At the end of 2020, we sought to investigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on UK and US consumers. We wanted to know how far shoppers behaviour had changed, and whether it had changed for good.
VoCoVo spoke to consumers from both sides of the Atlantic to find out how they felt about in-store retail. The results were surprisingly positive, despite an incredibly difficult year.
Shoppers remain confident, but care deeply about physical distancing
A clear trend that emerged was that overall, consumers remain confident in physical retail. Over half (57%) said they hadn’t lost confidence since the pandemic began.
Although customers’ appetite for online shopping has changed, they are still prepared to venture out and trust in retailers and colleagues to keep them safe.
- Over half of consumers said they appreciated retail colleagues more
- 63% of UK respondents were confident in social distancing in-store, compared to 57% of American customers.
Shoppers may remain confident in retail, but not without caveats. In fact, safety and physical distancing are top of most customers priorities. If these aren’t adhered to, it deeply impacts brand loyalty.
If retailers fail to adhere to social distancing, the implications are severe. Over a third (39%) of customers we spoke to said they would leave a store if they saw colleagues or other shoppers failing to adhere to guidelines.
- 13% of shoppers said they would never return to the store in question
- Almost a fifth (19%) said they would flag the problem to management
- 11% would tell friends or family about the experience
Clearly, one of the most important things retailers can do to protect customer experience is ensure that social distancing is closely followed by colleagues and shoppers alike. Safety means more to customers than ever before.
Customer service has changed, as have interactions between customers and colleagues
Shoppers on both sides of the Atlantic value retail colleagues greatly. Only 6% think that retail colleagues do not improve their shopping experience. Shoppers still want to ask questions in store, but the manner in which they do so has changed:
- Over half of shoppers would search something on their mobile phone, rather than asking a colleague in-store
- 21% said they would leave the store, to research further at home
- US shoppers are more likely to use their mobile in store (65%) compared to 42% of Brits
Customer service has changed, largely due to the restrictions placed on interactions across 2020. Customers now prefer a mix of human interaction and automated experience.
- More than half (55%) of customers prefer a mixture of interacting with colleagues and a fully automated experience
- 54% of shoppers think that they key to improving customer service lies with both technology and staff
Perhaps this blend of human and technological interaction is here to stay?
Shoppers main frustrations have changed
Customers shop now with a different mindset. They are anxious, in a hurry and want to minimise risk. It’s no surprise that when we asked, shoppers main frustrations had certainly changed:
- The biggest reported frustrations were crowded stores (34%), other shoppers (23%), queuing at checkouts (22%) and bad service (20%)
Rather than frustrations being about value, the shopper of 2021 is more concerned about having enough space to safely complete their shopping. Anything that compromises that safety, be it the behaviour of other shoppers, colleagues or queuing for lengthy periods, frustrates the customer deeply.
A quarter of our UK respondents said the main reason they chose to shop online was that they hated queuing in store. ‘Waiting for answers’ was listed as a frustration by US and UK shoppers alike, with 26% saying they had to wait three minutes or more on average, and one in ten saying they’d leave a store if they hadn’t been served in two minutes.
Shoppers are voicing those concerns to colleagues, and are increasingly leaving stores still feeling frustrated.
- 76% of UK and US customers admitted leaving retail stores feeling ‘frustrated’ about their experience
- 21% said they took their frustrations out on colleagues, even shouting at times. Worryingly, 7% said they shout at store colleagues ‘all the time.’
These frustrations have built up over time, in fact over a third (35%) of US and UK shoppers have changed where they shop during the pandemic. And the top reason for this? Queuing both inside and outside.
Long term, in-store purchasing remains the preference. But how can retailers encourage customers to return to stores?
Physical retail is not dead. In fact, shoppers are still willing to venture out and remain confident in retail. But customers are divided on the long-term future of the high street. Most shoppers (56%) have no plans at all to stop shopping in stores, but a third of UK shoppers think that the high street will vanish by 2030.
What can be done to ensure the long-term loyalty of customers in 2021? We found a series of ways in which retailers can still capture the trust of their customers:
- More deals and savings (38%)
- A bigger product range (26%)
- Fast, efficient service (25%)
- Instant access to product information and stock levels (20%)
- Better customer service (18%)
- A range of in-store services such as gift wrapping, home delivery and Click & Collect (14%)
Worried about retaining customer loyalty? At VoCoVo, we help small teams deliver better, more efficient customer service, whilst getting more done at work.