Social distancing was a virtually unknown expression until recently. Today it’s a critical prevention strategy for people around the globe. As social distancing becomes a more embedded cultural norm and as consumers seek ensured hygiene, health, security and trust, how retailers and brands amend their customer experiences today will have implications on future loyalty-building and growth efforts.
Retailers and brands now must shift their experiences to what consumers will value most in a post COVID-19 world. In retail and in other consumer-facing businesses, customer experience is often measured as the sum of the collective experiences it delivers to customers. Responses to new pandemic-ingrained behaviors add important new elements to this collection.
Traditional customer engagement strategies are based on the premise that consumers seek more than just products — they desire immersive experiences, personalized services and rich interactions. While meeting these needs can be achieved effectively with technology in the online world, merging digital and physical worlds into a “phygital” construct (moving closer to the desired “nirvana” omnichannel state) requires increased human intervention in one form or another. We see evidence of this in recent examples:
- Apple turned its stores into “town squares,” offering rich experiences that drive crowds of consumers to stores.
- Tiffany & Co. introduced Style Studios, stores that have been reimagined for a younger generation with relaxed, intuitive shopping experiences that include interactive elements.
- Disney offers an in-store playroom where children can learn and engage in activities, encouraging a community-like experience.
However, in the new world of social distancing, these types of experiences are no longer possible or of value to shoppers. But will these practices return in a post COVID-19 world? At some time, things may seem to go back to normal, but some COVID-19 behaviors may stick permanently or linger well beyond the pandemic.
It’s uncertain what lasting changes to consumer behaviors COVID-19 will leave in its wake. Whatever the impact, retailers and brands should rethink their customer experience in the age of social distancing. Here are a few experience-oriented value propositions on which they should focus strategies for the new reality and beyond.