Experimentation strategies for the retail industry in a post-COVID world

Author:

Isabel Meijaard

06/22/2021 Editors note: Updated links. To see more recent posts, go here.

It is without a doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on the retail industry. While omnichannel- and digital-first retailers have managed to pivot more easily and respond quicker to sudden changes in consumer behavior, retailers focused on in-store experience and service have struggled to keep up. 

The pandemic has significantly changed consumer behavior. In some cases, permanently. 

We’ve seen exponential growth of online grocery shopping (+57%*). Ecommerce sales in department stores, apparel and beauty have gone up 10 percentage points since the start of the pandemic (source: McKinsey, 2021). And new omnichannel models like Buy Online Pick Up In Store (BOPIS) have become increasingly popular (+28% YoY**). 

While some of these changes in consumer behavior may slowly settle and return to pre-COVID standards, some are here to stay. Consumers report that they plan to continue using BOPIS (56%***) and Grocery Delivery (45%****) in a post-pandemic world. 

It is more important than ever for retailers to be able to respond quickly to changing consumer needs and expectations. As I mentioned in my blogpost on how to win in a post-COVID world, it is essential for businesses to work in a truly data-driven manner and experiment every step of the way. 

Besides adopting a data-driven and experimentation-first approach, retailers can set themselves up for success in a post-COVID world by leveraging consumer loyalty, bringing an in-store feel to the digital experience, providing consistent digital experiences and building high-performing landing pages. 

Provide consistent digital experiences

  • Make sure that all digital channels and platforms provide similar levels of service and offer a consistent, recognizable experience. Ask yourself whether you’re providing the same functionalities (e.g., 3D product display) on both mobile web and desktop or whether you offer the same payment options for app and web. Analyze your consumer data to understand which platform or channel your consumers prefer to use and for which purposes. Tailor the individual channel experiences to specific user groups if needed, but make sure to provide a consistent level of service across the board. Optimizely’s feature management capabilities can be used to rollout features across all of your platforms, and assess their performance through feature tests. 
  • Experiment on some of the key features that you provide to your consumers, like the chat functionality that you provide on web and app. Can we test a different placement of the chat pop-up? Can we test different self-serve support options for users when starting the chat? Should we provide slight alterations depending on device or between app and web? Run a series of experiments on high-value features to enhance consumer experience across platforms – while keeping a consistent, recognizable level of service.   

Bring in-store to digital 

  • As consumers weren’t able to do any physical, in-store shopping for most of last year, leading retailers have come up with smart ways of bringing the in-store experience to digital. Especially in parts of the retail industry where consumers have a stronger need to try-on or test products, like in beauty, jewelry and fashion, we have seen more of the in-store experience translated to online. We’ve even seen augmented reality capabilities where customers can determine if a new couch looks good in their living room simply by taking a picture with their phones. 
  • Some great ways to bring in-store to digital is by experimenting with personalized service and assistance: whether it is hopping on a Zoom call with a stylist, or offering personalized beauty advice over chat. Consider experimenting with these features to see what works best for your consumers. Provide an optimized experience by testing different placement or positioning of the chat as well its design. Experiment with different ways of offering personalized styling advice to your customers. Do we want to offer it to our loyalty members only? If so, where and how will we place this on our site or in our app? Leverage Optimizely’s Experimentation capabilities to provide optimized experiences.
  • Other ways in which you can either activate and nurture your customers online is by live streaming experiential content like fashion shows and product demos. Again, leverage Optimizely’s Experimentation functionalities to test different ways of promoting the feature or event, optimizing the event’s sign-up feature and personalizing the landing page.    

Build high-performing landing pages 

  • With more consumers engaging with your brand on different platforms, it is key to send out the same message across your channels and in your marketing efforts. Make sure to align ad content, landing page copy and design as well as the overall execution of your campaigns across your channels. This to deliver a solid brand experience regardless of the device or platform the consumer is using to engage with your brand. 
  • Use Optimizely’s AB testing capabilities to test landing pages and optimize web or in-app funnels. Experiment with USP communication, headline copy and campaign visuals, or simply test two or more versions of your landing page against each other.  Use Optimizely’s real-time data to continuously monitor and optimize your landing pages and decide which version of your landing page to roll out to the majority of your users.  

Leverage your loyalty 

  • Provide tailored experiences. Use Optimizely’s Personalization functionalities to provide tailored experiences to specific user groups, e.g., based on geo-location, preferred shopping category or current loyalty tier. Make your customers feel connected to your business by customizing their shopping experience to their needs. If currently working with a loyalty program, for example, you could personalize the customer experience based on loyalty tier and display exclusive deals or offerings to this user group. 
  • Experiment with your loyalty program. Use data analytics and qualitative insights to evaluate how attractive your existing loyalty program is to your regular customers. Create hypotheses to experiment on the benefits you currently offer, but also on the way your Loyalty Program is presented across your digital channels. Use Optimizely Web or Full Stack to test placement, copy and design of your Loyalty Program Content and to evaluate which Loyalty Benefits resonate most with your customers. 
  • Optimize your sign-up flow. Turn more one-time shoppers into regular customers by optimizing your Loyalty Program’s sign-up form flow. Understand which parts of your sign-up funnel cause friction and focus your efforts on removing those pain points. Use experimentation to assess which version of a page, form or element works best for your customers.

Conclusion

Relying on and leveraging experimentation to determine what your customers’ needs are will help your company stand apart from their competitors every time. It is through experimentation that customers’ preferences will be highlighted so they can have an efficient and smooth experience every time they visit your establishment and more importantly, remember you for it and inspire them to return again and again as loyal ambassadors.   

If you want to learn more, please download our latest ebook: COVID-19: Returning to a new normal