Insights|How Coronavirus Is Calling Time on Traditional Customer Experience

How Coronavirus Is Calling Time on Traditional Customer Experience

Even in the face of a pandemic, consumers still value an outstanding customer experience (CX) and will reward those brands that deliver. However, thanks to the coronavirus, the definition of good CX is changing, fast.

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by Kelli Harrison July 9, 2020 - 4 MIN READ

A new proprietary Sitel Group study, COVID-19: the CX Impact study, highlights that time is becoming the measure of a positive customer experience. A longing for speed and convenience means customers who have been driven to the web for their retail needs might not return to traditional retailers once the pandemic recedes thanks to the superior eCommerce customer experience.

Understanding how eCommerce trends are changing customer expectations is crucial for all retailers. Our data, which surveyed consumers in both the U.S. and the U.K., shows that over one-third of consumers (38%) are willing to pay more for a product or service if it comes with a superior CX and 43% would take their business elsewhere if they encountered a substandard CX with an existing brand (even just once).

Time to act

However, because consumers now recognize time as the ultimate commodity, it has become the benchmark against which a brand’s customer experience will be measured.

Due to the restrictions on movement and the suspension of non-essential business imposed across the world in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19, the majority of consumers were pushed into digital channels for buying goods and services.

Our research shows clear trends in online shopping. By May, 76% of all consumers and 87% of millennials had turned to the web for items they typically would have purchased in person. More importantly, 57% of consumers who migrated to the web say they intend to continue shopping online post-pandemic.

The eCommerce customer experience

Digital retail may have a smaller share of the pie than physical retail – in the first quarter of 2020, eCommerce accounted for 11.8% of total U.S.[1] and 22% of total U.K.[2] retail sales – but it boasts the lion’s share of positive CX. When surveyed in March, only 39% of consumers said they had a better shopping experience in-store compared to 54% who preferred the eCommerce customer experience.

What’s more, the speed at which these eCommerce trends are growing should give brick-and-mortar retailers cause for concern. Over the past five years, online retail has grown by 100% in the U.K.[3] and by 68%[4] in the U.S.

The reason people are connecting so quickly with online customer service is because the eCommerce customer experience recognizes the value of time. When asked why they intend to keep shopping online once coronavirus-related restrictions are lifted, 45% cited convenience as the number-one driver, followed by speed (22%) and the selection of goods available online compared to in-store (14%).

The growing trend of online shopping

Historically when eCommerce trends upwards, it’s due to seasonal traffic driven by events such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday or Christmas and the increased popularity is concentrated on specific goods or products. However, with coronavirus, eCommerce has attracted a much larger demographic and across a much wider and varied selection of goods.

Faced with this situation, physical brick-and-mortar retailers should be identifying new ways to engage customers with the right shopping experience. For instance, in both the U.S. and U.K. respondents chose click and collect or Buy Online and Pick Up In-store (BOPIS) as the retail service or measure they appreciated most since the pandemic began. This is a service that places a premium on convenience and speed and combines the greatest strengths of online and offline retail, and in the short-to-medium term could help many physical retailers to compete with the eCommerce customer experience.

However, this doesn’t mean that online retailers can sit back and rest on their laurels. Now is the time to think carefully about ways to improve the eCommerce customer experience – especially for new customers who may have a significantly different persona to the existing customer base.

For instance, pre-pandemic, a majority of U.S. baby boomers expressed a preference for the in-store shopping experience (47% versus 43% for the eCommerce customer experience). Furthermore, while 46% of baby boomers who’ve moved online say they intend to keep using the web, 31% say they’re uncertain.

Ways to improve customer experience

Whether it’s digital or physical retail, this uncertainty needs to be addressed through examining existing customer journeys and identifying opportunities to improve the customer experience – especially as the customer personas used to develop existing customer journey maps are going to need updating to reflect post-COVID-19 expectations.  

Across all demographics consumers are moving away from the phone as their preferred means of contacting companies and brands for general inquiries. Even those consumers who still rate the in-store shopping experience more highly than the eCommerce customer experience are now happier engaging via digital channels – 32% opt for email and 15% for online chat, while 29% still hang on to the phone. When we first conducted our CX Index study in 2018 the phone was the most popular channel across all generations whether they shopped online or offline.

As consumers move from being in-store to being online and from using the phone to using email or chat, brands need to be able to track these channel shifts and make certain the customer experience remains consistent – 53% of consumers expect to receive personalized communications from companies and brands, whether they’re engaging via chat, email or even social media.

And, if it results in better pricing (46%), better customer service (28%) and an experience that feels tailored to their preferences (18%), consumers are prepared to share the necessary data with companies and brands to make it happen.

Therefore retailers need to ensure they can deliver an omnichannel customer experience so they can capture data and track customer histories and better deliver against changing customer expectations.

To learn more about Sitel Group’s COVID-19: the CX Impact study and find out more about how coronavirus is changing consumer trends, download the full white paper here.

[1] U.S. Census Bureau
[2] U.K. Office for National Statistics
[3] U.K. Office for National Statistics
[4] U.S. Census Bureau

Kelli Harrison
written by Kelli Harrison VP, Account Management for Retail at Sitel Group
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