Has our consumer behavior changed forever?

John Kårikstad
During the lockdown in 2020, those who had been skeptical of shopping online were almost forced to make their purchases digitally. Has our consumer behavior changed forever?

We prefer to shop in a “bricks and mortar” store

We all know a person who is skeptical about shopping online. For example, my mother prefers to shop in a “bricks and mortar” store where she can see and touch items, and she really appreciates help from the employees in her favorite clothing store or pharmacy.

She is by no means alone in that. According to a global survey by Salesforce, 65 percent say they prefer to go to a store when buying a product for the first time.

Most of the survey respondents also say that they prefer a physical transaction because they can see and touch items, get an item immediately and get good service. When the Corona crisis peaked for a few months, it put clear limits on our ability to shop the way we like best -- in our local grocery store or our favorite clothing shops.

How do we create great digital customer service?

What did not change during this period was the demand for good customer experiences. The key issue quickly and clearly became apparent to stores: "How do we ensure that the majority of Norwegian consumers who are skeptical of online shopping get a digital shopping experience that is at least as good as the physical one?"

The global Corona pandemic left many businesses struggling to meet the growing digital demand that arose. It was worst for the businesses that were overly dependent on their physical stores and had not really begun providing satisfactory online customer service.

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Combine the physical with the digital

Retail, for example, is an industry that was hit really hard and was forced to adapt to the new digital business norm. If this industry is to succeed digitally in the future, it must ensure that it is able to combine the power of both physical and digital purchasing. Retailers must ensure that all the knowledge their store employees have is made available to customers digitally, in order to give them a more personalized and enhanced shopping experience.

In addition, digital evolution is also required, including new digital platforms, better utilization of existing data, and comprehensive modernization of the current IT architecture. In this way, stores can ensure that my mother not only gets good service when she shops online for the first time but that she and everyone else continue to shop online in the future.

Why should consumers go back to the physical stores?

In a crisis, tough priorities are always necessary. Now it is up to the stores to exploit the long-term benefits of the decisions they have made.The choices they make today will be crucial for sales and results for many years to come.

The online pharmacy Farmasiet.no is an example of a player that has succeeded in this endeavour and has experienced enormous revenue growth in the wake of the Corona crisis. In March, Farmasiet estimated that it had increased turnover by 200 percent and in the following months it experienced a tripling in sales of prescription medicines.

At the same time, recent figures from Statistics Norway show that Norwegians' online shopping has increased by 6.8 percent since last year, which indicates that many other online stores have experienced a similar development. Customers who previously insisted on getting all their medicines and prescriptions from the pharmacy store now get equally good customer service online, and they will in all probability continue to shop online after the pandemic.Once they have discovered how easy and convenient it is to shop online, why should they go back to the physical stores again?

In other words, their consumption patterns may have changed permanently. It is only a matter of time before other players in the retail trade experience a similar development. But that of course depends on them managing to create satisfactory digital customer experiences.

Originally published in Dagens Næringsliv, 25.08.20 (Norwegian)

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