There’s no doubting the amount of disruption that’s been caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic. The past year-and-a-half is representative of one of the most turbulent times in recent human history. For retailers, it’s meant dealing with a delayed and fragmented supply chain, interruptions to store and network operations and a need to enhance digitization efforts in order to keep up with a consumer whose shopping and purchasing behaviour has shifted away from physical brick-and-mortar locations toward online channels. It’s a trend that’s been accelerated by social restrictions and lockdowns. However, it’s not the only aspect of the consumer that’s changed over the course of the past 18 months. It seems their general sentiment toward the brands they partner with is evolving as well. In fact, according to Accenture’s recently released Life Reimagined report, the motivations for today’s consumer to shop and engage with retailers are moving beyond price and quality.
Finer point on experience
The report suggests that a majority of consumers, despite their background, demographic or location, have taken advantage of the past 18 months to take stock of the things that really matter to them. They’ve reassessed and reimagined their values, resulting in a bit of a shift or tweak to their priorities and a discovery of the things in their lives that are most important to them. The research indicates that 44 percent of those surveyed have done just that. And, as Gregor Barry, Managing Director and Accenture Interactive Lead for Canada, points out, their rising sentiment is set to impact retailers and other businesses, creating a need to differentiate themselves based on purpose lest they be left behind.
“Today, consumers are really looking beyond the transaction into the overall experience that they receive from a brand,” he says. “This is not something new. But circumstances over the past year-and-a-half seem to have put a finer point on the experience. As a result, consumer motivations have moved away from price and quality toward other factors influencing their purchasing decisions. Things like health and safety, service and personal care, ease and convenience, product origin, trust and reputation are all factors that are more meaningfully impacting the way consumers view brands today.”
Personal care and support
For Canadians, the measures taken by businesses in order to address health and safety concerns is a priority, with 63 percent viewing it as a crucial component in attracting their interest. However, top on this list of heightened consumer considerations when it comes to engaging and spending money with a brand is the overall experience that they receive when interacting with it. In fact, according to the report, 69 percent of Canadian consumers expect the brands they engage with to understand how their needs and objectives have changed as a result of the disruption that’s occurred, and to address those new needs in a meaningful way.
“It’s really about creating an experience for the customer that’s as personal as possible,” says Barry. “Do they remember their customers and are they making their experiences better than they were the last time they engaged with the brand based on their insights? Are they proactively reaching out to customers when they need the brand most? More than half of consumers say that they’d switch brands if it doesn’t create clear and easy options to contact customer service. Over 50 percent of consumers say that companies disappointed them by not providing enough support and understanding of their needs during challenging times. So, what are brands doing to react in the moment instead of simply sticking to the script that they’ve relied on for the last long while?”
Ease and convenience
Another rising consideration among Canadian consumers, according to the report, is the ease and convenience involved in the shopping experience. Driven primarily by the acceleration in online shopping, the report finds that 57 percent of Canadian consumers will stop shopping with a brand that does not offer new, fast and flexible delivery options such as click-and-collect and curbside pickup. Barry recognizes the trend, suggesting that it’s a result of heightened expectations on the part of the consumer that he doesn’t see abating any time soon.
“Transactions very clearly moved to digital channels during the pandemic,” he asserts. “It compelled many companies to rethink how transactions are conducted in person. Consumers are now, more than ever, looking for ease and convenience with respect to their experiences. They’ve become expectations that will not retreat to previous state. So, anything that retailers do with respect to ease and convenience will become expectations going forward. It’s really a move into a world of everywhere commerce where transactions don’t have to start and end in the same place or on the same medium. So, those expectations are heightened even further, meaning that brands need to be available whenever and wherever a consumer wants to interact.”
Need for green practices
Along with the tenets of health and safety and the ease and convenience of service, another consideration motivating today’s consumer is the practices of brands and businesses with respect to environmental, social and governance issues. According to the report, 71 percent of Canadian consumers are most interested in shopping with brands that source services and materials in highly ethical ways. In addition, 65 percent say that they’re attracted to brands that are environment-friendly, provide credible “green” credentials for products/services, minimize harm to the environment and/or invest in sustainability. It’s yet another pre-existing sentiment that’s been accelerated by impacts of the pandemic. And, according to Barry, it’s a sentiment that’s broader in scope than some might think.
“We’ve seen a big shift in consumers’ interest in sustainable products and service,” he says. “Increasingly, they want to know what goes into a product, how it’s been produced and how far it’s been transported. Bringing that information into a more transparent model really allows the retailer to enable its consumers to make informed purchasing decisions. The brands that can develop or enhance their ‘green’ practices and convey those developments and enhancements to the consumer are likely to broaden their base. However, we’ve also seen tremendous growth in the shop local movement. Consumers want to shop with Main Street retailers and are increasingly realizing the importance of keeping at least some of their spend within their local communities.”
Trust and reputation
In addition, the report also finds that issues impacting the trust and reputation of a brand are also high on the hierarchy of motivators. The scope of these issues is wide-ranging and includes their treatment of employees and partners, the integrity of the decisions they make and the ways they contribute toward the betterment of society. In fact, the report’s findings suggest that nearly half (46%) of Canadian consumers would be willing to pay more for products and services to a brand that is proactively making positive improvements. It’s a motivator that Barry acknowledges as an important one that’s rooted in brand purpose.
“Companies exist to serve a need or to meet a new need within the market,” he says. “But increasingly, consumers are looking for brands to stand for something beyond the product or service they offer. They’re starting to ask what their favourite brands are doing from a societal point-of-view in order to make their communities and the world we live in a healthier, more sustainable environment. It provides retailers and other businesses with the opportunity to align their values and the things they stand for with those of their consumers, deepening their relationships with them, creating more meaningful engagement.”
Each of these motivators on their own is enough to prompt changes within any brand’s operations. The fact that they all extend beyond the product or service itself presents enormous opportunities to retailers that can focus their efforts to make improvements where they can. It provides them with areas in which they can differentiate their brand from competitors, developing an intrinsic purpose that can drive growth and success. And, with respect to identifying and seizing these opportunities, Barry suggests that they will vary depending on the retailer and the vertical and category that they operate within.
“Every brand needs to look at themselves and do some introspection around what the implications are for them and the engagement and growth it can drive. And to do this effectively, they’ve got to understand that the consumer is not who they used to be. Their desires have changed. And the ways they want to interact and engage with brands has changed, too, raising a different set of expectations. So, brands need to re-evaluate and rebuild or enhance their relevance to those new buying values and anticipate what consumers are going to expect from them. The critical choice for the industry today is either listen and make those changes, creating experiences that really matter, or miss the opportunity to drive differentiation and growth for their business.”