Effects of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Retail (CX)

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the effects of covid-19 pandemic on retail industry

Retailers That Survived 2020 Without an Adequate CX Automation Solution Will Need to Act Fast in a Post Covid-19 2021

The fact that we’ve surpassed a year under the thumb of a pandemic is a rather mind blowing concept. In the blink of an eye, our lives were turned upside down and businesses were disrupted on a global scale.

Everything changed, from organizations scrambling to ensure operational continuity by pivoting to working remotely, to not being able to find basic necessities like toilet paper.

As I’m sure you’ll recall, If you were brave enough to venture to a grocery store in those first couple of weeks, it’s more than likely you were met with an environment that closely resembled a scene out of a post-apocalyptic blockbuster.

Between inventory issues and the omnipresent warnings to stay home, consumers began to rely more and more on e-commerce solutions to get what they needed.

But this swift switch to online shopping didn’t come without its own hurdles.

Sure, established e-commerce giants who already had digital customer experience (CX) solutions in place were basking in their ability to keep up with demand, after all, they were built for this kind of digital climate.

But for traditional retailers who, until the pandemic, leveraged brick and mortar shops, this drastic increase in digital sales coupled with inadequate CX practices highlighted critical weaknesses in their online shopping processes and, subsequently, their ability to provide positive customer experiences.

In this report, we focus on these customer experience (CX) trends by leveraging aggregated data from Linc platform as well as industry reports.


effects of covid 19 on retail key takeaways linc (1)

Effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on retail; key takeaways


To say that we saw an increase in e-commerce over the last year would be a massive understatement.

In fact, in the US alone, e-commerce grew by 32%, making up 14% of all retail sales in the country in 2020.

Nearly overnight, consumers stopped going to malls and retail stores and opted to shop online for both safety and convenience, and this sudden change had detrimental effects to the retailers who were unprepared.

Suddenly, support could only be given through a touchpoint, and because of the ubiquity of COVID-19’s disruption, every facet of “the machine” of retail was affected.


Major CX Challenges Faced by Retailers During the Covid-19 Pandemic

challenges customer service organizations face post covid-19

Among the many challenges customer service organizations faced during and post Covid-19 lock downs.


Companies saw a massive disruption to supply chains, which in turn led to a sharp increase in delayed order fulfillment, which inevitably led to a massive influx of customers who needed support.


post transaction pre delivery questions are order mod related

Disruptions in supply chain saw post transaction and pre-delivery order inquiries rise exponentially.


In fact, issues with ordering jumped up a staggering 52% from February to March of 2020 alone and still remain 25% more frequent than they were prior to the pandemic.


order issues inquiries elevated during covid 19 pandemic

order issues inquiries elevated significantly during covid 19 pandemic.


Businesses who utilized call centers or live agent chats were inundated with consumers asking basic questions around where their products were;

  • WHY were they delayed?
  • WHEN would they receive them?
  • HOW did the business plan to make up for this inconvenience?
top 3 customer service topics during 2020 holiday shopping

Top 3 customer service topics during 2020 holiday shopping season.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, these challenges disproportionately benefited businesses who had adopted some form of digital or automated customer experience solutions prior to the pandemic.

Those that had not? Well… It was clearly time for a change.

Not only did these traditional retailers need to quickly adapt and allocate resources to adequately deliver digital customer support, but they also needed to adapt to the changing behaviors of their customers.

Consumers are increasingly making purchasing decisions through digital touchpoints, such as cellphones or personal computers. In fact, mobile phones have become the primary research-before-you-buy method consumers are utilizing to identify what products they want.

As traditional retailers look to employ a modern digital customer experience solution, the need to understand how their customers think has never been more important.


Understanding The Modern Consumers Needs

retailers win customers with cx service moments-linc (1)

The right timing of customer experience (CX) in and around service moments is paramount to retailers ability to win over consumers in 2021.


It doesn’t take much imagination to put ourselves in a customer’s shoes. No matter who you are, when you shop, you care about how you’re treated- no one forgets bad service.

In fact, 61% of consumers globally claimed that they switched companies or brands due to poor customer service.

So, let’s look at the consumers needs.

In any buying situation a customer first researches their product- something which is now done entirely online. This means the questions a consumer has while conducting their research are expected to be solved online as well.

Whether it’s inquiring about the fit of a pair of pants or the functionality of a new electronic device, if a customer can’t get their question answered, it can make or break a sale.

From there, the customer buys their product, and while this may sound straightforward, the reality is that this is a critical point to provide a positive customer experience.

Perhaps a customer has questions about an ongoing promotion advertised on the business’s site, or perhaps the item they want is on back-order and they require insight as to when it may be available.


pandemic customer service stress test your cx linc

Pandemic stress tests the service moment customer experience (CX).


If these questions cannot be quickly and easily answered, then it could be detrimental to the transaction.

In response to retailer demand and the Covid-19 pandemic the Linc engineering team launched the Promotions Support Digital Worker to help retailers seamlessly automate customer support for digital promotions.

Once the customer makes their purchase, we enter a period of anticipation. It is within this time that streamlined and simplified support is most necessary simply because of the complexities and choices that come with order fulfillment.

Some consumers may wish to have their goods delivered, while others may prefer to utilize in-store pickup. Some may need to modify their order, while others wish to cancel altogether.

Each factor requires a different process to positively impact a customer’s experience, but one thing each factor requires is effective two-way communication.

After the customer receives their order, providing fast support is still of paramount importance. If the product that is delivered is defective, doesn’t fit, or is simply just the wrong item, rectifying that error quickly and effectively makes the difference between a one-time customer and a lifetime customer.


customers love service notifications more during pandemic

Post pandemic saw a significant increase in post purchase notification opt in rates.


It’s a simple concept:

Fast, accessible customer support throughout the buying process is the key to delivering a positive user experience. Today, when so much of our shopping is taking place online, the need for a modern customer experience solution makes all the difference when trying to remain competitive.


The Automated CX Solution

You’ve probably noticed that automated customer experience solutions are becoming more ubiquitous throughout the retail industry, and other industries as well.

You’ve probably also noticed that some of these solutions are better than others- it’s the difference between a pioneering solution and an antiquated one. The stigma around automated solutions is based on the belief that they’re employed simply to cut costs.

The truth is, recent advancements in conversational AI have led to some incredible innovations in automated customer support, and organizations like Linc are at the forefront of delivering unparalleled customer experiences, making the retail experience faster and smoother for consumers and businesses alike.

In order to be effective, these solutions must be non-robotic and driven by the customer so as to create a holistic experience.

Utilizing highly nuanced digital workers that can handle a multitude of use cases can help conversations move seamlessly from one inquiry to another.


Company Automation Priorities Extend Beyond Making and Saving Money

companies automation priorities extend beyond saving money

Companies automation priorities extend beyond just saving money.


Since the pandemic, companies’ automation priorities circumvent the base desire to just save money and now focus on delivering improved customer experiences, improved business continuity and resiliency, increased ease of generating business insights, and simply lowering risk.

Fortunately, these priorities are where the Linc CX Platform shines.

At the start of the pandemic, Linc assisted a large volume retailer with a complete overhaul of their customer experience process.

Prior to Linc’s involvement, this organization’s call center was experiencing over two hour-long wait times and the fallout from these delays affected both sides of the equation.

Customer satisfaction plummeted, and employees within the organization’s fulfillment center were overwhelmed in their efforts to keep up with the increase in e-commerce order volume.


After the adoption of Linc’s Order Support Digital Worker, the positive effects were immediate.


linc helped large volume retailer win during covid-19 pandemic

Large volume retailer who implemented automated cx solutions early on in the Covid-19 pandemic with Linc order support digital workers.


The deployment of the Order Support Digital Worker only took a couple of weeks, and once it was fully deployed, the call center wait times returned to pre-pandemic levels almost overnight.

  • Customer satisfaction went up an astounding 90% and they saw substantial improvement to customer retention.
  • 14% of returns turned into a repurchase,
  • They saw an even more impressive 30% improvement in repurchasing frequency.
  • Beyond delivering an exquisite customer experience, the organization also saw an 85% reduction in costs surrounding their customer experience process.


The Conclusion

The pervasiveness of e-commerce is here to stay – just as people are saying about post-pandemic life in general, it will be the new normal.

As organizations look to remain competitive and resilient in this new topography of retail, the need for innovative automated customer experience solutions is evident.

Linc is leading the charge of empowering businesses to deliver unparalleled customer experiences.Linc’s Digital Workers can assist the customer from pre-purchase to post-purchase, and everything in between, through any channel the customer chooses- be it email, SMS 2-way text, Messenger, WhatsApp, or even Amazon Alexa and Google Business Messages.

The best part?

Our Digital Workers can be tailored to fit your exact needs.

To learn more about Linc and our Digital Workers, schedule a no obligation demo.


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