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BizReport : Ecommerce : April 08, 2021

Experts: A year after the pandemic, here's how we're coping

This week marks a year since much of the world shuttered it's doors and windows and moved non-essential contact to the digital space. From advertising and shopping to social contact to work, as the world dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic much of that dealing was done online. Here's where we are a year later.

by Kristina Knight

Kristina: We are a year into the pandemic - how are marketers and retailers coping at this point?

Stephanie Cegielski, Spokesperson, ICSC: After a year of the pandemic, we've seen retailers fully embrace and adapt to new trends that have emerged. While the sector still needs support, retailers have been remarkably adaptable and resilient. Two top trends in particular included the growth of click-and-collect services and safety measures. Our recent B2B survey found nearly three-quarters of smaller retailers implemented click-and-collect offerings as a result of the increased demand for safe shopping experiences. Similarly, in 2020, 72% of retailers and CRE owners saw increased operational costs due to implementing safety protocols. Another ICSC survey found 85% of consumers will continue to wear a mask in public and social distance even once they're fully vaccinated - suggesting many of those measures will remain in place even as consumers return to stores. Overall, retailers have seen years of change condensed into a few short months - and while the retail landscape is challenging, many are poised to succeed in the long run.

Matt Ramerman, President, Sinch for Marketing: Surviving this past year has meant focusing on strengthening existing customer relationships at a time when consumers are inundated with brand communications on every channel, from email to SMS to social media and back. This ushered in an extremely accelerated adoption of digital marketing solutions to deliver 24/7, always-on engagement, ensuring seamless customer service without sacrificing the user experience. Customers in 2021 expect connections with their favorite brands to be instantaneous, personalized and easily accessible on their preferred channels. This is a permanent change, and brands must adapt their strategies to provide greater customer personalization than ever before.

Kristina: Where do you see retail going over the next 6-12 months?

Stephanie: Over the next 6 months to a year, we anticipate the retail industry returning to somewhat normal levels of activity, as do nearly 60% of Americans. Following the rise in digital services, it's expected that retailers and CRE owners will continue to invest in these offerings. ICSC's B2B survey found roughly 50% of retailers and CRE owners have invested in technology and digital infrastructure - and as many have found success with click-and-collect and other strategies, we expect these to remain a huge factor moving forward. Additionally, we anticipate a continued rebound in retail sales as vaccinations increase and the pandemic subsides.

Kristina: Matt, what about marketing?

Matt: The biggest shift will be to two-way conversational marketing, the process of activating two-way channels (i.e. SMS, or messaging apps such as Instagram or Facebook Messenger) to support marketing campaigns and programs so customers can respond directly to brands. With a few clicks, customers can open chat sessions with brands to customize offers, shop for the right product and resolve customer service inquiries. It's been a step in the right direction to see brands meeting customers where they are in their SMS inboxes. However, without allowing for a true back and forth between the customer and the brand, marketers aren't getting the most out of customers' most-used mobile channels. It's time for brands to surrender some control in the marketing process by incorporating consumers' specific needs into personalized conversations and allowing them to drive the back-and-forth.

Kristina: What implications do you see, moving forward?

Matt: Despite the evolution of consumer preferences when it comes to how they access products, services and information, brands are still relying on one-way, high-frequency "spray and pray" campaigns to drive conversions. It is critical for brands to change their mindset from one-way push to conversational, as relinquishing some control to customers can in turn create stronger relationships and yearslong loyalty, bringing this new kind of omnichannel engagement and customized, two-way communications to the mainstream.

Stephanie: Moving forward, we anticipate the convergence of digital and physical retail to continue. According to ICSC's B2B survey respondents, there will also be a rise in click-and-collect demand. Over the next 12 months, 62% of retailers expect an increase in the number of online orders to be fulfilled in-store, 61% expect an increase in retail floor space to be used for warehousing, 63% an increase in parking lot space for online order fulfillment, and 61% plan to increase staffing dedicated to accommodating online order fulfillment. We also believe safety measures at retail and CRE locations will continue including social distancing, click-and-collect options, hand sanitizing stations, and more.

Our recent economic survey uncovered 82% of consumers expect businesses to continue health and safety precautions. Therefore, despite mask mandates being lifted in several states and vaccine rollout fully underway, retailers must still prioritize safety to draw consumers back.

Tags: advertising, covid-19 business, covid-19 trends, ecommerce, ICSC, mobile marketing, pandemic marketing, Sinch for Marketing

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