Making the most of digital commerce when the world is social distancing

By Chris Baldwin, VP Marketing, Zoovu

With the UK government announcing an extension on lockdown measures,  fashion retailers must respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and lean into ‘a new normal’. Across the globe, high street retailers are closing their doors in a bid to protect their employees, communities and customers. Online sales have already increased 52% compared to the same period last year – and we can expect more disruption to come. 

Retailers in the fashion industry are becoming more reliant on their digital commerce strategies to make it through this time. For independent fashion retailers, the main concern is how to ride the wave that may mean adopting an entirely new digital strategy in order to continue trading. 

How are consumers coping?

The news surrounding COVID-19 is changing by the hour — and the entire UK population is trying to make sense of this changing situation and increased anxiety. They are having to make decisions about everything from whether to cancel holidays to how to ensure they have the products their families need to survive at home. There are several psychological reasons why consumers will struggle to make decisions right now – and that includes knowing which products to buy. 

Your #1 priority should be offering guidance and assistance

Prior to Covid-19, research showed that 40 per cent of consumers would be willing to spend more than 30 minutes searching for the right product online, however this is not sustainable when consumers will be relying on digital channels to make all of their purchases. Furthermore, 84 per cent of consumers are demanding more assistance and guidance when searching for products online. 

It is absolutely essential for every retailer and brand to provide new levels of guidance online as consumers navigate a new digital-commerce-first reality. Making the process of searching and finding products online conversational and feel more human is what consumers will need in this new world of social distancing and self-isolation. In doing so, you ensure consumers are able to find the products they need quickly and easily, with 24/7 assistance, in a language they understand and can engage with, and that recognises each individual consumer’s needs and circumstances. This will help consumers overcome any stress or anxiety they feel today as they turn to online shopping for 100 per cent of their needs.

Why acting today may save tomorrow

As more consumers are forced to shop online to stay safe, they will inevitably habituate searching and buying products online, even in product categories that they may not have previously considered. Retailers must shift their commerce priorities, not only to act as an emergency buffer to what is happening, but to ultimately provide long-term value to consumers for when the world eventually gets back to normal.

Without sounding too much like a pessimist (I prefer realist), how quickly retailers meet these challenges may be the deciding factor on whether they make it through the tough times ahead.