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The Impact of COVID-19 on Retailing

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed consumer buying habits. Retailers have had to pivot to meet consumer demand and stay afloat. Marketers have similarly had to refocus their strategies to target customer preferences. Overall, the retail industry, as with most industries, has become increasingly customer-centric during the pandemic.

How Has Consumer Behavior Changed Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic?

The economic downturn, and its associated widespread job loss, have left many people with less expendable income. Stay-at-home orders and city-wide shutdowns mean many consumers are working from home. Widespread school closures mean children are also at home, leaving parents with substantially less free time. These circumstances are largely why social and consumer activity has moved online to a great degree.

Further, safety concerns regarding COVID-19 are top of mind. The potential of viral exposure means consumers are prioritizing social distancing and touch- or contact-free shopping experiences.

So, some consumers are choosing to make most of their purchases online, minimizing trips to brick-and-mortar establishments. They are also only shopping in-person at essential retailers like grocery stores while many other stores remain closed.

Consumer behavior may shift somewhat back to “normal” as localities begin to lift stay-at-home orders and students return to school. However, COVID-19’s disruptions to consumer behavior are likely to be long-lasting, and they will resurface as other waves of the pandemic continue to hit.

This means many of the changes we’ve seen in consumer behavior will probably remain after the pandemic.

How Have Retailers Pivoted to Meet Consumer Needs and Demand?

As consumers have gone online in droves, e-commerce has exploded. This bodes well for online giants like Amazon, but brick-and-mortar retailers have suffered. Many of them have embraced online sales and contactless delivery models.

Some retailers are expanding their online presence, modes of sales, and delivery capacity. This sometimes takes the form of selling collectible merchandise through online platforms like eBay or Etsy. Or it could be integrating the “click and collect model,” where customers order online and pick up their purchases curbside.

Grocery stores have pivoted in similar ways, offering curbside pickup and home delivery through partner services like Postmates. The stores themselves are limiting capacity, sterilizing carts and touch surfaces, offering touchless purchasing, and creating one-way aisles.

Retailers are adapting their product offerings and supply chains to meet demand. Since customers are leaving home less often, they need more products like toilet paper, cleaning supplies and nonperishable goods.

Similarly, department stores are addressing home-bound consumer trends by sourcing more in-demand items like athleisure wear and kitchen appliances. Companies are shifting production to meet these demands as well, such as apparel companies pivoting to make face masks.

The Customer-Centric Approach

These and other adaptations to the customer-centric philosophy of business have caused marketing efforts to shift online, providing consumers with content and experiences to create brand awareness and build customer relationships. Messaging provides consumers with useful information and guides them to relevant resources, products and services.

Integrating effective omnichannel services is key to many of these customer-centric adaptations. Essentially, omnichannel customer service means data concerning the customer’s buying journey or service request follows them across all interactive platforms. Whether the interaction is through social media, digital and voice communications, apps, in-person or otherwise, all customer service entities seek to offer a seamless experience without redundancy.

Building connections, ensuring safe environments, and adapting to shifting consumer behavior have become the focus of retail businesses everywhere. This means embracing e-commerce opportunities, contactless delivery models, omnichannel services, safety measures, and changes in the physical retail environment. Overall, it means putting the customer first and engaging them where they are and how they prefer.

Coursework in the online Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing degree program offered by Southeastern Oklahoma State University focuses on subjects like consumer behavior, shifts in retail models, and the buyer-seller relationship. Familiarity with these topics can help retail professionals refocus their companies’ efforts in any business environment.

Learn more about Southeastern Oklahoma State University’s online BBA in Marketing program.


Accenture: COVID-19: Consumers Change How They Shop, Work and Live

ArcherPoint: Retail Trends Emerge From the First Wave of COVID

BCG: How Retailers Can Capture $5 Trillion of Shifting Demand

Forbes: The Impact of COVID-19 on U.S. Brands and Retailers

Forbes: What Omnichannel Customer Service Really Is, and It’s Not What Everyone Thinks

Insider Intelligence: More Consumers Are Turning to Food Delivery Apps Amid Indoor Dining Restrictions

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