To say that COVID-19 has changed the way we do business would be to make a gross understatement. From the time it hit American shores, it not only upended the way we do business and think about business, but it has completely revolutionized the way we plan future business operations, as well. Despite the virus nearly shutting down all forms of “non-essential” business, small businesses have managed to eke out an existence by pivoting to remain as present as possible with their customers. Now that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and we might just be emerging from the chaos of COVID-19, it’s time to examine consumer trends now emerging that impact the small businesses of tomorrow.
Alternative Forms of Payment and Purchasing
If you thought the economy was consumer-focused already, COVID-19 kicked it into high gear. Due to the requirement of social distancing, many companies were forced to not only offer alternative forms of payment but had to change the way purchasing occurred, as well. Payment online and in-store pick-up quickly morphed into curbside pick-up. Some stores have their employees walk purchased goods out to a customer that is waiting in their car. While this need will likely diminish once restrictions are lifted, you can expect the demand for this service to continue for populations such as pregnant and nursing mothers, the elderly, mothers with young children, and customers dealing with a handicap.
New Forms of Customer Engagement
Before COVID-19, engaging with customers through email, text, and social media was merely a good idea. Now, engaging with customers through alternative methods is just as “essential” as the essential workers at grocery stores. Customers need to be engaged and communicated with using all forms of contact they have available to interact with during this time. After restrictions lift and life gets a bit lighter, we’ll see customers who will still want a text when their food is ready for pick-up, receipts emailed to them, and instant messages about changes to store hours. The instantaneous nature of communicating during this unprecedented time won’t go away simply because the virus does.
Better, Faster Shipping
Not only will customers expect better payment options and more communication, but they’ll also look for faster shipping options from brands they know and love. While Amazon sales have skyrocketed, regular brick and mortar stores have turned to shipping their products to keep afloat. Once things return to a semblance of normalcy, stores can expect their in-person traffic to increase. However, they should also expect continued customer demands for better and faster shipping options. Less wait time for less cost will be the new expectation. Previously free shipping in return for a five-and-a-half-day wait time was the norm. Customers now expect products to arrive at their door in as little as four days without having to pay extra for expedited shipping.
Old Favorites are Still Favorites
One trend that has stayed consistent throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and is on track to continue is the degree to which customers stay with brands and companies they know. This is excellent news for small businesses. Loyal customers who shop with you regularly should continue to do so as restrictions lift. As the economy returns, small businesses can expect their sales to increase as customers return to their old favorites and invest in the brands and stores they love. For stores that have not been able to do much business during the pandemic, when they open again, they should expect to see loyal customers returning to help infuse new life into a struggling economy.