then gives us an opening for understanding what they will need from you during this period and also how they may have changed their behaviour and what they expect from you in the future.

Speaking to your customer to create these detailed profiles of who they are and WHY they behave the way they do will help on the next step – staying connected with them.

How to stay connected with your customer during this time?

Each customer is looking for a different type of connection with retailers during this period. Now you know, in detail, who your customer is you can take the next steps and develop your messaging to speak to them in a way that will connect emotionally.

Some customers are looking for re-assurance, security and guidance, others are looking for positivity and optimism whilst some are looking for amusement and fun. By understanding your customer segments you can develop your messaging at all touchpoints be it website, social media, in store and even simple EDM communications to offer them the emotional support they are looking for. Like a friend that knows how to get their bestie through a dark patch, you can give them the joy, security, data and options they require.

Why is it important to stay connected?

Now we have established who your customer is and what they are looking for from you during this time, many may ask “why would we do this?” 

It is now time to plan our rebound strategy

To do this we must first know how have our customers changed? What are their new needs and drivers? What will make them come back? How have their priorities changes? We already know that 55 per cent of Chinese consumers have stated that they will permanently shift their grocery shopping to online post pandemic (Source: McKinsey Survey across China, Feb 2020) and this is just a small sample of changing customer behaviours.

Any strategy should be based on clear customer insights, as, at the end of the day, they are the ones that will buy the product, recommend to friends and keep coming back.

So as the first point of our rebound strategy we must look into how has our customers path to purchase changed. We know they are consuming more data, increase in video content, increase in online channels. They now have an expectation for frictionless delivery, one key customer trend of 2019 was the rise of subscription services, so customers are looking for an effortless interaction with you to get their products as quickly and easily as possible. The rise of conscious consumerism was also a key driver and will now be even more apparent.

However what is still vital to know is how does this differ for your customer? What are their future needs? Whilst we know we now need to look at all these aspects we also know that we can’t be all things to all people.

Anastasia Lloyd-Wallis is general manager of consumer insights and projects at Retail Doctor Group.

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