Consumer trends have evolved rapidly over the past ten years or so. Technology and ecommerce have accelerated the pace and diversity of these changes, making it incredibly difficult for retailers to catch up.

The coronavirus pandemic has made things even more difficult and confusing, and it can be hard for retailers to know what customers even want, never mind how to give it to them.

Working with so many brands, doing research into the retail space, and promoting DownYourHighStreet has given their CEO, Daniel Whytock, a unique perspective on what consumers value most and how retailers can offer it to them:

Convenience

Ecommerce has spoiled consumers for choice, but delivery has always been a sticking point. A product may be slightly cheaper online but once you add delivery charges, the cost can sometimes end up higher. And since the customer can’t touch, feel or try the product before they buy, there is less trust and far more returns.

However, websites like Amazon have spoiled customers with their free next day delivery and companies like ASOS are dominating fashion with their easy returns policy.

While it is very difficult for smaller brands to compete with free next day delivery, it should still be possible to find a middle ground, where shipping costs are kept to a minimum and arrive within a few days of placing an order.

There are now comparison sites for couriers, for example, dramatically reducing delivery costs and opening more online retailers to competitive delivery options.

Local retailers are in the perfect position as they can offer free in-store returns, as well as allowing customers to touch and feel the product before buying. This can increase trust, reassure customers that they can get support or return items, and opens independent retailers to more click and collect options. The challenge for local retailers is getting found.

Cost

One of the main drivers of ecommerce has been the cost benefit to consumers. Not only do ecommerce products often cost less, but consumers can quickly and easily compare prices across multiple brands and websites to find the best deal. There are even shopping assistant browser extensions to alert users to the best price found online.

But this puts smaller retailers in a difficult position. They may not be able to offer the same price point, yet don’t want to miss out on being listed on an online marketplace, like Amazon. How can you benefit from being part of a marketplace without being compared to cheap (and potentially nasty) versions of your products?

One answer is to carefully pick where you list your products. Not all online marketplaces are created equal. Amazon, for example, suffers from an influx of overseas retailers offering sub-quality items for much, much less.

Consumer shopping habits are changing, however, with a preference for local goods that both support the local economy and lead to fewer product miles, helping to care for the environment. Finding a marketplace, like DownYourHighStreet, for more local goods means you are being compared to like-for-like products and services, not cheap imported goods.

Another answer is to create your own audience of engaged brand fans using your social channels. Creative marketing through platforms like Facebook and Instagram connects brands directly to customers, allowing you to build a relationship like never before. This is contributing to a reemergence of brand loyalty which, in a marketplace of cheaper goods, can be the deciding selling factor for smaller brands!

Local search

There has been a big trend towards purchasing from local businesses, with Google “near me” searches rising 500% year on year. Buying local supports the local economy, is more traceable, and is often perceived as being higher quality. Truly local retailers also benefit from being able to offer something unique ─ an ever more important quality shoppers are looking for, especially in the Instagram generation.

However, the trend towards local doesn’t excuse local businesses from having an online presence. Customers still want to be able to search, compare and complete purchases online. They’re just happier if the product is local, they can touch and try the product, and they know they can pick it up/return it quickly and easily.

One solution to this competition of needs is the creation of Business Improvement Districts (BIDS), where local businesses get together and chip into the creation of a combined ecommerce presence. For example, on DownYourHighStreet, we have a sub-page for Brighton called Brilliant Brighton.

Local retailers list their shop and products, allowing customers to find and compare products online before coming in-store to complete their purchase. The customer is happy that they’ve got the best product at the best price, while local retailers gain more business for a lower cost than setting up and managing their own web presence.

An Element of Surprise

Something customers miss from in-store experiences is the element of surprise and delight. When in a physical shop, there may be videos, imagery or other instructional material. There may be something fun to do or an experience to be had that is almost entirely missing from the online shopping experience.

These experiences connect people to brands and generate customer loyalty. The good news is, online retailers can benefit from surprising and delighting customers just as physical stores can, perhaps even more so.

Customers typically don’t expect much from a delivery. They want it to come on time and in good condition. That’s about it. So, the bar is pretty low. Going one step further and thinking about how to surprise and delight your customers with their deliveries can supplement in-store experiences and generate that same brand loyalty.

It could be something as simple as a small bag of sweets included in the delivery, or a hand-written note thanking the customer for their purchase. Connecting these experiences with your online presence, via your social media pages, for example, is a great way to capitalise on the feel-good factor and keep the connection going.

Whether you are an in-store or ecommerce only retailer, there are some things you can do to offer customers what they value most. And customers will appreciate your effort, so long as it is not a transparent and cynical attempt at gaining their loyalty.

Instead, focus on what customers really value and find new and innovative ways of delivering on these desires. Small businesses can be more adaptable, allowing you to try different approaches and find what works for you.

I encourage every small business to engage in this process as soon as possible, helping you recover from the pandemic lockdown and gain more customers than ever before!