Customer needs and preferences keep changing and evolving. Thanks to data availability and analytics, companies can leverage deep customer insights and adapt. Companies can even influence what customers want. The recent changes in customer behavior as a result of the prolonged global pandemic and enforced lockdowns have significantly altered buying preferences and channels.
What customers want – recent trends
- Nearly two-thirds customers report an increase in their online purchasing since the start of the pandemic. 27% customers say it has increased a lot
- 91% of these shoppers say they are likely to continue purchasing more items online in the future
- A report by NetElixir found that 73% of consumers are more than willing to purchase online from a new brand
- User generated content on social media (posts, images, videos, reviews) has been found to be 8.7x more impactful than influencer content. 79% customers say user-generated content highly impacts their online buying decisions. This is in sync with the growing consumer preference for authentic and personalized experiences
- There has been a surge in people looking to learn new skills online since the start of the pandemic. Google reported a 10% worldwide rise in searches for “how to”. Respondents indicated they would continue online learning even after the pandemic is over as the experience is more enjoyable and personally rewarding
4 Focus areas for brands to manage changing customer preferences
Almost all recent consumer insights studies report increase in consumer expectations for the following:
1. Focus on Data Privacy
There is an increased awareness amongst consumers on how brands collect, use and share their personal data. The debate on personal data privacy is ongoing and the trend will certainly continue. Data protection regulations around the world will increase. Large scale data breaches such as Equifax and ClixSense in the recent past as well as news of data privacy violations by some leading mobile applications have made data privacy and transparency a top priority for customers. A company will certainly lose the trust of customers on failing to protect consumer data. A study by Cisco reports that 50% of consumers would be willing to switch to a competitor because of their data policies and data sharing practices.
This increase in consumer preference for tighter data privacy controls will make more companies incorporate privacy frameworks. Organizations will have to be more transparent to address consumer concerns on what, why and how their personal data is being collected, shared and used.
2. Omnichannel approach
A study from Omnisend reported a 90% higher customer retention rate and 250% higher engagement and purchase rates for marketing campaigns spread across three or more channels. Consumers now demand a consistent brand experience across channels. What customers want is a more blended and consistent online and offline shopping experience.
In order to retain customers and sell more, brands need to allow customers to hop back and forth during their purchase journey. Customers may want to see a product in store but shop online. Or it could be the other way round. They may research for a product online, select what they want and visit the brand store to purchase. The experience has to be smooth and consistent.
3. Local and Near me Shopping Preferences
The Festive Shopping Outlook Report 2021 by Shopify reports that close to 58% respondents stated they prefer to support and buy from local and small businesses. Post pandemic, consumers want to help local businesses and economies which is a contributing factor for this shift toward small business shopping.
A SendinBlue study reported that the younger generations are leading this shift. 46% of Gen Z and 51% of millennials have increased their purchases at small businesses. Google searches for “near me” businesses and “open today or tonight” have been on the rise. 46% of all Google searches are looking for local results and information. 73% of consumers use proximity search to find business information. Businesses need to incorporate these changes in customer preferences in their SEO strategies. Local search is one of the key areas businesses should focus on to connect with customers and grow sales. Search patterns also reveal interesting insights about what customers want.
4. The Growing Need to Offer a Personalized Shopping Experience
The retail environment is a tough one. The pandemic tested the industry and businesses are yet to fully recover. There is a constant change in what customers want, thanks to the competition, market disruption by new online players, discounts and changes in consumer buying patterns.
The offerings from leading brands such as Amazon, Netflix etc. have made customers demand a more personalized shopping experience. A study by Segment.io found out that 71% of customers feel frustrated when a shopping experience is impersonal. Consumers do not want brands to send irrelevant emails. They want their online website feed to cater to their personal interests and shopping needs. Offers and recommendations on websites when relevant to a shopper’s interest result in higher sales and average order values.
Personalization makes it difficult for competitors to imitate brands as it is based on data collected from customers.
How can small businesses adapt to address what customers want?
- Ensure consistent brand image (logo, color scheme, fonts) and messaging all channels including website, email newsletters, social media profiles, promotional flyers, invoices, online advertisements etc.
- Allow customers to reach out for help using multiple communication channels (phone, email, web chat, forms on website etc.). Ensure timely response and communication
- Optimize your website and online directory listing for “local” and “near me” searches. It should be easy for people to find your business and contact you. Ensure you have updated business and contact information such as address, contact number, business hours, appointment policy etc.
- As a small business, you may not have to invest in customizing the website feed for your visitors. However it is relatively easy to personalize and customize email communication. Use email workflows. Segment your email recipients into several groups to send them relevant emails and offers
- There is no alternative to delivering a great customer service. Sensitize your employees, vendors and channel partners to listen to customers and be professional, polite and courteous. Ensure customer feedback is registered and complaints are resolved.
Understanding what customers want from a business is not a one time activity. Customer needs and preferences continuously change and evolve. It is important to periodically review recent trends and insights into customer behavior. Be proactive and stay updated.
People tend to remember the extreme experiences – the most pleasant and the most unpleasant. What people remember is what they talk about. Brands want customers to talk good about them. Word of mouth is the best marketing you can ask for. This is where customer experience creates a differentiation for a brand.