The coronavirus pandemic upset the normal shopping behaviors of consumers everywhere, but also ushered in new behaviors. By looking backwards at the data of online and offline shopping behavior over the past few months, we can make some predictions moving forward about the continued and expected habits of shoppers. The Managing Director of Sales for Google Customer Solutions, Bob Dillon, joined NetElixir to share digital insights to uncover clues for Q4 readiness. To succeed this holiday season, stores need to create a seamless experience between their online and offline channels, while continuously informing consumers about deals, inventory, and shipping updates to meet the expectations holiday shoppers cultivated during the pandemic.
Google Data on the Impact of COVID-19 on Purchase Habits
Dillon is offering, as he says, “practical implications of the impact of the pandemic on consumer and shopper purchasing behaviors.” Google compiled data based on search queries and a consumer survey through Ipsos.
Back in April, 63% of consumers were buying only the essentials – think toilet paper, groceries, hand sanitizers, and wipes. In June, only 50% of consumers were strictly buying essentials.
As indicated above, while 50% of consumers are still focusing on the essentials, they are currently shifting their attention to different wants and needs. Most importantly, they are planning for future purchases by researching now. Retailers have the opportunity to showcase their product range beyond the essential market and offer inspiration to consumers.
Opportunities abound as Google’s data reveals that 41% of retail web visitors were new to the online shopping experience throughout March and July. These new to online shoppers are an entirely unique demographic providing what Dillon names a “once in a lifetime digitization opportunity.” These shoppers are open to exploring new brands, with 32% of American shoppers saying that will continue to buy from a brand that they discovered during the pandemic. Retailers have an opportunity to cultivate brand loyalty and reach a wider audience than ever before.
Nearly half of the consumers polled by Google and Ipsos say they expect discounts to be offered – and these consumers are committed to keeping up with promotions via store websites and apps, emails, online searches, and digital and paper flyers from stores to wait for those sales. It is imperative that retailers keep pricing information as updated as possible and ensure sales information is widely circulated. NetElixir recommends:
- Using paid search and social media ad campaigns to notify new and potential customers of upcoming sales and reach a broad audience;
- Ensure your website is current in regards to pricing information and that any promotions are notably displayed on your website;
- Make your email subscription button prominent and give subscribers the latest information on upcoming sales, inventory, and new products.
Customers are willing to wait for the best deals. If they cannot find the information they want on your site, they will turn elsewhere.
People now have a new set of heightened expectations, especially in regards to quality, inventory, and shipping. Global search data has increased 700% year over year for “best grocery delivery,” according to Google’s data. Searches for “with free delivery” have increased 300% year over year. Additionally, shoppers want to be notified of shipping delays as much as possible. Consumers expect more convenience in their online experience.
Shoppers have moved beyond the essentials to explore more of their wants and needs and are willing to try new brands. Because consumers expect updated inventory and delivery information and discounts (and will wait for those discounts to be available), an ongoing communication and strong relationship with brands are critical factors to maintaining customer loyalty throughout the holiday season.
“This is a once in a lifetime digitization opportunity.” Bob Dillon, Google.
The Evolving Role of the Brick-and-Mortar Store
Google reports that 52% of survey respondents said that they had visited a store or mall in the last two days in January; in April, that number dropped to just 28%. June saw an increase in foot traffic with 36% responding to just recently visiting a physical store. Shoppers are feeling safe to return – but safety is still their priority.
“There’s a hyper focus on their safety. They want to be in, they want to be out, and they want to be safe,” Dillon says.
To be safe, consumers are aiming to spend less time in stores and more time planning their trips through online research into promotions, what is in stock and in store that day, and BOPIS options. In-store shoppers are willing to make sacrifices such as not always getting the lowest price, exploring availability with other brands, not always shopping at their preferred store if the space is too crowded, and curbside shopping.
Curbside shopping, a product of the pandemic, may be here to stay long after the pandemic. Retailers are investing in resources for a more seamless and efficient curbside experience, while consumers are practicing the behavior more and more; the actions of both parties create more value in that behavior. While sameday curbside pickup may not be a necessity, it can certainly be a competitive advantage.
The Google Shopping Experience is reducing friction for omnichannel shoppers by providing store information on availability and distance, BOPIS and ship-to-store options, and curbside pickup services. When retailers make this information available, they have the opportunity to “tell the full story of what they have to offer,” Dillon explains. This allows customers to know exactly what to expect and they can comfortably plan their shopper excursions accordingly.
“I hope that these insights lead you to helpful actions to understand the broader landscape and to drive your business to success,” says Dillon.
Holiday 2020 Expectations
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, the shopping behaviors and insights learned during the pandemic are expected to be the same looking forward: ecommerce will continue to rise, with online shoppers looking for a frictionless experiences and in-store shoppers looking for a safe experience.
As consumers plan for their holiday shopping, 73% say they will shop more online this season. Their behavior will change slightly, as noted in the chart below:
Of importance to holiday shoppers is the ability to conduct strategic online research beforehand to know of inventory and sales opportunities. Shoppers will be patient for a discount, as they will most likely start shopping even earlier this year.
Online shoppers want a reliable experience. Many had a bad experience during the height of the pandemic in terms of shipping delays, so they expect to be notified of any delays, out of stock items, and return policies; these three factors should be prominently displayed on websites and repeated to customers.
In-store shoppers want a safe experience. Contactless and self-serve checkouts will most likely continue to rise in popularity, as well as BOPIS options. For BOPIS, customers want dedicated lines for just in-store pick up so that they do not have to wait inside for a long time. If possible, customers are also interested in booking appointments to shop online so that they can avoid crowds.
New shoppers are willing to try new brands so retailers have a unique opportunity to capture and retain customer attention. Messaging of ad campaigns should promote safety and efficiency, prioritizing the customer experience above all else. Media should begin as early as mid-September – or sooner, if possible – to entice early customers and to allow retailers to begin collecting data so as to make data-backed decisions later on in the holiday season.
“Expect an unpredictable ride,” Dillon says.
The time to prepare for the holiday season is now! Dillon predicts that the holiday season, “rather than [having] a number of very intense spikes on days like Black Friday, it’s going to be much more of a consistent drumbeat that starts much earlier.”
Google’s Holiday Retail ToolKit
For a solid foundations for retailers this holiday season, Google has compiled free holiday resources:
- Google Rising Retail Categories: realtime data on search queries that shows the rise and decline of categories on a daily and global basis, as well as the keywords driving those changes
- Google Grow My Store: improve your digital window to the world to benchmark how your store compares to your competitors based on your mobile performance, updated information, flexibility, and more
Google’s Holiday ToolKit is available to you now to help you succeed this holiday season.
Additional Holiday Readiness Resources
On August 13th, NetElixir hosted Connecting the Dots: Holiday Readiness Summit for Retailers to bring together retail industry leaders, marketing mavens, supply chain experts, and strategic thinkers to share their advice, strategies, and holiday marketing resources to help retailers connect the dots for this financially critical holiday season. Each week, we will recap one of these ‘dots’ with any additional information and insights relating to the holiday season so retailers can continue to adapt their strategy and have a successful end of the year.
To help guide retailers, NetElixir compiled consumer insights, four months of research, thoughts and experiences from retail industry leaders, and strategic perspectives from academics into our eBook, Along the Road to Recovery.
The more pieces of information that you have, the more you can connect the dots for a stronger holiday plan. Our Connect the Dots conference may be over, but the holiday season is just beginning. The holiday help continues in our new webinar series Connect the Dots: Holiday Strategies from Retail Leaders. On Thursday, September 10th, NetElixir will be joined by Lenovo’s founding executive of global online strategy, Ajit Saviadasan, to discuss A Different Holiday: Opportunities and Challenges in a Covid World. Register now at https://www.netelixir.com/webinar/.
Further reading on holiday insights: