Adjusting to Meet Consumers in the Next New Normal

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This time last year, retail as an industry was being upended by the effects of COVID-19. Fast forward to today: the public is on its way to getting vaccinated, and another shift appears to be on the horizon.

Even with the vaccine, the shift into the next “new normal” won’t be a return to pre-pandemic retail. Consumer behavior has changed, and many of the retail habits formed over the last year are here to stay to some extent. With that in mind, here are some of the things we think brands should be focusing on to meet consumers in the next new normal.


Staying focused on creating an omnichannel experience

Accelerated by the pandemic, e-commerce penetration reached new heights in 2020. A study by McKinsey & Company found that most retail categories experienced a 10% increase in their online customer base and that many consumers said they plan to continue shopping online even when brick-and-mortar stores fully reopen.

The fact that more shoppers are online than ever isn’t new information. Many brands and retailers have adjusted their strategies over the last year to compensate for the dramatic increase in digital shoppers. Moving forward, the real trick will be integrating new and shiny e-commerce strategies into a holistic approach to retail, and that will require flexibility.

What we’re really talking about is creating an omnichannel experience. Omni-channel has been a buzzword in retail for years — often talked about at retail trade shows as something brands and retailers should be getting on board with.

Over the last year, the concept of omnichannel has gone from being a good idea to being an absolute necessity. Brands and retailers need to have the ability to seamlessly meet shoppers over every touchpoint, both physically and digitally. It’s no longer an aspirational good idea; it’s par for the course.


Putting more effort into mission and sustainability

More and more, consumers are searching out brands with purpose. A 2020 global study by marketing agency Zeno found that consumers are six times more likely to trust, buy, champion, and protect brands with a strong purpose. Another 2020 study by IBM and NRF estimated that 57% of consumers are willing to change their purchasing habits to help reduce negative environmental impact.

The bottom line is: Mission matters. That doesn’t mean brands should adopt a mission or purpose just for the sake of capturing consumer interest. An inauthentic approach is just as bad — or even worse than — not doing anything at all. Every brand can embrace mission, sustainability, and purpose, it just needs to be kept true to the brand and come with follow-through.


Meeting the changing needs of consumers

COVID-19 spiked consumer demand for lots of different retail categories and products. In the vitamins, minerals, and supplements category, immunity-related products boomed. In beauty, skincare and eye-products (false eyelashes, mascara, and eyeliner) led growth for the category. In the sports and outdoors category, bicycles and home workout equipment flew off the shelves.

Interest in many of those categories could remain high, but as conditions change, brands should anticipate that consumer needs will also change. It might be tempting to comfortably embrace current hypes, but that should be a short-term plan. Now is the time for brands to be closely watching their data and strategizing to keep up with whatever might be around the corner.


Final takeaway

COVID-19 totally upended the retail industry in 2020 and shifted the world into a new normal. Now, with the wide adoption of vaccines, there could be a light at the end of the tunnel, and a new shift seems to be right around the corner.

Whatever comes next won’t be a return to retail as we knew it. Consumers have changed and will continue to change. Moving forward, brands and retailers will need to be flexible and invest in ways to stay relevant while also meeting consumers across every touchpoint.