Opinions expressed by entrepreneur Contributors are their own.
To say that the last two years have changed the way we do business is a massive understatement. The pandemic has uprooted most facets of normalcy, from the way we eat to the way our children learn. It has changed the way we humans treat each other, but as we move forward together and navigate the new normal, brands can learn a lot from the resilience and compassion that has been manifesting since early 2020.
1. Embrace new physical boundaries
Social interactions now seem changed forever, in moments as fleeting as a greeting with an elbow pat or a fist bump instead of a handshake. Each person’s physical boundaries have been affected and reshaped. And just as we friends now respectfully ask, “Are you okay with a hug?” Before they rush in, businesses need to acknowledge and support that customer expectations of in-store contact are vastly different.
According to the National Retail Federation, there was twice as many store openings than closures throughout 2021, telling us the retail apocalypse of 2020 may have been more of a reset. The fact that these openings were heavily geared towards dollar stores, discounters and department store clubs makes it clear that brands that prioritize the financial well-being of customers have a stronghold in this new economy – a great example of understanding core needs as part a growth strategy.
The future of brick-and-mortar retail seems to be ever-changing — while it’s clear that in-person shopping still matters — and customers’ needs and expectations for those experiences have changed. Take the many digital native brands that have opened stores over the last year and the core intentions behind those openings. More than 30 new Warby Parker stores opened in 2021 so consumers can try on glasses or speak to a vision expert. Twenty new parachute stores opened their doors for people to come in and feel the fabric, texture and comfort of the furnishings. These brands build stronger customer loyalty by offering additional and engaging experiences.
Simply put, in order to connect to brick-and-mortar retail in a post-Covid world, it is important to ask: “What does our customer need most from us?”
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2. Erase the line between digital and personal
The new working life is now playing out over the internet as well as around the proverbial conference table, and the same is now true in the world of education. And even for those of us who miss the chemistry of in-person collaborations, we have to admit that the pandemic has pushed us to keep work (and life) flowing more smoothly from many places. For brands to keep their customers happy, they need to make shopping experiences just as fluid.
Retail brands have the opportunity to reshape the way they think about online and in-store experiences. The days of e-commerce as a separate silo are behind us: I encourage any business to simply think of consumer offerings as “retail.” Your customers deserve a consistent experience whether they’re browsing online, shopping in store, or a combination of both. Think about enhancing that experience across the board, be it by joining the two-thirds of retailers (again according to the National Retail Federation) who are currently planning to offer online buy-and-collect-in-store functionality or otherwise invest in online technology to better serve the consumer.
Finding innovative ways to improve the customer experience despite it Where and how your customers shop is now the key to building lasting connections.
3. Purpose matters more than ever
If 2020 and the changes that have followed have taught us anything as a society, it is that our time, energy and resources are not infinite. I’ve seen this reflected in the way people-to-people relationships have become more conscious, in the communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic, and in the way workers have stepped back from jobs that didn’t serve them have served. In the same way, customers are now demanding more from the companies they do business with.
One of the notable stats from 5WPR’s Consumer Culture | 5W Public Relations Report is that more than 70% of consumers now want brands that are consistent with their identity, their vision for the future and who they are as compassionate, thoughtful individuals. As British-American inspirational speaker and author Simon Sinek said during a TEDxPuget Sound presentation, “People don’t buy What They do; people buy why you do it” – and why you as a brand do what you do is more important than ever. Approaches will be unique to each brand, but I challenge you to think about how you can bring yours to a meaningful purpose, and invite customers to join.
Related: How to build a better business through real connections