The COVID-19 pandemic changed our shopping habits, shifting the ways consumers interact and engage with brands. Apparel, personal care products, and books saw the most dramatic fluctuations in spending among American consumers. As the pandemic recedes, many of these trends are here to stay, and companies are grappling with how best to upgrade and optimize their customer experiences.
To better understand changing customer behavior, Ruby compiled a list of seven customer trends gaining traction as businesses emerge from the pandemic to better understand changing customer behavior. Customer trends were compiled from various sources, including Forbes, Salesforce's State of the Connected Customer report, and Deloitte.
Shopping is now a digital-first experience for many, rather than a brick-and-mortar experience, according to a Salesforce report surveying consumers and business buyers. The report found that features such as shopping online, contactless payments, and reaching customers through social media, including influencers, are now standard pillars of building customer experiences.
Additionally, it is no longer enough for a brand to offer a quality, affordable product or service. Customers are more invested than ever in a company's ethics and ability to interact with those values transparently and authentically.
Though many of these changes may be overwhelming to consumers—and to companies—used to traditional methods of commerce, the good news is that they are also a lucrative opportunity. These shifts in consumer trends allow brands to be more effective than ever in their advertising, sales, and communications.
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People are looking for experiences—not just purchases
It is no longer enough for companies to just provide a quality product or service, according to Salesforce's State of the Connected Customer report. An overwhelming 86% of consumer survey respondents say that a seamless, enjoyable customer experience is equally as important when choosing which brand to buy. Doing so creates a consumer-brand bond and instills a company's reputation with legitimacy, which can net long-term customer loyalty. Some of the hallmarks of good customer experience include purchasing options on multiple platforms, accessible help services, and personalization—all of which combine to make a frictionless purchase and keep customers coming back time and time again.
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Consumers seek a unified, or 'omnichannel,' experience
Omnichannel refers to user experiences that connect a customer's touchpoints, including brick-and-mortar, social media, web, and phone apps. The Bank of America, for example, allows customers to make and settle payments using any combination of channels that works for them. Companies hoping to provide omnichannel options should conduct thorough consumer research and analytics to gauge which payment and engagement platforms best serve consumer needs.
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The main reasons people switch brands are better deals and quality of product or service
Over the past year, 71% of Salesforce survey respondents said they switched from their previously favored brands to new ones. The proliferation of consumer data collection and analytics allows brands to tempt customers with targeted product advertising and dynamic pricing suited to their specific needs. Companies hoping to retain their consumer base and attract new customers should prioritize conversion-optimized product sorting, personalized product recommendations, bundling offers, and coupons.
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Environmental practices are gaining importance
More and more consumers are looking beyond the quality and price of products offered to also consider their personal compatibility with the brand, especially when it comes to matching environmental values. Sixty-eight percent of respondents want to make sure their money is going to a company that works to solve societal issues, and 78% of purchasing decisions are influenced specifically by a company's environmental ethics, according to the Salesforce survey. The top reported consumer environmental concerns are how a company handles recycling, single-use plastics, and carbon emissions.
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Hyper-personalization is essential
It is vital for a customer to feel like the brand they're shopping with offers personalized content that matches their interests, needs, and personality. Companies can accomplish this through hyper-personalization, using data and analytics to customize the products, deals, and communication channels through which they engage with customers, thus optimizing each customer's experience. Cadbury, known for its dairy milk chocolate, used customer insights to create personalized video ads posted to consumers' social media channels and achieved 65% click-through rates. Using hyper-personalization methods can increase consumer loyalty to a brand and how much a customer is willing to spend during a purchase.
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AI offers an essential bridge between brands and buyers
Artificial intelligence is becoming an increasingly valuable tool for companies to expand their reach and give better and faster client results. Examples of AI implementation in customer experiences include chatbots, agent assist, self-service, and smart speakers that can help with shopping lists and finding deals. Salesforce survey respondents reported feeling more comfortable with brands using their data with transparency to improve their experience. Using AI offers several company benefits, with Learn Hub reporting that it "improves lead generation, streamlines workflows, facilitates customer service, prevents employee burnout, (and) saves costs."
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Buyers want to feel like there's a human they can reach with questions
When customers encounter hiccups while engaging with a brand, it's crucial that they have an easily accessible outlet for questions—preferably one that offers human interaction. These can include live chat functions, customer service phone lines, and emails. Chatting with representatives via "conversational commerce" channels allows for natural, authentic dialogue that builds consumer trust in a brand. Additionally, it is beneficial to a company to interact with customers while resolving negative experiences and highlighting wins and developments.
This story originally appeared on Ruby and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.