COVID-19 has undeniably affected the in-store experience in 2020. Even among retailers deemed essential and remaining open to the public, such as convenience stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, and hardware stores and renovation centres, the in-store experience leaves little to be desired, according to the recent WOW study released by Leger.
“The dimensions most negatively affected are prices and promotional offers, courtesy, staff competence, and availability, the importance given to customers, and general ambience. In a few cases, the variety of products and new product offerings have also decreased, probably due to the supply difficulties that some have encountered,” said the report.
“Generally speaking, the in-store customer experience for clothing, fashion accessory, footwear, sports, and beauty product stores, as well as stores targeting a more niche clientele (e.g., luxury goods, jewellery), has improved significantly since last year. This is probably attributable to less in-store traffic (visits outside normal business hours, controlling the number of visitors at the entrance to stores, meaning that more service is available for each visitor, distributing traffic over several time slots), but also by the visitor profile, which probably corresponds more closely to retailers’ “ambassador” customers or those who missed their store(s) the most during the closures. One could also infer that consumers were less critical in their evaluations, feeling compassion for the stores who had difficulty staying afloat financially and getting through this difficult period.”
The report said that 20 percent of consumers find that the health and safety measures implemented during the pandemic significantly affect their shopping experience. These measures seem to impact customers more strongly at beauty stores (cosmetics, creams, etc.), jewellery stores, and some clothing stores, especially those for men. On the other hand, they are less detrimental to businesses deemed essential (supermarkets, convenience stores, pharmacies, hardware stores and renovation centres), where an “experience” is less expected (i.e. expectations are lower), and where certain habits have taken hold. On the positive side, health measures ensure that customers feel safe while shopping, added the report.
The WOW study, by Leger, the largest Canadian-owned, market research and analytics company, looked at the best in-store retailers in Ontario and the best online retailers in Canada. It looked at the customer experience at 145 retailers in Ontario in 20 sectors via an online survey of nearly 13,000 Ontarians. These retailers were assigned a score, the WOW Index, ranging from 0 to 100. This score is calculated based on 16 dimensions of the customer experience, including product quality, competitive price, staff courtesy, store ambiance, sense of belonging.
The list of Ontario retailers who offered the best in-store customer experience in 2020 were:
- The Body Shop
- Saje Natural Wellness
- Fire & Flower Cannabis Co
- M&M Food Market
- Bath & Body Works
- Yves Rocher
- Lee Valley Tools
The WOW Digital study evaluated 22 dimensions of the online experience for 173 Canadian websites and apps, allowing businesses to identify their strengths and weaknesses at each stage of online shopping, from the transaction to merchandise returns. The responses provided by nearly 14,000 Canadians were used to rank the businesses offering the best online customer experience in 2020:
- Cook It
- Lufa Farms
- Nespresso / Yves Rocher
Christian Bourque, Executive Vice-President and Senior Partner with Leger, said stores deemed essential have seen a fairly steep decline in their overall scores for in-store experience.
“It is largely due to the fact that they had to live through all of these new safety measures that were put in place,” he said. “They have suffered. I think there’s a lot of these types of retailers where people say it’s no fun anymore because of physical distancing and all of that. So I think these types of stores — the grocery, pharmacy and so on — will likely have to work on making it fun again.
“As soon as these measures ease up, sort of work on design, work on how they convey information to customers on site so that they do have this feeling that it’s fun again.
“When it goes to the apparel, luxury goods, sort of the Sephora’s of the world and the Lush’s of the world, they actually come out of this looking great, I think because they were closed for a period of time, because there’s strict measures on traffic in stores, whenever we had the chance to go back we were happy to go back and we missed the experience. For them, the amount of pampering they were able to give customers once they reopened again and because of low traffic, will they be able to carry that through once traffic picks up again. I think they were kind of lucky in this way because people were happy to go back and to get that one on one experience again with those types of brands. One thing overall that we see are higher convergence rates, bigger baskets, fewer visits. And I think this will be with us for a while. This is how the customer has changed pretty much forever now. So the odd browsing because I have nothing else to do is something maybe we won’t see anymore. You want to pre-shop, go in, buy, get out and find a positive experience. Aiming for higher convergence and aiming for higher basket size will be where the war in the near future will be won because I don’t know when traffic will be back and will it ever be back to where it was.”
While it once may have been a bet, Bourque said some retailers are great with the customer online experience such as Simons, Lush, and Sephora.
“Close to half of Canadians bought something online through a channel that they never used before in their lives. The reason overall scores tend to be down is the hand holding that a lot of customers now need. Before it was always the same people coming back,” explained Bourque.
“This generated a lot of new traffic that was not only browsing but they were buying and from that perspective the extent to which brands were able to deliver an extremely high level of trust throughout. When we specifically tested for customer experience, buying apparel, for example, there is still a big problem with online purchases. Most likely at the end of this people will go back into the stores, or a lot of them will, but those who will stick it out online, they do still find a lot of fit issues with purchasing apparel online and these have not gone away and likely will still be there.
“However, one thing that I found positive, some retailers that are basically all about the in-store experience, Lush and Sephora for example, can actually make it up the ladder and be at the top of the preferred websites for shopping as well.”