Reimagining CX in retail industry in times of COVID-19

A year and more in aggressive mode, COVID -19 has transformed the way customer experience has been delivered all thanks to technology innovation especially smartphones. Industries that witnessed major transformation in terms of CX innovation include retail, banking, education and restaurants. As a result, these industries are recovering faster than the others. On the other hand, industries like travel, tourism, sports, and entertainment which are largely affected by the crisis continue their struggle because of the less demand arising from the customers. As experts believe the implications of COVID-19 are likely to stay for almost a decade, these industries are also likely to follow the footsteps of the winners.

Online shopping: The boom beyond the leaders

The COVID-19 has apparently created several first-time online shoppers, driven by the adverse health environment and the strict lock-down norms imposed by the local agencies to curb the spread of the disease. It is heartening to see that in India, e-commerce majors like Amazon, Flipkart and Snapdeal have not lost much of their business during COVID days. Notably, the current crisis has also encouraged many small firms to launch their online channels, so as to retain their existing customers. Plus, the popularity of social apps like WhatsApp and Facebook has helped these brick-and-mortar businesses to launch digital channels quickly and get closer to the target group locally. More importantly, the transition of small retailers to full-fledged online stores has marked a new era in retail customer experience. Home delivery model has picked up momentum even in rural areas, where such possibilities were beyond imagination almost a year ago!

The new online shopping culture necessitates new norms for CX, especially for beginners because there is drastic difference in the way the retailer engages with customers through online channels. Right from meeting the quality and price concerns, to ensuring timely delivery of goods and addressing logistics/payment concerns, the retailer is expected to build a point of interaction at every stage with each customer. The customer, having equipped with a smartphone with multiple channels to interact with the shop – by means of voice call, live chat, or app – builds expectations, often more than what they get through traditional shopping. Thus, building customer experience in times of COVID has become an ongoing lesson, evolving continuously to address the evolving market conditions.

Also, the distinction is clear in terms of the items selected during shopping. Earlier, when the crisis started, customers chose only the high-priority items like food and beverages, and soon turned to items like personal and home care products and accessories. There is still less demand for luxury items like cameras, travel gears and so on. Smart online retailers have also modified their product list with the new essentials like face mask, sanitizers, oxymeters among others that promise healthy and safe living to customers.

The question arises now: why online shopping wasn’t so popular until this pandemic caught the world? The answer: convenience. Earlier when people were healthy and not afraid of such a virus, it was more convenient for them to visit a shop than taking a risk of getting an inferior product delivered at home. However, the current scenario commands that it is better and safe to sit at home rather than opting the traditional ‘convenient’ approach to shopping.

Commenting on the new CX trends, Neelesh Kripalani, Sr. VP and head- Center of Excellence – Clover Infotech, says, “It’s not just about having best products anymore. The new wave of millennial prefers convenience over loyalty.” However, the loyalty cannot be lost over the promise of convenience. For this, businesses have to raise their standard from the traditional supplier to the new-age digital business. They have to build digital experience in the form of progressive web apps, true native mobile apps with best-in class UX, AI-powered chat-bots, conversational apps, wearables, and immersive experiences that leverage augmented reality, says Kripalani.

The flip side of the online shopping story is that the pandemic has created negative balance for several businesses; obviously the poor spending capacity of the population is to blame. However, the bright side brings more hope that digital shopping will continue to flourish even after the COVID-19 because of the new level of convenience it offers to both the business and its customers.

Rajani Baburajan