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How about this past year, eh? Totally normal, nothing to see here, just a global pandemic, political upheaval, social movements, and a shaky vaccine launch. Ecommerce merchants have been feeling the impressive shock, the digital ebb and flow, since March 2020. The “new normal” we talked about at the pandemic’s beginning has arrived and continues to evolve as new consumer behaviors take shape.

As your online store has adopted new tools and tactics to meet increased demand for service, inventory, and options, your customers have evolved as well. In one short (and incredibly long) year, your customers aren’t who they used to be.

In this at-home digital-first lifestyle, there’s now less of a divide between shoppers who prefer in-store or online, and the pandemic has ushered in so many new online shoppers that the chasm between those two parties has severely diminished. Ecommerce sales rose 44% year-over-year in 2020. Even parts of the world that came late to the ecommerce revolution have seen monumental growth in online retail.

But with so many new consumers making the ecommerce shift, the big question for online sellers is “What do we do with them all?” Brands need to evolve their strategies based on new ecommerce consumers, new pandemic-borne behaviors, and the new normal we’re living in. With the extreme changes your customers have gone through, brands need to follow suit and meet their customers with their new expectations.

How the Pandemic Changed Consumer Behaviors

Before there was the huge shift to digital shopping, there were two main camps: online or in person. People were pretty clear-cut on which they preferred. In-person shoppers wanted to be able to touch and try out a product before they purchased it and see all of their options right before their eyes. 

Online shoppers, on the other hand, loved the convenience of shopping from home and having their purchases delivered right to their doorstep. And with seemingly the entirety of the world’s wares at their fingertips, they felt like they had more options online and were comfortable evaluating their options from the comfort of their own home.

However, once the pandemic brought in this new wave of ecommerce growth, everything changed. Not only did more first-time shoppers appear practically overnight, but two-thirds of shoppers say they’ll continue to avoid public places even after restrictions are lifted. In addition to new safety habits, shopping habits have changed as well; 75% of shoppers are also trying out new brands, products, and even new ways of shopping altogether.

These new behaviors were, essentially, a forced byproduct of the pandemic, however, not all is terrible. With new online-first strategies being implemented basically overnight, consumers are discovering that they actually enjoy these new experiences. Seventy percent of first-time online grocery shoppers found the experience enjoyable. A similar trend happened with the fitness industry—65% of those who tried digital exercise machines say they will continue to do so even after gyms reopen. These trends are likely here to stay even after COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror.

People have also changed how they shop as well. Obviously, in-store perusal has shifted to online scrolling. But aside from where shoppers begin their customer journeys, the biggest difference is in how they end. Curbside pickup has become hugely popular in the past year, having grown at an astonishing rate of 208%. Another option that’s gained popularity has been to buy online, and pick up in-store (BOPIS). In a recent survey, 68% of US consumers have stated they’ve made multiple BOPIS orders. 

The allure to these new options might be different for everyone, but some big draws are:

  • Saving time by simply scheduling a quick pickup
  • Easy budgeting without the temptation of impulsive buys
  • Personal safety as vaccinations aren’t fully distributed yet

Four Ways to Evolve Alongside Your Customers

It’s crucial that brands pay attention to these changing behaviors and rising trends if they want to continue thriving in years to come. Adapting to new times will show consumers that you actually care about their changing wants and needs, and stores that don’t adapt will be seen as clinging to a past that is, at this point, far gone.

1. Mimic In-store Experiences

Think about what your customers loved about in-store shopping and try to replicate those experiences on the digital shelf. One favorite that direct-to-consumer ecommerce brands can replicate is browsing. Make your site easy to navigate, suggest options based on shopping patterns and products visited, and organize your products as they would be in a brick-and-mortar store. 

2. Don’t Underestimate the Power of Personalization

Blasting the same email to your entire network may get a couple clicks, but it’ll also annoy the most people (and probably get the most unsubscribers) and cause a heap of unsubscribes—irrelevance is the top reason 43% of shoppers will opt out of your email marketing.

Personalizing emails based on shopping behaviors will delight your customer with these new online experiences they previously never had. Trigger these emails based on the products they’re browsing, shopping frequency, and now, pickup preferences.

3. Make the transition to online shopping as easy as possible. 

The last thing you want is for shoppers to end up hating online shopping and wishing for a return to in-store, especially if they didn’t previously shop with you. Create the best experiences at every point of the shopping journey. This includes investing more time and resources into essentials like site optimization, frictionless checkout, transparent pricing, and at-the-ready customer support.

4. Turn Post-purchase into a Favorite Experience

Don’t neglect the post-purchase part of the customer journey. Unlike in-store purchases where the customer engagement ends as they exit the store, ecommerce requires care and attention to be paid between online checkout, delivery, and second purchase. 

In the transition to online, customers expect more communication and engagement from brands than ever. The second after the checkout, customers start to expect thank yous, personalized offers, and proactive communication about the status of their recent order. 

With Route post-purchase platform, ecommerce brands can instantly connect with customers and give them transparent real-time notifications about what their package is doing, where it is on its journey to them, and if any loss or delay happens along the way. As the rest of your processes have undergone a pandemic makeover, your post-purchase package tracking experience should be no different. 

Pandemic-borne customers crave more digital engagement with brands since in-person experiences have been waysided. Finding engaging post-purchase solutions is a way for your store to differentiate itself and stand out with customers while staying top of mind and providing a best-in-class experience.

Alongside tracking, post-purchase also includes how customers are treated should any issues show up. If an item is BOA (busted on arrival), the return or refund experience can make or break customer loyalty. Too often, brands forget to treat their customers with white-glove service after they’ve clicked the buy button and input their credit card details.

Route’s fast in-app issue resolution ensures most products are automatically replaced, leading to faster shipping and happier customers—a nearly instantaneous experience similar to heading to the customer service counter in the store. Better experiences with easy access to support and claims if something goes wrong, gets stolen, or breaks can improve the experience and bring your customers back time and time again.

Your Pandemic Customers Are Here to Stay, So Should Your Strategies

It’s critical to meet your customers where they are as times and people change. Remaining out of the digital equation can kill brands during these digital times. Make sure that you not only serve your online customers but also the ones that are new to your brand and the online experience in general.

The pandemic has changed most ways of life, and we’re all a bit tired of hearing about it. However, with new customers, new behaviors, and new expectations when it comes to your ecommerce store, strategies to meet the new needs of all cannot be pushed under the rug as the pandemic subsides. Pandemic-borne ecommerce consumers are here to stay, and now is the time to look ahead to thriving in the next iteration of ecommerce. 

It’s critical to meet your customers where they are as times and people change. Remaining out of the digital equation can kill brands during these online-first times. Make sure that you not only serve your online customers but also the ones that are new to your brand and the online experience in general. Let’s all look to the silver lining, continue to push how great an experience ecommerce can offer, and imagine the opportunities that are still waiting to be discovered.