The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed consumer shopping behaviors and preferences. For the past year, brick-and-mortar stores have been seen as "higher risk" locations. To limit opportunities for exposure, consumers sought out alternatives to stepping into grocery stores and their favorite retailers. But, in the process of changing their shopping habits, customers needed new options to personally connect with retailers without face-to-face interaction.
First Orion, a leading provider of communication transparency solutions, conducted a blind survey of mobile phone users in the United States to identify how consumers currently interact with retailers, including customer service preferences and pain points. The results reveal that outside of visiting a physical store, 59% of consumers said that they consider a phone call the most personal form of interaction - over four times that of any other form of communication.
The retail industry was pushed to innovate and identify alternatives to in-store shopping. This resulted in retailers providing more opportunities to enable consumers to shop safely utilizing online shopping, outdoor markets, and curbside pickup. These models create a number of consumer questions and concerns about placing orders, delivery information, order confirmation and more. When it comes to urgent or complex issues such as these, 76% of respondents stated that personal interaction is important. Without that traditional face-to-face conversation, consumers are looking for other ways to keep that personal interaction - overwhelmingly, they prefer a phone call from a retail store in place of that connection. While consumers prefer a phone call when discussing any order with a retail business, they are more than twice as likely to insist on a phone call for an order that is $500 or above. For a consumer to perceive a brand as premium, a phone call isn't enough - it must be an identified phone call. Retail brands that clearly identify their calls are considered to be more premium than those that do not identify themselves when calling, according to just over three-fourths of respondents.
"The shift in consumers' shopping preferences presents an opportunity for retailers to enhance their customer experience and brand loyalty," said Viki Zabala, chief marketing officer at First Orion. "Brands need to consider how every channel they use to communicate with customers impacts them. Our data shows that by remaining anonymous through a ten-digit phone number, consumers are more likely to perceive a retail company and its brand negatively. By not clearly identifying themselves when calling, retail businesses are missing out on an opportunity to gain trust and connect with consumers before they even answer their phone."
With increased options on how to shop, consumers can purchase goods from anywhere, at any time. When deciding where to spend their money, consumers prioritize convenience and safety due to pandemic-related issues. Curbside pickup, for example, is one of the retail offerings that has become the de-facto purchasing practice. In the past 12 months, two-thirds of respondents (66%) have taken advantage of this service and 58% said that they would utilize the service post-pandemic as their "preferred shopping method."
It's not surprising that consumers are unlikely to continue shopping with a retail business that they consider lacking credibility. Unidentified phone calls can be a red flag to consumers; 82% of respondents stated that when they get a call from a retailer who appears to be "unknown," they perceive that business to be illegitimate. Brand loyalty doesn't stop with an unanswered call - 63% of consumers said that they would take their business elsewhere to a brand that properly identifies themselves when calling.
There has been an increase in the need for retail businesses to contact their consumers through a phone call since the beginning of the pandemic. The survey findings highlight that consumer preferences will not end with the pandemic. The need for retail brands to continue premium services is only rising.
By deploying innovative solutions such as enhanced calling, retail businesses to help keep their perception positive and consumers loyal.