As Australia starts to re-open retail stores, restaurants and workplaces, a key question everyone is asking is whether customers will follow.

Even prior to government lockdowns, customer purchases were down, and in countries that have re-opened, purchases are still down.

Hence, stores need to adjust.

Based on academic and market research on customer behaviour, and feedback from business and industry associations, here are seven customer-centric recommendations for businesses to enact now to increase the likelihood that customers will return.

A new normal
Accept that business will not be normal now, or for the foreseeable future, because customer behaviour has fundamentally changed.

Needs over luxury
Customers have shifted their focus to purchases that fulfil their fundamental needs over luxury purchases. This is why people initially rushed to stockpile groceries and toilet paper.

We’ve also seen a greater interest in cooking, baking bread, and even making butter and candles.

Business owners will need to consider how their products or services connect with their customers’ basic or fundamental needs, and then inform them about this.

Connect emotionally
Businesses will also need to connect emotionally with customers. This doesn’t mean sending emails to customers telling them the business is there for them.

Instead, businesses need to connect through ways such as sharing individual or personal stories.

For example, one simple way to connect might be to send customers individualised hand-written letters of thanks in the post for their support.

Think long-term
Customers may be experiencing financial hardships, which will make them reluctant to spend.

Instead business can focus on building long-term relationships by offering deals, rewards, financing terms and payment options.

Loyalty goes a long way.

Business owners need to be respectful and humble, but also think about how to turn financial hardship into a long-term mutual beneficial relationship.

Prioritise safety
Safety will be front of mind.

Businesses will need to inform customers about why their stores are safe to visit.

Extra cleaning or no-touch delivery or payment options, although necessary, will not be enough.

Instead, it will be important to ensure efforts to keep customers safe are clear and visible before, during and after customer visits.

If not, customers will not feel safe and will still stay away.

New products, services and markets
Shifting customer behaviour has created new customers who may not have ever visited certain stores before.

It has also created opportunities to develop new products and services tailored to this shifting behaviour.

To reach these new customer segments, businesses can take advantage of lower advertising rates in both digital and traditional channels.

Go all-in on e-commerce
Keep expanding your digital footprint.

The majority of customers will have some hesitation in visiting stores for quite a while. They will still prefer purchasing online, and business needs to adjust to this new normal.

Fortunately, it has never been easier to build the requisite e-commerce websites and mobile apps for such digital purchases, and many leading high-technology firms are offering free training and reduced fees to use their services.

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Source: Smart Company