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Retail post-pandemic: How retailers can solidify customer trust in-store now

Transparency and openness are at the heart of any trust-based relationship, and customer relationships are no different. Brand trust is everything in retail; it helps influence about 70% of all purchases. The trusting customer spends more money, more frequently. 

The COVID-19 global pandemic has caused a rift between brick-and-mortar retail locations and customers though, with the general public social distancing and avoiding crowded spaces unless absolutely necessary. After the trend reverses and the number of cases diminish, the public will be left with a sense of uncertainty and hesitancy, and will likely take longer to resume normal activities and behaviors. 

Certain consumer behaviors in place now may even become permanent in retail post-pandemic. Shoppers may: 

  • Be more cognizant about planning their trips
  • Prioritize “essential” shopping
  • Frequent stores when they are least crowded
  • Prefer contactless payment options 

In the midst of today’s public health crisis, the retailers who take proactive steps to gain and sustain consumer trust will be the benefactors of changing habits and shifting market share. 

What’s the Current Pulse on Consumer Trust Amid Coronavirus?

Shoppers say they miss certain aspects of the in-store experience—browsing leisurely, receiving recommendations from store employees, and socializing while out and about. Yet, there is still a good deal of fear, as coronavirus cases continue to surge.   

  • Most consumers (70%) reported that the pandemic was affecting how they shop. 
  • Consumers are most hesitant about buying apparel, cosmetics, and shoes in-store.
  • 26% of shoppers say they will “wait two weeks” after shops reopen to venture out.
  • Eighty-eight percent of consumers are still taking precautions when shopping in-store.
  • 49% of consumers feel comfortable in small, local stores vs. 35% at department stores.

As prospects are shaken out of their normal routines, they are adapting and trying new retail options. Some people are shopping online for the first time or much more frequently than usual. 

Ways to Increase Consumer Trust in Retail Now and Post-Pandemic

Delivering on your core business promises is always an important practice, but now more than ever, businesses will need to showcase their commitment to consumer safety expectations and preferences once they reopen. 

Below are five key ways to foster consumer trust and loyalty: 

Implement Visible Social Distancing Policies

  • Install shields at cashier stations. Visible indications of your commitment to both customers’ and employees’ well-being helps establish consumer trust. 90% of shoppers say it’s important that brands take care of their workers (even in hard times), and nearly half (49%) said whether or not companies take care of employees was a “top five” purchasing consideration.
  • Help guide shoppers with floor decals. While you can’t control shoppers’ behaviors, you can make it easier for your customers to gauge how far apart they should be standing and how traffic should flow. Floor decals and clear signage can boost trust.
  • Enforce safety protocols. Mandating that all customers wear masks is a touchy subject in some locations. In others, it has become standard practice. When concerning customer trust though, your staff should set a good example and wear personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, face shields, and/or gloves. Be sure every employee is adequately trained, supervised, and has access to a proper-fitting equipment.

Communicate Your COVID-19 Sanitation Efforts

  • Clean the store at a high-frequency. In the past, retailers typically performed their sanitation procedures in the background, nearly invisible to consumers. Stores would look pristine, but there wouldn’t be someone wiping down the register, washing a window, or vacuuming a carpet to distract from the customer experience. However, in light of recent events, these actions can provide some measure of trust and comfort to anxious consumers. The Retail Council of Canada recommends sanitizing every four hours, though many shoppers say they’d like to see hourly cleanings of high-contact surfaces. How often you sanitize largely depends upon your work environment. Whole Foods has cashiers wiping down registers every 15 minutes.
  • Post your sanitization checklist. More than half of Americans say that a publicly displayed list of sanitation measures for common areas with a continually updated completion status would “increase trust and confidence in the business.” Shoppers said an hourly updated checklist of cleaning and disinfecting protocols would make them feel safer. A free database of printable COVID-19 checklists can be found here.
  • Hold and adequately mark all returned merchandise. Over a quarter of customers say holding returned clothing or merchandise for at least 48 hours would increase trust. Color coding returned clothing based on how long ago the item was returned is one method retailers are using to track items. Baby boomers (28%) and female shoppers (30%) were more likely to value this type of intervention.

Take Care of Your Most Vulnerable Customers

  • Advertise early hours for high-risk shoppers. Senior citizens are among the most vulnerable population in this pandemic. Many stores are offering “early shopping hours” exclusive to the 60+ crowd, disabled, immuno-compromised, and pregnant. Depending on how many vulnerable customers you have, you may opt for a daily frequency or designate two days a week for early hours like Costco. Some stores also have “Hero Hours” on the weekend for health care workers and first responders. 
  • Allow advance-booking for fitting rooms. Over a quarter of shoppers say they would feel more comfortable booking a fully sterilized fitting room in advance. In particular, Gen Z (32%) and male customers (28%) gravitated toward this trust enhancement.
  • Offer same-day home delivery. Pharmacies in particular have expanded their same-day home delivery services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, other retailers from a wide variety of industries have begun offering this option to compete with Amazon. 

Offer Contactless Checkout

  • owner of retail store wears mask and holds sign that the business is open post-pandemic. Encourage shoppers to purchase without cash. There is no medical evidence to suggest cash transmits disease. Nevertheless, many consumers simply feel touching cash and change is an unnecessary safety risk in the current retail environment. As a result, coronavirus is propelling the shift to a cashless society. Credit cards, debit cards, contactless cards, and mobile wallets—like Apple Pay or Google Pay—are popular  options.  
  • Offer “curbside concierge” service. Remember, it’s not just retailers that customers feel distrustful of—it’s the other customers! Retailers can control many facets of their physical locations and their operations, but they cannot fully control how customers are going to behave. Offering alternative fulfillment options like frictionless curbside pickup is one way to foster trust.
  • Pursue mobile-scanning technology. Analysts believe mobile scanning is the way of the future. Rather than operate a self-checkout where hundreds of hands are touching the screen, shoppers will use their phones as scanners to checkout and pay. From a retailer’s perspective, the technology is easy and affordable to launch, especially since most shoppers already bring their phones to the store with them. 

Work With a Partner Consumers Already Trust 

  • Engage shoppers during the pre-trip consideration phase. Shopkick is a third-party mobile shopping app shoppers already know and love. When shoppers are deciding where to shop or spend, they search our partnering retailers to see who is offering reward points in exchange for their engagement and loyalty.  
  • Reward loyal shoppers with points. Shoppers earn points (“kicks”) by interacting with branded content in the app, whether it’s flipping through a curated lookbook, watching a branded video, making an online purchase, or scanning and purchasing items in-store. Kicks can later be redeemed for a gift card of their choosing. 
  • Bridge online and offline rewards. Shopkickers who feel uncomfortable visiting a brick-and-mortar store to shop in-person can make their purchases online through our mobile eCommerce marketplace (and even earn bonus kicks!). In recognition of more customers shopping both on and offline, we are pleased to offer an omni-channel loyalty program.

Our research suggests most people are, in fact, still visiting stores amid the coronavirus pandemic, though they may be visiting only one store per trip or purchasing inventory at less-frequented venues like dollar stores and convenience marts.

Planning for retail in a post-pandemic environment may not be clear, but you can get ahead of the learning curve with a new partnership. Read our success stories or contact Shopkick to learn how to increase consumer trust and loyalty in the second half of 2020.

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