Consumer Experiences in a Pandemic World: What Brands Need to Know
by Derek Franks on October 26, 2020
Like it or not, 2020 changed consumers. Possibly for good. The sooner you accept it and adapt, the better.
The pandemic upended normal life and crushed supply chains, presenting new and often unwelcome obstacles for businesses everywhere. No where else was this more felt than in retail, shopping and Ecommerce.
These anxious times make it incredibly difficult to predict how consumers have changed or will change their behaviors. It’s opened pandora's box on a host of scenarios, challenges, and tough questions:
Are they buying more or buying less? Does the huge rise of people staying home to social distance harm your business? Or does it somehow help? Do buyers feel safe inside the store? Do customers trust your brand? Which changes will be permanent?
Our latest research, included in the social insights report on consumer experiences during the pandemic, has answers. What can be learned from the brands leading the way in 2020 amidst a smattering of crises and major news events? Read ahead to find out the biggest need-to-know insights for all brands and businesses.
Consumer Shopping Behaviors Have Changed, Possibly for Good
It’s no secret that online shopping (and online everything, for that matter) grew rapidly after the onset of the pandemic.
When we looked at social conversations about online shopping vs. in-store shopping starting in early 2020, there was a clear trend:
However, it’s important to acknowledge that the wheels were already in motion with people’s evolving shopping habits. It’s also the case that many different consumer situations and needs drive their shopping behavior.
Over the past couple of years, consumers have discussed experiences like online shopping and hybrid shopping (such as “Click and Collect”, i.e. curbside or parking lot pickup):
The above analysis reveals two key insights:
- Both online shopping and Click and Collect have a steadily positive sentiment from consumers since 2018, meaning they are well-viewed by customers and making them a viable option for your company
- The amount of conversation about online shopping and Click and Collect clearly spiked once the pandemic took hold in March 2020. This shows that current events make a true impact on consumer behavior and you can pinpoint those changes with social listening
Looking at this data, one has to wonder if the pandemic didn’t so much “change” consumer behavior as it just sped things up. Still, the pandemic had drastic effects on the shopping landscape.
In 2020 and beyond, people changed shopping behaviors for a number of reasons: safety, convenience, and even personal joy in an otherwise grim time. So, what do people associate most with their online shopping experience?
Take a look a the top positive and negative keywords within the linguistics analysis of online shopping conversation during the COVID-19 pandemic:
This shift is causing ripples across the shopping landscape. Consumers love and crave online shopping. They use it for impulse buying and also as an enjoyable experience. But some brands won’t be able to rely only on online shopping. Store brands like JC Penny’s or Best Buy depend on foot traffic. What options and strategies are available to them? Download our report for more analysis.
Like it or not, consumer shopping behavior has changed. In the post-pandemic world, store brands will need to be more creative in how they reach consumers, many of whom adapted their way of shopping to meet the new services and offerings that the pandemic created or elevated.
It will be a race among retailers to meet the needs of consumers in ways that generate revenue. The data is teaching the importance of flexibility. It remains to be seen what the long-term impact of emerging solutions for shopping are, but one thing is certain: brands need to be ready for whatever the next few years throw at them.
Safety, Stock Shortages and Shipping Frustrations Underscore the Importance of Trust
So, what matters to consumers during their shopping experiences? Answering that question is key to your brand or business success.
Let’s look at safety first.
Consumers need to feel safe when going to your store or interacting with your brand or products. When you look at how consumers talk about safety and how they express trust in online conversations, there’s a clear correlation:
Whether or not consumers trust your brand is something that can be analyzed using social listening (we identified the world’s most trusted brands in a report earlier this year).
Understanding how consumers invest trust in your company matters more than any other metric, especially during a pandemic.
So, what COVID-19 safety measures for businesses matter most to consumers? Social listening analysis of online conversations identifies that as well:
Another important factor in whether or not consumers trust your brand is this: can they rely on you to deliver products, offerings, and quality customer service.
It’s clear that the major players in consumer frustration during the pandemic are costs, stock shortages, and shipping frustrations. Inside the report, we dive further into which of these is talked about most online and what’s driving the consumer frustration.
But one thing to note here is demographic and background play a role in which consumers experience these frustrations and what drives them:
Here are some takeaways from just this one insight:
- Consumers in the 25-34 age range are most concerned about price - keep that in mind if they are in your target audience
- Stock shortages are discussed by 35-44 age range (in the report we look at a specific audience segment, millennial moms, in this age range and what they’re top customer experiences are)
- Men discuss price and stock more than women, while delivery and shipping are equally mentioned amongst men and women
When it comes to brands, who are the top performers in delivering quality customer experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic? Social listening analysis pinpointed one company in particular, Target, for it’s high marks in shipping and delivery. They beat out competitor Walmart in positive sentiment:
See the spike in sentiment for Target in March 2020 when the pandemic became a nationwide crisis? Clearly, they did something right. Download the report to see what the data says about why they were successful.
The COVID pandemic has taught retailers that shocks to the supply system may never be fully predictable or avoidable. But retailers can mitigate future supply shocks and dramatic changes in consumer shopping behavior by ensuring they have an effective shipping program in place that sources from well-stocked and distributed across the country ensuring they can deliver on that shipping promise.
More than just reliability is the safety factor. Consumers need to feel safe in their shopping experiences. Brands that are the most trusted fare best during crises such as the coronavirus pandemic.
Trust is the key emotion brands need to be aware of for consumers. Establishing safety and delivering on promises matters most for eliciting that trust. Constantly keeping track of how consumers express trust in your brand and its services must be a top priority. Tools like Infegy Atlas help you quickly pinpoint how consumers express the trust emotion with emotions analysis.
Need more consumer insights on coronavirus? Click here for our COVID-19 resources page.
Different Consumers Have Different Pandemic Experiences
The mad dash for toilet paper might make group think appear like a normal feature of a pandemic, but the reality is, all consumers have unique situations and lifestyles resulting in different experiences and expectations.
While from afar the masses might appear as though essentials like groceries and hand sanitizer were the top stock shortage concerns, zooming in on consumer conversations shows that a particular vocal group mentioning items being out of stock: gamers.
Using our new Narratives tool, we broke down the organic (unsolicited) “out of stock” conversation by mentions over time:
Could Gamers be a key voice in driving the stock shortage conversation as it relates to certain brands? Between these top retailers, social listening identifies which brands lead in “out of stock” mentions:
We explored which product categories overall lead for the most conversations discussing out-of-stock inside the report.
A big takeaway from from the social listening data on customer experiences during the pandemic is this: who people are, where they live, and their lifestyles play a primary role in their pandemic experiences, and brands need to keep that top-of-mind. Take a look at this full slide from our report:
The pandemic and resulting customer experiences reveal the truth: who consumers are impacts how they experience the pandemic and therefore how they act.
Consumers have different expectations based upon their own unique life experience. People vary on their concerns, frustrations, and needs based upon where they are, what activities they enjoy, demographics and what their family structure is.
In order to address issues created by the pandemic, brands need to learn everything they can about customers. The pandemic isn’t a singular event, and its repercussions are far reaching and could last years.
It’s critical that brands don’t bucket all consumers under one overall pandemic experience. Use social insights to break assumptions about consumer expectations and identify gaps.
Conclusion: 2020’s Biggest Lesson for Brands: Listen
Global events and crises will always impact the consumer experience in all markets. But the global pandemic showed that customers will change their behaviors in such profound ways that could have permanent impacts far beyond the craziness of 2020.
In some ways, the pandemic created new challenges, circumstances, and necessary solutions that consumers turned to.
In other ways, it revealed truths that were already there: consumers of all backgrounds have different needs, concerns and pain points. The only way brands can address them correctly is to listen.
Your team will need the right tools in place, like social listening platforms, to keep track of online conversations and see how consumer experiences and behaviors evolve. Doing so will help you meet them with the appropriate customer service and products they need.
Download the report by clicking the image below to see more exclusive insights on customer experiences during and after the pandemic.