Charles Darwin once said “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change”.
The pandemic has brought utter disruption and from a business and customer perspective, everything has changed. It is critical that we learn to adapt to this change and get to know the ‘new customer’.
During the periods of restrictions customers turned their focus to the home and so the pandemic benefitted the hardware industry in the short term. The geographical restrictions meant customers could only shop within their locality or online. As the country opens up again, the new customer is in charge and holds the power in the retail relationship. Customers can travel wherever they like within the country to find what they are looking for.
Other channels are continuing to capture market share meaning consumer choice is expanding enormously, far beyond Ireland, making it difficult for retailers to hold on to their customers. One clear impact of the pandemic is uncertainty. We don’t know how long it will all last. In fact, nothing at all is certain which makes it more difficult for businesses to change. This uncertainty plays a leading role in customer thinking and leads them to change how they spend. Behavioural economics tells us that uncertainty can lead to either overspending or reduced but continuous spending. In either scenario, customers will be more conscious of how much they’re
spending and on what, and will look for quality products that will last, so value must be a central focus for retailers.
Humans are led by emotions and customer experience is a key way to differentiate your brand from its competitors. Here are a few areas that we know will help to improve business from a CX perspective:
Consumers perception of value has changed. Value isn’t about the lowest price, it combines price, quality and convenience. According to Nielsen, shoppers now want to pay less for more and will search until they find a suitable solution. This search effort shows us just how important value is to them. Retailers need to demonstrate good value to their customers. You might not offer the lowest price but combined with expert advice for
example, this could be calculated overall as good value to the customer.
Despite the pandemic forcing many businesses to bravely adapt to other channels such as click and collect and online trading we now have to offer the channels our customers want.
The online experience has to be convenient for them. We recently went in search of timber to build a deck. It amazed me how many websites we visited that didn’t have up to date information. We’d then telephone to enquire about a specific product only to be told they no longer stock it. It was hard work for us just to get the basic information. Treat your website as if it is your store. It should require as much effort as a physical store would. Products should be easy to find along with relevant information e.g. specifications, price and availability. Customers are trawling through many retailers so if you want to stay on the consideration list the customer
journey has to offer convenience.
Stronger Customer Connections
With the many options available and the lengths customers are willing to go to in order to find what they are looking for, retailers must build stronger connections with customers. On our timber buying journey, having narrowed down the search, there were big differences between the suppliers we rang. Some just answered our queries, sounding busy and nothing more. Others were fantastic, asking us questions on what we
needed it for, making recommendations and giving us advice. The supplier we chose was more expensive, but they made us feel like they valued our business and were experts in their field. It’s really that simple.
Offering customers online consultations is a great way to bridge the gap between online and instore channels. This allows customers to experience the convenience of shopping online, yet still being able to avail of instant expert advice from your employees. Providing an excellent combination for maximising sales.
The future may be unclear, but customers are in the driving seat and to achieve success retailers will need to evolve into true omni-channel players or smaller niche-focused specialists, with a heavy focus on the customer experience at all times.
This Business Support article featured in the September/October 2021 issue of The Hardware Journal.