In a matter of just a few weeks, every aspect of life, as we previously knew it, has gone through inconceivable change. Whilst most of us find ourselves locked in a kind of surreal existence that throws up new challenges every day, across commercial world, brands and retailers are adapting their products and services to meet some of these challenges head-on. Now more than ever, their CX refocus is attracting and delighting a new and captive audience…

A change in circumstance

During this period of limited human contact, telecommuting has become the default method of interaction, resulting in a fundamental change in our daily routines and rituals – whether how we interact with work colleagues (those working from home) and loved ones, or our expectation from product and service providers while shopping online.

With governments worldwide systematically enforcing a ‘Stay At Home, Save Lives’ agenda, near total lockdown is not only starving people of basic human needs, but in effect, elevating and prioritising an overreliance on technology to fill the void and make up for the shortfall.

If your customer’s expectation of your online experience wasn’t of importance previously, it most certainly should be now.

Over an incredibly short period it’s become pretty clear that the brands that have adapted their online engagement, conversion and fulfilment strategies to meet current challenges are the ones that are providing noticeably greater customer experiences and as a result, a growing audience.

The digital impact on retail and CX

According to Neilson Insights, consumers staying indoors has led to a 60% increase in media consumption in the US alone, with Americans spending just shy of 12 hours each day on digital platforms.

From a retail perspective, as a result of wholesale, temporary closure of brick-and-mortar stores, many brands have started to experiment with AR technology – which we previously noted as one of the trends that would shape the retail landscape in 2020.

Here’s a round-up of brands that are leveraging digital to improve CX in response to coronavirus and why it’s important…

Alibaba’s Valentine’s Day campaign

Near the start of the global emergency, as China went into lockdown, Alibaba promoted a Valentine’s Day campaign with ‘online dates’ for its virtual avatar game Taobao Life as couples were unable to celebrate the holiday in person due to isolation. The campaign was a success as it helped to drive sales, introduce a younger audience to Tmall Luxury and meet the needs of the Gen-Z consumer looking for entertainment during COVID-19.

Shopify’s AR abilities

In mid-March, Shopify also tweaked their offering, rolling out built-in support for 3D models and video for retailers to add to their product pages without the need for custom code. According to the platform, viewing 3D products in AR increases conversion rates by up to 250%. With people unable to physically interact with products before purchasing, now is the ideal time to enhance customer experience and experiment.

Warpole’s virtual bond street

Walpole, the trade body representing the UK luxury industry, is actively working to boost its brand’s online sales too. While stores are closed, Walpole is advertising their ecomm site’s products and promotions on its website, digital newsletter and social media to create a ‘virtual bond street.’ This move creates a larger platform to help small and medium-sized businesses that will be hit hardest by the outbreak.

Fashion retailers digital interactions

With ‘touch services’ such as make-up consultations and bra fitting now on hold, retailers who specialize in products that require physical interactions are looking to digital alternatives. Plus size women’s clothing brand, Taking Shape, John Lewis and sustainable brand Baukjen are all offering e-styling services through video chat. Diane Von Furstenberg is promoting ‘stay at home and stay in touch’ services, including e-styling and bespoke subscription boxes.

Streaming a new era of connectivity

Utilising digital services is a great way to keep consumers connected through open channels of communication and support. The immediate refocus on this has allowed brands and retailers to experiment not just with recreating in-person experiences, but also as entertainment hubs – something that wasn’t previously done as much from an ecommerce perspective. Retailers are also getting creative using mobile and digital platforms to engage with new user bases, unlocking a new ‘home… but not alone’ era.

With a plethora of artists, including Coldplay, John Legend and Pink taking to social media to entertain millions of fans through the coronavirus reality of social distancing and self-isolation, brands such as Levi’s have cleverly positioned themselves as promoters of a series of world-renowned performers such as Snoop Dogg and the Black Eyed Peas.

In a new series it calls ‘5:01 live’ – a nod to its iconic jeans line – the brand will stream live performances via Instagram. Through the initiative, Levi’s will support both the arts and coronavirus relief funds.

On a more sombre note, with a large percentage of the workforce currently working from home, a recent article suggests that loneliness is an additional threat to many the longer this situation continues, furthermore, up to 20% of remote workers are specifically lonely due to lack of human connection and interaction. While this can never be solved by brands alone, it clearly demonstrates the power and opportunity digital has in infusing online or remote interactions with human touchpoints.

A prime example of this accelerated era of connectivity is across video conferencing platforms. By all accounts, the likes of Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype have provided a communication lifeline for businesses large and small during this crisis, however – on a more personal front – ‘Download Houseparty!’ has become the social call-to-action of the moment – pulling in over 2 million downloads worldwide in one week (March 20), propelling the app from #304 on download ratings to #7 overnight.

While most of the world markets struggle to negotiate the huge impact coronavirus is having on commerce, certain brands are innovating to deliver an optimised digital CX, these are the brands that are invariably gaining strength.

There remains much uncertainty as to when the pandemic will subside and what shape retail will be in on the other side. Sure, there’ll probably be seismic changes in consumer mindsets and behaviour – if only short-term, while we settle into the new-norm.

However, the brands that are coming through for customers now – delivering either added-value, or indispensable digital services in this time of need – are the brands that will be remembered, creating loyalty and advocacy in the long-run.

During this time of limited human contact, we see three key opportunities emerging for brands to adapt, to ensure they facilitate (and help people celebrate) the power of human connection through innovative, digital means:

1. Focus on virtual products and services

Get creative by providing valuable content in the form of virtual products and services. Starved of physical contact and interactions, your customers will crave new and engaging online experiences, beyond the transaction, so why not give them something meaningful to remember you by?

2. Connect with customers on social channels

This pandemic has affected the lives of every person on Earth in one way or another. Provide clarity and reassurance to people on your social channels. More than 80% of Instagram users follow a brand on the social platform, which proves that consumers are actively listening to whatever you have to say.

3. Be honest, be transparent

During this pandemic situation, there will unfortunately be ecommerce businesses taking advantage of the customer’s anxieties and fears, because it may top up some revenue for short-term. However, people don’t forget the way you responded in the time of crisis.

Digital innovation, at a newly accelerated pace, is reimagining how people, products and services can be brought together. The brands increasing their equity and future value are the ones that recognise the power of human connection, and during these uncertain times, can innovate to anticipate people’s changing needs and elevate CX to appeal to their senses.

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