It’s hard to believe that just a couple months ago I wrote a blog post about the importance of physical retail in the consumer shopping journey without any mention of a global pandemic and the closure of non-essential brick and mortar retail. Since then, stay at home orders have spread far and wide, and now in some locations are beginning to lift.

Whether most stores are still shuttered where you live, or if you’re adjusting to shopping with a mask on and without fitting rooms, you know that shopping today looks and feels extraordinarily different than it did mere months ago.

I’m spending a lot of time helping our clients think through reopening scenarios, trying to answer questions like — what will it be like, when we can go back out into the world? How will people shop again? And I don’t know. I do know though that consumers are scared, and that protective measures make people feel somewhat safer.

I also know that consumers really miss casual browsing, as opposed to the tactical store trips that require strategic planning. Stores will be primarily for fulfillment for a while, limiting their role in product discovery and building brand experiences. That means retailers should be shoring up gaps in e-commerce fulfillment and finding new ways to connect with consumers in the digital realm.

Consumers are trying new fulfillment modes. Some are experimenting with omnichannel fulfillment solutions like curbside pickup, and some are trying e-commerce in new categories for the first time. Retailers are grappling with supply chain and delivery challenges, resulting in high variability in the quality of the shopping experience and putting additional pressure on customer service teams to manage unhappy shoppers.

Whether sales are up or down, no one is immune to the pressure of shifting consumer behavior forced by the pandemic. Adapt to a New Shopping Reality: Demographics Affect Changes to Buying Channel Behavior (subscription required)

Brands are finding creative ways to reach consumers at home, and lack of access to studios forces a stripped down, more authentic image and message. Some are shipping new product to models to style and shoot in their own homes. Naomi Campbell shot her recent Essence cover herself, with her iPhone. Nordstrom is featuring brand founders their own employees at home on their Instagram stories, inviting fans into the homes of the faces behind their brand.

Consumer behaviors and shopping intent are shifting as staying at home starts to feel a little more normal, and as reopening reveals what the next version of normal might be like. Brands can keep up with those consumer shifts by changing the way we measure and track our marketing metrics to identify indicators of interest earlier in the customer journey.

If you’re a retailer struggling with new challenges in operations, advertising, and measurement, this research will help: How Retail Marketers Should Refine Their Digital Commerce, Marketing Mix and Measurement Efforts to Respond to Economic Disruption (subscription required).

This article is reprinted with permission of Gartner

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