Forever-Changed Buying Patterns Mean Rethinking Customer Loyalty

It has been less than six months since the pandemic upended thousands of businesses across multiple industries. With so many people confined to their homes, consumer buying patterns shifted nearly overnight. To survive, brands and retailers were forced to elevate their customer experience capabilities, launching digital transformation initiatives that allowed them to keep their business going even as foot traffic dropped to nearly zero. 

Online ordering and curbside pick-up became an essential service for everyone from major retailers like Home Depot and Target to restaurants and small specialty shops. Bookstores began delivering orders without a delivery fee. Even car dealerships have had to rethink their entire sales model, with many moving the full customer experience online. 

Consumer buying patterns and customer loyalty trends: Embracing the new normal

While these business transitions were driven by the pandemic, the new consumer buying trends — and the business measures put in place to adapt to them — will likely become a permanent fixture even as the economy enters a recovery phase. 

My mom, an octogenarian, is a prime example of this shift in consumer buying patterns. At the start of the outbreak, she completely changed how she buys groceries. She now orders everything she needs online from Aldi, drives to her designated parking slot, has her grocery bags placed in the back of her car, and then drives home. It’s so much easier. She’s never going back to her old routine.   

And she’s not alone. In March, more than a third of U.S. households used an online grocery delivery or pick-up service, with 26% of those shoppers using the service for the first time. More than half of the grocery shoppers surveyed said they were now more likely to buy online because of the pandemic. Shopify reports 26% of the brick-and-mortar merchants on its platform in English-speaking geographies are using some form of in-store/curbside pick-up and delivery solutions — a significant jump from the 2% who were using them at the end of February. 

This underscores the steps retailers are taking to embrace new levels of customer service in their efforts to maintain customer loyalty. To keep customer loyalty intact, brands, retailers and SMBs alike will not be able to dial back customer service tactics without risking customer churn. It’s likely that online purchasing will continue to be an important channel for consumer buying going forward. Brands and organizations that haven’t historically been easily available online should consider adapting to this channel or it may be difficult for them to maintain current customers or bring in new ones. Brands may want to consider new ways to reach audiences online, depending on target audience demographics.

Making it known to customers or potential customers that dealing with a brand offers safety and security both for the consumer and their employees may allay fears of shopping either in store or dealing with the brand online. Brands that keep their willingness to adapt to customer safety concerns as well as product needs should be positioned to maintain the trust of their consumers as well as sales in the longer term.

Look to your transactional data and customer insights to help shape the experience

Brands need consumer insights not only to compete, but to meet and go beyond customer expectations. Unfortunately, consumer buying patterns have shifted so dramatically this year that it is difficult to determine current trends and virtually impossible to forecast future trends. These shifts have created barriers for marketers managing customer loyalty programs, but there are valuable insights that can be curated from customer interactions.

How much are your customers spending (or not spending) on purchases? What channels are they using to connect and make purchases? How are they making purchases and how often? Credit cards? Debit cards? Payment apps? These insights married with deterministic data can paint a broad picture around consumer buying patterns, giving brands the ability to tailor a customer experience based on rapidly changing customer preferences.

Double down on personalization, and meet consumers digitally where they are

The new world of customer loyalty means brands will likely have to double-down on their customer engagement strategies to provide a targeted one-to-one personalized experience. With the demise of cookies and the shifting buying patterns due to Covid-19, digital marketing is going to be a higher priority for marketers. 

While cookies track browser behavior temporarily, a mobile ad ID (MAID) which tracks usage across all apps and hashed emails and ties back to the consumer anonymously gives marketers the ability to build out an identity and the full profile of the consumer. Through these critical digital identity markers, brands can evolve their personalization strategy by creating a plan to engage with customers wherever they are within the varying degrees of interest level and buying patterns. Layering on segmentation of consumers by location, demographics, behaviors, lifestyles, or media usage gives marketers the ability to tailor the messaging for each segment and make relevant offers where and how consumers wish to receive them. 

Mary Jo Yafchak is Vice President, Data Strategy, at Infutor.

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