The post-Covid customer experience: the reawakening of digital

The Covid-19 crisis is exceptional in both its scale and duration. And yet, as always in troubled times, it is also a time when the creativity of retailers has never been more important. The forced integration of digital and the redesign of customer journeys are rapidly accelerating the development of new business models.

The success we have seen of brands with an omnichannel strategy is a good indicator of this. Online sales as a proportion of all retailing reached a record high of 30.7% in the UK in April according to ONS data. If consumers have acquired new reflexes and purchasing methods, digital brands are demonstrating the relevance of their model, for example Dixons Carphone announced its online sales soared by 166% in a recently published trading update, recovering around two-thirds of lost store sales. We have looked into some of the most striking initiatives that have been implemented.

The development of devices at the service of trust

Customers need reassurance when they shop and retailers have started to set up tools that comply with health and safety. One example is cameras that measure and guarantee compliance with safety distances which, in real time, can announce a message when it detects too many people in a monitored area. Distributor Kroger also recently announced that it would use this type of technology to limit store traffic (to only 50% of its capacity) thanks to a system that uses infrared sensors and predictive analytics to monitor customer flows.

Another initiative we have seen, both in China and globally, is the use of robotic technology to help prevent germ spread. Robots have been created and used by Amazon in its Whole Foods stores that are designed to kill coronavirus with ultraviolet light. The robot can be used in warehouses and at stores to kill the virus on surfaces such as food, packaging, and door handles.

Another phenomenon we have seen developing during the lockdown is queues outside stores which have, on occasion, been the cause of frustration due to length and lack of organisation. However, in the UK, an app named ‘Supermarket Check-In’ recently launched, allowing people to check their local supermarket information and stock levels – as submitted by other users – and then ‘check-in’ themselves to share their own experience. Users are asked to record the name and address of the store they visited, the time, the length of the queue and the stock levels of specific categories, for example, milk, bread, meat, pasta, and cleaning products.

Contactless has become essential

Contactless is the big winner in the digitalisation of the customer experience; according to Shekel's survey, the majority (87%) of buyers say they would prefer to shop in stores that offer contactless or automatic payment options. UK retailers such as Marks & Spencer, Co-op, Sainsbury’s and Spar are rolling out ‘Mobile Pay Go’ payment options. This technology allows consumers to scan a product’s barcode as they shop and then pay from a mobile device using a card or apple pay via the retailers app. We expect the coronavirus pandemic to lead other retailers to re-think their in-store experience in favour of app-centric payment options.

The imperatives of omnichannel: inventory management and delivery

The question of logistics and inventory control is crucial at this time. Distributors must invest in a supply chain which not only offers visibility of current stocks but can also simulate future sales and optimise delivery networks and inventory in real time.

Retailers have had to adapt in order to meet the growing demand and expectations of consumers when it comes to deliveries. German supermarket chain Aldi announced that it was teaming up with the takeaway courier service Deliveroo in the UK to offer grocery home deliveries, in thirty minutes. Aldi had previously never sold groceries online and has adapted its offering hugely to satiate the demand. 

Brands across the world have relied on robotic and drone delivery methods. Starship Technologies, an autonomous delivery startup created in 2014, has been offering a delivery service in Milton Keynes that could prove to be the future of locked-down Britain, as miniature autonomous vehicles bring food deliveries to almost 200,000 residents of the town.

The Milton Keynes operation is the first commercial deployment in the UK, and started in mid-March, just as the country was implementing widespread social distancing in an effort to tackle the spread of coronavirus.

Connecting with consumers

Brands have managed to use this time to keep a permanent link with their customers, especially in hospitality. There is one initiative that we think really stands out here in terms of brands connecting with consumers and that is restaurants sharing their cooking secrets. Wagamama released the recipe to its classic Katsu curry to help loyal customers fix their katsu cravings and Pret a Manger shared the recipe of its much loved homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Digital has now infiltrated all types of stores and brands in a number of ways that seemed future gazing not long ago. With older generations being newly comfortable with digital channels and new consumer segments having overcome barriers to trial new digital products and services, consumers will expect brands to use this new digital relationship to know them better and make a better use for their data to deliver more personalised marketing and products.

As we look to the future, this crisis will undoubtedly have some lasting effects. Ultimately we know consumer expectations and shopping behaviours will change; comfort levels with technology platforms – and a greater dependence on technology overall – will rise. Retailers in turn need to boost their multichannel marketing strategies in order to meet the increased demand, dependency and consumer expectation.