Even with Changing Consumer Behavior, a Human Touch Still Matters at Retail


With retail sales doubling over the last decade, the beginning of 2020 was full of excitement for the retail industry. eMarketer predicted that total retail sales would grow 2% to $5.574 trillion, while e-commerce sales is expected to stay strong at a 12.8% growth rate to $666.28 billion. Meanwhile, retailers across all categories were steadily shifting toward delivering more personalized and curated shopping experience — online and offline — that grabbed consumers’ attention.

Unfortunately, the last couple months have brought a series of unexpected disruptions to those forecasted gains. The pandemic brought a wave of store closures, supply chain disruption and new consumer behaviors that no one could have anticipated.

But did these events change the fundamental concept of consumer experience for retailers? According to our study, “Couture Connections: Fashioning Improved Customer Loyalty with Experience Data,” not necessarily.

A human touch still matters

Despite a world of consumers that is accustomed to the convenience and speed of e-commerce, our research revealed that 85% of 5,000 surveyed consumers value customer service and support — that is, a human connection — above all else before the pandemic began. And with one quick look at our social media channels, it’s easy to see how this one attribute of a good consumer experience is just as important, if not more, today.

See also:Retail's Influentials Peer Into their Crystal Balls for Post-COVID-19 Predictions

The whole notion of “human connection” can mean many different things to consumers, especially as social distancing and self-quarantining become our new social norm. Some people may still want to interact with a sales associate in a physical store, while other prefer to talk to a customer support person online, in a chat, or through an e-mail or Zoom.

How can brands make the right moves to meet consumer desire for a human connection? Survey participants suggested that five key moments of the buying journey could benefit from fine-tuning:

  • Engagement, offers and promotions: 81% expect personalized offers and promotions
  • Digital shopping experiences: 75% prefer online shopping only, or online and in-store shopping equally
  • In-store shopping experience: 80% choose in-store shopping only, or in-store and online shopping equally
  • Delivery and pick-up: 73% like the convenience and speed of “buy now, pick-up in-store” models
  • Customer service and support: 85% have high expectations for support services, but only 67% cite that their needs are met

While some retailers may be close to meeting their consumer expectations in these areas, many others have a considerable opportunity to lean in to changing consumer sentiments, values, and behaviors by reshaping the experience they offer. Evaluating what they are doing well and expanding on it will not be enough to succeed in the new normal. Everything they need will need to be measured, adjusted, and monitored — closely and continuously.

A simpler, less uncertain view into the consumer experience

Without a doubt, creating an outstanding customer experience is more complicated today than ever. And sustaining it will require a level of relevance and personalization that’s never been expected before.

Robin Barrett Wilson is an industry executive advisor, focused on the fashion industry, at SAP. Leveraging her past experience and knowledge within the fashion industry, she works closely with our customers to understand their respective businesses and growth objectives. Additionally, she is a recourse for when it comes to trends in the industry. Prior to joining the SAP team, Robin has held various roles including founding her own omnichannel, socially conscious women’s clothing brand and developing and producing her line in New York City. She also has held a wide variety of roles for well-known brands such as Victoria’s Secret, Macy’s and VF Corp.