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How Retailers Can Adapt to the Modern Consumer

Learn what’s most important to today’s shoppers and what retailers can do to meet and exceed their expectations. 

By Miva | April 14, 2022 | 9 minute read
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The retail industry has undergone dramatic changes over the past few years—and consumers have evolved at an equal pace. In this article, we’ll explore what today’s customers want from their retail experiences, alongside actionable steps you can take to accommodate their evolving needs.  

Frequent and Transparent Communication  

Trust is vitally important to today’s consumers. These days, building trust with your customers hinges on your ability to communicate with them clearly, quickly, and with a high level of transparency—especially when you’re communicating information your customers may not want to hear 

Below, we’ve outlined a simple framework for communicating with your shoppers: 

  • Listen and respond to customer feedback. Today’s consumers have no problem expressing their opinions to retailers—or with taking their business elsewhere if they feel those opinions aren’t heard. Survey your customer base frequently and consider how you can integrate their responses into your overall strategy. Likewise, pay close attention to larger trends within your industry to stay ahead of the curve.  
  • Form a communication strategy based on customer preferences. Use customer feedback and market trends to determine not only when and what you’re communicating to your audience, but how. 51% of U.S. customers are loyal to brands that communicate with them through their preferred channels, so make sure you’re asking your customers how they want to be contacted as a way to build trust and loyalty.  
  • Measure customer response. After rolling out your communication strategy, gauge its effectiveness using marketing and customer service metrics and adjust course as needed. Remember, your customer communication strategy is an ongoing project, not a one-time task. 

You can use the above framework as guidance when communicating some of the most urgent—and volatile—issues facing retailers today. 

How to Communicate Supply Chain Issues 

Unfortunately, supply chain issues are the reality for many businesses today. But by keeping your shoppers informed, you can mitigate their frustration and maintain the high level of communication they want—while managing their expectations.  

Keep your online inventory current and enable systems that let your customers know when there’s a limited number of a certain item available. Include a shipping time estimate alongside products in your online store and consider updating your website’s homepage to communicate any current shipping delays.  

Be honest with your customers about which products are out of stock and provide an estimate for when they can expect them back in. Direct your shoppers to alternative options, either with clickable links (for online stores) or physical signs (for brick-and-mortar stores). You should also communicate these alternatives to your internal team to empower them to offer substitutions to customers. If applicable, let your customers know that substitutions may be made automatically (for instance, in subscription boxes or curbside pickup orders).     

Once a customer has placed an order, keep them updated with regular communication, including self-service links to check their delivery status. 

How to Communicate Price Increases 

Inflation and economic uncertainty color both consumer and retailer experiences, and price increases may be unavoidable. If you’re raising the prices of your product, it’s critical that you inform your customers in a timely and respectful manner.  

To communicate a price increase, contact your customers directly and with plenty of advance notice. Acknowledge that this may be an unwelcome change, and include the date the price increase will go into effect as well as links to purchase in case they’d like to make a few orders before the new price point kicks in. Explain the reasoning behind your price increase while reminding your customers of all the benefits that come with your product—for example, that prices everywhere are rising and in order to continue to be able to use premium materials and to provide your customers with the high level of quality they’ve come to expect from your brand, you’ve found it necessary to make your own adjustments.  

For instance, when sustainably-sourced underwear brand Knickey raised their prices in 2021, they sent customers an empathetic and honest letter that acknowledged global rising costs, reaffirmed the company’s commitment to using organic materials and fair trade practices, and encouraged shoppers to take advantage of their current pricing before the increase went into effect.   

Consider sending a follow-up communication closer to the date of your price increase, to ensure that all your customers are aware of the upcoming change and can make adjustments if they’ve forgotten or missed the original message.  

Finally, be tactful in when and how you implement a price change. The backlash to Amazon’s price increase for their Prime services following a year of record profits and what some considered a noticeable decrease in quality serves as a cautionary tale against pushing your customers too far.  

How to Communicate Policy Changes 

As the retail world continues navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic, your brick-and-mortar store may be subject to changing local policies regarding masks, distancing requirements, and more. Since you can’t always bank on your customers keeping up with citywide or statewide news, you may want to take the initiative in communicating operational changes to your customers.  

It’s best to use multiple channels to let your customers know about changes in policy, including email, social media, and physical signage. Let them know with as much advance notice as possible so they can make the best and most informed choice. Likewise, let your customers know about any additional services you’ll have available to support them—for instance, expanded pickup and delivery services or designated shopping hours for members of vulnerable populations, such as senior or immunocompromised individuals. And if brick-and-mortar shopping becomes trickier, be sure to remind your customers about your business’s online store.  

Make It Easy 

Today’s retail customers are looking for convenience and ease of use. Whether your store is digital, physical, or both, there’s plenty you can do to ensure your customers’ experience is smooth and stress-free.  

Simple Online Interfaces 

When it comes to designing your online store, simplicity is paramount. Today’s digital customers value intuitive interfaces free of clutter, where their path to checkout is clear—their cart should always be visible and easily accessible.  

Ideally, your interface should be intuitive enough that your customers can walk themselves through every step of their purchasing journey—from their initial browsing session to hitting the “Order Now” button—without external assistance. But should they run into problems, it’s important for them to have an easy way to access live support, whether automated or from a fellow human being.

Image of woman holding a tablet

Keep Bricks and Clicks Consistent 

An integration of physical and digital stores—often referred to as a “bricks and clicks” retail model—is becoming increasingly common and even expected. One of the keys to a successful bricks and clicks model is to ensure the customer’s experience is consistent across platforms.  

One critical aspect of this consistency is to ensure the reported online inventory for a physical store is accurate. There are few things more frustrating to a shopper than taking the time to check if a certain item is in stock at a certain location, only to arrive and have it nowhere to be found. By keeping your online inventory up to date, you’ll build trust with your customers and make their purchasing journey as easy as possible.  

For more insights on how to optimize a bricks and clicks model, download our guide here.  

Balance Convenience With Experience  

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many retail customers became accustomed to the convenience of shopping from their homes; however, two years of relative isolation have sparked a new appreciation—and higher expectations for—in-store experiences.  

Retailers can cater to these contradictory desires by combining innovative and flexible policies with a high level of customized service. The “buy online, pick-up in store” model became common during the pandemic, and offers customers the convenience of ordering from their homes paired with the instant gratification they would get by shopping in person.  

Online retailers will benefit from finding ways to personalize their customers’ online shopping experiences alongside a high level of service, including flexible return and exchange policies. Today’s retail customers want to feel known, heard, and understood, rather than being just another online ticket—and if your brand can provide that for them, they’re more likely to remain loyal 

Stay Agile  

Socio-political disruption during the COVID-19 pandemic made it necessary for businesses to become flexible, adapt quickly, and pivot often. But retailers shouldn’t abandon the innovative qualities they’ve put into practice—on the contrary, they’re exactly what will allow them to remain competitive in an ever-shifting landscape.  

Proactivity 

We’ve discussed how to communicate supply chain issues to your customers, but the best solution is to avoid them in the first place. Retailers can accomplish this by being proactive about placing their orders, both in terms of timing and quantity. Order supplies and products as early as possible, and in larger numbers than you may be accustomed to. As always, there’s a balance to achieve—you don’t want to order too much of a product and not be able to sell it—but planning ahead when placing your orders can give you an edge over your competitors and help to retain customer loyalty.   

Automation 

Automating some of your retail business’ more time-consuming or repetitive tasks can relieve issues around short staffing by taking some of the burden off your team members while reducing operating costs. While your customers may not care about the details of your automation technology, they will care that those processes free up staff to give them a high level of individualized service.  

Fearlessness 

Many retailers have survived the turbulence of the past few years by taking risks and making changes, particularly in the digital space. Some stores that had been exclusively physical shifted to an ecommerce model, and larger box stores invested heavily in technologies like curbside pickup and contactless checkout. These changes were all necessary to adapt to customers’ needs as they faced a new reality. And although some retailers assumed these changes would be temporary, customer feedback suggests that there’s still a demand for them in a post-pandemic world.  

Whether online, brick-and-mortar, or both, the retailers who will thrive in years to come are the ones who consistently listen to what their customers want and need and are willing to make changes to accommodate them. By prioritizing communication, ease, and agility, you can give modern consumers what they want and outshine the competition.  

Want even more in-depth guidance on how to navigate an ever-shifting retail landscape? Download our free whitepaper, The Resilient Retailer’s Survival Guide.

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Author's Bio

Miva

Miva offers a flexible and adaptable ecommerce platform that evolves with businesses and allows them to drive sales, maximize average order value, cut overhead costs, and increase revenue. Miva has been helping businesses realize their ecommerce potential for over 20 years and empowering retail, wholesale, and direct-to-consumer sellers across all industries to transform their business through ecommerce.

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