Consumer appetite for digital 'reshaping retail’s new normal'

Coronavirus concerns are accelerating consumers’ demand for digital, according to a new report from Periscope by McKinsey.

The consultancy firm's analytics solution surveyed more than 2,500 consumers in the UK, US, France and Germany, revealing that the appetite for digital is surging with no signs of slowing down, brand loyalty remains vulnerable, and there is a new premium on safety and convenience.

In addition, the report showed a significant gap between what consumers want in shopping experience and what retailers are actually providing.

Whether it’s digital tools such as screen browsing, easy mobile payments, or ordering online with in-store pickup, shoppers want technology to elevate their in-store experience.

Yet more than 35 per cent of shoppers reported zero exposure to even the most talked-about or basic in-store technologies, such as digital screen browsing and mobile or contactless payments.

In the second run of the research in June, consumers were then asked which forms of experience they would like to see offered by retailers in the near future.

In the UK, mobile app orders were top with 34 per cent, followed by mobile payments at 28 per cent and self-identification at checkout with 24 per cent.

In the four countries surveyed, 40 per cent of consumers said they tried new brands or made purchases with a new retailer between March and June. Loyalty was particularly vulnerable in the UK, where 44 per cent of consumers made the switch.

Consumers’ top reasons for making the switch across all four markets included competitive pricing and empathetic retailers that support their employees during the pandemic, with initiatives such as increasing wages, giving extra sick leave, or paying for lost wages.

More than half of respondents said they want stores to follow guidelines to help keep shoppers and employees safe, such as the installation of plexiglass at the checkout, the use of masks and availability of hand sanitisers - while 59 per cent said it’s important for stores not to be too crowded.

Consumers being able to find what they’re looking for quickly and easily increased in importance in every country (by 14 per cent in the UK) since March, and was ranked among the top three browsing priorities.

In terms of e-commerce, the importance of informative product descriptions and clear product images - at a time when consumers couldn’t see, feel or test products in a store - ranked as one of the top three factors for online browsing experience in all the countries surveyed. UK consumers led the charge with 70 per cent of post-shutdown respondents ranking this as a key consideration, up 23 per cent from pre-shutdown.

“While disruption and fierce competition are certainly nothing new for retailers, the pace and intensity of COVID-19-related change and their effect on consumers is unprecedented,” said Brian Ruwadi, senior partner and global leader of Periscope by McKinsey.

“As retail leaders plot how they will bounce back, they also need to look beyond the immediate challenges and issues. In parallel to quickly recovering revenue, it is critical to engage in long-term planning and accelerate future growth.”

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