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Jessica Hulett
July 2nd, 2021

5 Experts on How Customer Engagement Is Changing in a Post-Pandemic Market

These brands are navigating evolving customer expectations with smart, data-driven strategies

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As the world begins coming out of the pandemic, eCommerce brands face uncertainty about changing customer behavior — mainly, how much of it will stick? eCommerce worldwide more than doubled in 2019 and 2020, as brick-and-mortar stores closed and supply chains were disrupted. Now that things are opening back up, will customer behavior return to normal, or is normal forever changed?

Yotpo’s research shows that post-pandemic, only 10% of consumers plan to primarily shop at physical stores, while 37% say they are going to stick to shopping mostly online. Slightly more than half (53%) plan to do a mix of in-store and online shopping over the next year. This means that eCommerce brands have an opportunity to hold onto a significant portion of the gains they made during the pandemic.

As part of our Amazing Women in eCommerce events in 2021, we spoke to inspiring, innovative women on the cutting edge of eCommerce about how their customers’ habits are changing, and their top strategies for keeping them engaged as we move forward.

Brands are facing more competition for customer acquisition

As large brands with physical stores moved online, eCommerce-only brands faced unprecedented competition for customers. The challenge became how, and where, to connect with those customers where smaller brands wouldn’t be overshadowed and outspent by the Nordstroms and Best Buys of the retail world.

“I really think that cutting through that clutter is difficult, right? So, if it’s Instagram ads, Facebook ads, influencer-supported campaigns, or even paid — it’s just more and more competitive,” says Courtney Hedges, AVP of digital marketing at LiveArea. “But I think that’s where you can really dive into the data and analytics of seeing what’s performing and shifting your budget — just being really nimble and allowing the data to navigate what you’re doing because it’s crazy.”

Brand values matter more

Consumers — especially younger ones — care about what a company stands for, and that trend has been accelerated over the course of the pandemic. In fact, 83% of millennials said they wanted brands to align with them on values in 2020. That means eCommerce brands need to be transparent about the issues that matter most to their customers.

“People have different expectations now with respect to diversity, inclusion, transparency, you know, who am I enriching with this purchase?” says Micki Krimmel, founder at SuperFit Hero. “People care about where those dollars are going now in a way that they didn’t two years ago. And so I think it’s an opportunity for small brands to just be really human and connect with folks again, one-on-one and just be really clear about what our goals are and who we’re working with.”

Shoppers want seamless customer experiences

As stores open up, many customers will combine their pandemic habits with a return to in-person shopping, and they expect their hybrid buying experiences to be frictionless. This means that brands who sell physically as well as online will have to work to connect those two environments to engage customers across different touchpoints.

“There really is this expectation that what I do in a store translates to what I do online,” says Cher Fuller, head of CRM and loyalty at Forever 21. “So if I’m on my computer and I see something that’s in stock online, I want to know that if I go to the store, it’s there too. We need to make sure that connections between offline to online are seamless because consumers don’t think in silos… Their app should know their online purchases. It should know their in-store purchases. It should know their sizing. It should know their preferred delivery address — all of these things should just be quick.”

Consumers want more value for their dollars

With increased competition both online and off, customers expect more for their money than simply a great product. Brands need to find creative ways to add value to stand out from their competitors.

“The customer journey has diversified and is more complex than ever. And you have to get so creative about how you’re marketing to potential buyers,” says Hailey Branham, senior account manager at adQuadrant. “Brands really need to lean into value adds — no longer can you just serve up a really great, really relevant product into a person’s feed and expect them to buy from you. You have to earn their trust in their confidence. So one of the best ways that we recommend our clients do this is to reduce the barriers to purchase by focusing on these value adds — free samples, free product with purchase, free money-back guarantees, no-hassle returns, etc., just so that you can build that trust and build that confidence and layer that value add-on to make your already great product more appealing to your consumer base.

Shoppers want in-person experiences

As consumers start to adapt to something closer to normal, they are craving in-person experiences. eCommerce brands that can deliver something offline that’s unique and fun will be well-positioned to engage with customers where they are. Loyalty programs are hugely popular with consumers — 83% of shoppers say that if their favorite brands had a VIP program, they would join it — and give brands an opportunity to offer exclusive events for their most loyal customers.

“We have this massive truck that’s covered in eggplants that we really want to just drive around and give out products,” says Frances Tang, founder of Awkward Essentials. “Our ultimate goal is to really keep it weird and do more experiential stuff once we can.

Consumer behavior has changed dramatically over the past year, and it will continue to do so as we settle into the next normal. Brands that are agile and really listen to their customer’s wants and needs and deliver top-notch experiences based on them are the ones who will weather this changing time and find success post-pandemic and beyond.

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