How would you feel if I told you brand loyalty has been “shattered,” but maybe that’s a good thing?
Consumer behavior is undergoing dramatic and lasting change, the results of which McKinsey describes as a “shock to loyalty.” While the increase in online shopping amid COVID-19 is no surprise, many brands failed to predict how readily customers would switch between them.
Actually, shoppers’ eagerness to try new brands and retailers has been a long time coming. The steady rise of eCommerce has ensured this. However, the unexpected onset of a global pandemic has accelerated the shift, and we’ve passed the point of no return.
Today’s consumers are hyper-focused on your values, your level of empathy to their experiences, and how you impact both society and the environment. Earning their loyalty requires a customer experience that touches on all of these points.
This is the beginning of “mindful shopping,” and in my opinion, it is not a threat but a major opportunity.
While your brand may feel the initial shock of mindful shopping, you have the opportunity to turn this into a positive. By seeing this as a chance to redefine your customer experience, you can forge deeper, more authentic bonds with shoppers. These new, considered customer relationships plant the seeds for a different breed of loyalty, one that is built to last, thanks to its strong foundations.
COVID-19 is driving a new era of growth for eCommerce, and that momentum is here to stay. In the US, online spending was 76.2% higher this past June compared to last, from $41.5 billion in June 2019 to $73.2 billion this year. While brick and mortar stores have begun reopening, customers that have gotten used to the convenience and ease of buying online and are keen to continue.
But more online shopping doesn’t equal more brand loyalty. In fact, 36% of online shoppers have indicated they’ve switched brands, with 73% planning to continue shopping with these new brands after the pandemic ends.
This growing consumer openness has made it clear that traditional tenets of the customer experience (think: convenience, price, and friendly customer service) have become mere baseline expectations.
Thriving in an era in which brand loyalty is conditional requires an entirely new definition of the customer experience — one that puts core values front and center, and offers a digital experience that’s as shoppable and visually engaging as the apps consumers spend hours on every day, like Instagram and TikTok.
Mindful Shopping: From Value-Based to Values-Based
For a growing share of customers, choosing which brands and retailers to patron is as personal as choosing which friends to spend time with, who to date, or even who to vote for. Shoppers care about a brand’s character, where they stand on pertinent social movements, and how they make customers and employees alike feel.
All of this is as much a part of the customer experience as the quality of the products or services themselves.
In the past, companies rarely delved into the personal. They shied away from controversial topics and clung to PR rhetoric to address company missteps. Now, brands that wish to stay relevant must offer a real human response to the causes and issues customers care about. Customers today expect a brand experience that digs deeper.
Customers Are Watching, Listening, and Waiting
The words, campaigns, and actions of brands and retailers have become inextricable from the customer experience. Brands that put their company values front and center are poised to form deeper, more empathetic connections with their shoppers, which can develop into stronger loyalty.
Nike was one of the first to understand the importance of brand values to their customers. Their September 2018 ad campaign that stars Colin Kaepernick is a great example. Years before, Kaepernick received broad criticism and sparked national controversy for kneeling during the national anthem at football games in protest of discrimination.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he told NFL Media in 2016. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Despite the controversy it stoked, Nike’s partnership with Kaepernick was viewed favorably overall by consumers, and online sales rose by 31% the weekend after the campaign launched.
A Quinnipiac University poll Found 49% of consumers approved of the campaign, compared to 37% who disapproved. Among those ages 18-34, the margins were even higher, with 67% approval, compared to 21% disapproval.
The stakes are high for companies that don’t respond
Not responding to important causes — or worse, responding badly — can ruin the entire customer experience and create lasting brand damage. It sends the message that a brand either doesn’t understand individuals’ experiences or doesn’t care enough to change.
- 90% of global consumers want brands to do everything they can to protect the well-being and financial security of their employees and suppliers during COVID-19, even if it means suffering major financial losses. 71% of consumers said brands that put their profits ahead of employees will lose their trust forever. (Edelman)
- 78% of consumers think retailers and customer product companies could be doing more to help them make decisions that improve environmental outcomes. (Kearney)
- 71% of US shoppers believe brands have a duty to respond to issues of racial injustice and police brutality, and 20% said they would stop buying from a brand they believe acted hypocritically on these issues. (Opinium)
- 65% of consumers want companies to sponsor LGBTQ+ through advocacy, such as by donating to LGBTQ+ causes and creating a COVID-19 fund to support LGBTQ+ individuals. (Kearney)
Customers have made it clear that their loyalty must be earned, and the brands and retailers that earn it will be those that prove they value empathy, fairness, and the well-being of its communities.
Authenticity is paramount
It’s critical to note that when brands decide how to respond to social issues, authenticity is essential.
Those that appear to be exploiting social movements for the sake of sales will be quickly condemned by shoppers. Consumers don’t want to see brands buying into advocacy “trends” — they want long-term commitment and real change.
For example, in early June, McDonald’s aired an ad that includes the names of seven black victims killed by police, which was widely viewed as exploitative of the BLM movement in an effort to enhance its image. At the same time, McDonald’s received criticism from the NAACP for providing inadequate support to its black workforce during COVID-19.
One company that has authentically embedded the values of advocacy and philanthropy into its brand identity is Warby Parker. With its “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” program, the company has donated more than 7 million glasses worldwide. Warby Parker temporarily stopped distributing glasses during the pandemic in an effort to protect the health of its partners and communities. Instead, it is using its program to buy personal protective equipment and preventative health supplies for healthcare workers and communities in need.
Seize the Opportunity of Mindful Shopping to Redefine Your CX
With an ever-expanding retail market, consumers have virtually unlimited options for where to shop. It’s easy to jump from brand to brand — and they’re not afraid to. Although customer loyalty today is in flux, it’s given way to a critical moment for brands to reassess the experiences they offer consumers from A-Z.
The mindful shopper wants to support brands and retailers that align with their values, that understand their day-to-day and the things they care about — from social causes to social habits.
Now is the time to realize the full potential of what your brand can mean to customers.