Digital customer journey in a post-COVID world

  • Amritha Viswanathan
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  • Published Date : 24 August , 2020
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  • Updated Date : 24 May , 2021
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    • 6 min read

Most of us are easing into the new normal, but we can't help but wonder if we will go back to our way of life before the COVID-19 outbreak struck us. While some countries are quickly recovering from the virus attack, it is far from over for a few as they are still grappling with the virus. The pandemic has caused many organizations and industries to suffer as companies are wondering how to improve customer experience in the new normal.

The digital customer journey has changed rapidly ever since the pandemic, transforming their purchase pathways. The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented event; however, businesses should be prepared for a return to 'normal,’ such as adapting to current circumstances and understanding the ever-evolving online consumer behavior and customer needs. 

The spending sentiments of consumers have been different across different categories. While the demand has significantly increased for daily essentials, at-home entertainment, healthcare, and education, there has been a dip in need for travel, outdoor recreation, real estate, and automobiles. With the growing income uncertainty, consumers are wary about where they spend their money and how they spend it.

Research points out that the fundamental themes will create different types of behavioural changes in the digital customer journey, some long-lasting than the others. The themes include:

  •  Social distancing
    The practice of social distancing has decreased the number of visits to public places by 85% during the pandemic.
  • Health and hygiene
    Personal health and hygiene have also been a rising concern to many. 49% of consumers intend to invest more in vitamins and healthcare supplements.
  • Income uncertainty
    With layoffs and pay cuts hitting an all-time high, there is a lot of income uncertainty concerning spending amongst the consumers. 54% of the consumers expect their overall household income to reduce in the next six months.Based on the themes mentioned above, eleven trends have emerged that would profoundly impact the digital customer journey while making purchases in the new normal. These trends can be bucketed into the following categories:

    • Reversal of past trends
    • Acceleration of Existing Trends
    • New Habits
  • Reversal of past trendsThese pertain to a change that has occurred from how the consumers have behaved in the past. These trends are likely to last until the recovery period. They include the following:
    • Bringing the outside inside
      Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, over 77% of the consumers showed an inclination towards experiences which include travel, entertainment, indulgence, adventure, and personal development. With social distancing, indoors are being the ‘new outdoors’ with conventional outdoor activities being experienced inside homes. For instance, people are anticipating the return of this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament later this year virtually. Although not being held in a stadium packed with cricket fans, it brings a great opportunity for brands to tap into IPL advertising through OTT platforms like Hotstar. Similarly, due to the pandemic, outdoor movements will continue to be restricted, especially in crowded spaces like cricket stadiums. This will make consumers to be more apprehensive towards stepping out and experiencing conventional outdoor activities. The change in consumer behaviour brings the opportunity for brands to adapt their marketing during COVID-19 by customizing their services for in-home consumption.
    • Trust in brand above all else
      Consumers are gravitating to brands that they can trust, focusing on the origin of the product and the brand's response to a crisis. This online consumer behaviour provides equal opportunities for all brands to build trust, strengthen, and deepen their relationships with their consumers.
    • Trading down and bargain hunting
      Markets may witness trading down in the short term as micro market opportunities would emerge. Income uncertainty has created a mixed sentiment between planned reduction and an increase in spending across categories. The expectations of deals and discounts are one of the key reasons to increase expenditure. Companies should explore value for money offers like discounts on volumes and loyalty to improve customer experience. A majority of those who have decided to reduce spending prefer buying cheaper variants of the product or consider other brands. Showcasing the value for money for the products will help win this segment.
    • Shopping for utility
      With the onset of the pandemic, people are becoming more conscious of what they purchase, thereby making more utility-led purchases. Prior to the viral outbreak, the purchases across categories were primarily driven by celebratory and experimental needs. However, due to the growing income uncertainty, this trend has changed in the current scenario, and purchases are mostly triggered by functional needs. Marketers could design their brand messaging around in-demand use cases to reach their target audiences and use interactive features like AR filters for a personalized digital customer journey.

    Acceleration of existing trends

    Since consumer behaviour was already moving towards these trends, they have the potential to become permanent shifts that are linked to positive reinforcements. Consumer behaviour shifts include:

    • Embracing digital services and experiences
      An increase in the consumption of news, social media, games, and entertainment has been witnessed across digital platforms as people are spending more time indoors. With the growing need to stay connected, entertained, and well informed, online consumer behaviour has skyrocketed!Over 3 billion consumers have actively been using Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, and Messenger every month. The demand to connect virtually has increased as voice and video calls have more than doubled in Whatsapp and Messenger across most affected places by COVID-19.Consumers are also seen embracing the digital medium in other historically offline categories like education, healthcare and fitness. An effective marketing strategy would be to leverage on this change in behaviour by creating strong, impactful content during the lockdown. With digital payment platforms also playing an important role in the digital customer journey, brands can pivot their businesses online by using the digital medium extensively to attract and engage with customers.
    • Accelerated adoption of e-commerce and O2O
      In a survey conducted among six countries which included China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines, the surge in online consumer behaviour for essentials like household care, personal care, fresh food, packaged goods and healthcare has been the highest in India. Indian consumers are expected to spend higher on E-commerce for traditionally offline categories as well.
    • Strive for health and wellness
      The COVID-19 outbreak has made consumers more conscious about their health and wellness. There has been a 120% spike in online searches for health and immunity.This presents an interesting opportunity for brands across categories to emerge as leaders, demonstrate thought advocacy, and enter lucrative adjacencies in health and wellness. By doing so, brands can engage and attract consumers with tailored messaging around health and wellness, thereby improving customer experience.
    • Rise of "Smart Shopper"
      The prominence of research and 'smart shopping' is expected to grow even post the pandemic. Researching before the purchase will become more critical due to an increase in health awareness and caution around spending. Therefore, it would be ideal for brands to create a digital customer journey that is helpful to this 'smart shopper'. By enabling friction-less digital discovery, brands can provide clear information around decision-making criteria and seamless pathways that allow an involved buying experience.

    New Habits

    As the name suggests, this type of consumer behaviour pertains to developing new habits during the pandemic. While it is too early to determine how long this behaviour would stick around, consumers who gain from implementing it are bound to retain this habit. The trends under this type of consumer behaviour include:

    • Remote way of living
      With the increased need to physically distance ourselves from people, social media has played a pivotal role in filling the communication void. To improve customer experience, brands have started tapping into digital mediums to leverage on the need to virtually connect with their customers. Product messaging is now centered around Working From Home (WFH). Brands are also leveraging on the need to socialize virtually by organizing virtual parties and global event streaming with celebrities and influencers to support COVID-19 relief.
    • Self reliance and doing everything yourself
      Social distancing has triggered a ‘Do it Yourself’ habit amongst the consumers. Consumers have picked up new chores and hobbies during the lockdown which has led to increased traction on social media platforms. This creates an opportunity for brands to innovate and engage via moment marketing.
    • Superior hygiene and clean living
      Superior hygiene and clean living are now part of the new norm. With an increased focus on hygiene, brands are offering category extensions or benefit articulation around hygiene themes. Various established brands like Marico, ITC, HUL and CavinKare are penetrating into the hygiene product category to improve customer experience. Brands in the service sector are showcasing their hygiene practices as their key differentiator from the rest in the industry. Some companies have also made innovations in hygiene and sanitization spaces to cater to the evolving demand.From the above mentioned trends, it is evident that the purchase pathway is undergoing a fundamental change. What can you, as a brand, do to make the most of this change?
    • Proliferation through digital channels
      In the pre-purchasing funnel, brands can achieve this by:

      • Creating a social connect while social distancing by understanding the consumer’s needs and engaging with them.
      • Connecting with consumers through hyper localisation.
      • Bringing life to experiences, like product launches and in-person demos with digital access.
      • Showcasing value for money through discounts and bundles, thereby optimizing portfolios for value creation.
      • Building efficiency in acquisition through an effective media mix model.
      • Ensuring personalized engagement through moment marketing.
      • Gaining the consumer’s trust by providing them with engaging content on safety and well being.
    • Delivering a targeted, and seamless shopping experience will be the key to win
      At the purchase level of the funnel, brands can provide a seamless shopping experience to their customers by:

      • Recreating In-Person experiences with innovations like AR and VR Filters. By doing so, the touch-and-feel barriers can be resolved in the digital customer journey.
      • Owning platforms and influencing marketplaces.
      • Creating cohorts for a deep customer connection.
      • Creating financial access for customers through payment options like EMI and spot loans.
    • Opportunity to retain and develop brand advocates in the new normal
      The digital customer journey does not end with the consumer purchasing a product. Consumers have to be nurtured in the post-purchase funnel. This can be done by:

      • Strengthening CRM solutions for post-sales communication.
      • Upselling and cross-selling by remarketing with customized offers and incentivizing social peer recommendation to create post-purchase advocacy.

The global viral outbreak period is truly about understanding your customer's needs in the new normal and improving customer experiences that would cater to these needs. By putting your customers’ interests first while marketing during COVID-19, this can be a time for your company’s brand to lead.

**Statistics and details pertaining to this blog have been obtained from the Facebook and BCG report - Turn the Tide Unlock the new consumer path to purchase

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