One of the biggest questions facing retail as we move toward a post-pandemic landscape is whether the consumer behavior changes that we’ve seen during the pandemic will continue for the foreseeable future.
While the future’s predictability is at an all-time low right now, there are some early indications that consumers will not immediately revert to old shopping habits anytime soon.
Online Ordering — For Everything
Indications coming from consumer behavior in China, as it has released lockdown orders, show that consumers will continue a hard shift toward buying online. It can be difficult to compare consumer behavior in China to other regions, just because consumers there are already far more inclined to use their mobile phones for all kinds of shopping.
But online ordering of groceries grew by triple digits during the lockdowns, and has stayed high as consumers hesitate to dive back into places where lots of people could potentially gather.
The behavior continues for nonessential retail as well. Destination shopping locations have seen store traffic continue to be down, and much of the drop has been made up in online shopping. Even when consumers aren’t buying online, they are visiting the website to make sure what they want is in the store they’re planning on going to, in order to avoid an unnecessary trip.
Online transparency into in-store inventory is going to continue to be crucial to all kinds of retailers for the foreseeable future.
Buy Online, Pickup At Curbside (BOPAC)
A new term has entered the retail vocabulary: BOPAC, or “buy online, pickup at curbside.” This used to apply only to groceries, but it is about to become one of the most important terms in all of retail. Many local governments are only allowing nonessential retail stores to open if they can operate exclusively through BOPAC (or at least the PAC part of it — call-in orders could potentially work too).
One type of retailer where this will be transformative is the mall-based retailer, particularly those that have no outside-facing entrances. These mall stores have largely been left out of omnichannel evolution beyond ship-from-store because driving to a mall, parking and walking through the mall to a retail store is not conducive to the convenience that is normally suggested by buy online, pickup in store.
However, malls are places designed to attract crowds and to encourage people to gather and stay – and these are not positive attributes in a COVID-19 world. A Westfield mall in Australia is already offering to organize curbside pickup for its retail tenants, and it is likely that many other malls will follow suit. They may not be able to let people in any time soon, which means it will become critical to mall-based stores’ survival to make sure their products can get out to consumers — even if “out” means getting to the curb.
Finally, one area that has taken off during the pandemic that looks likely to stay is livestream selling. This was a slam dunk in China, because WeChat comes with a commerce-enabled platform for business that lets companies unleash their store sales associates as affiliate or commission sellers. Western social media platforms aren’t that sophisticated yet, though Instagram comes close.
But with consumers likely to stay shy about going to stores, putting store associates out on social media, selling locally and to their network of customers, is a powerful way to bring the store to customers. It may not be the full savior it has been in China – but this is one overseas selling activity that is likely there to stay. And is something that we may start to see here in the States.