The in-store shopping experience changed.

The other day it felt like I was speaking with a fuel station employee at 3 am, through a crackling speaker, between bulletproof glass.

But I wasn’t. I was in a well-known clothing retailer, trying to communicate through a mask, plexiglass separating me from the store associate.

It’s a strange new world. Not a brave one.

Shaking hands is a faux pas, as is standing too close to a store clerk.

It’s become more difficult connecting with customers in-store. Not to mention how difficult it can be for your brand to form relationships with customers online.

Then and Now

Barista shaking hands with customer

Pre-COVID, you could pay in cash, with no barriers separating you from clerks unless you were in a bank… or a filling station at 3:00 am.

People were personable, friendly. Shaking hands was customary when closing a deal… and sometimes high-fives were accepted.

We sat in movie theatres, concert halls, race tracks, sporting events — all of us side-by-side, watching with anticipation.

Events are gone.

Your home is now your theatre… and it’s your children’s school. 

Waiting in line is the norm to gain access to a store and make a purchase.

It boggles my mind when all those cars are lined up at the Starbucks drive-thru, waiting patiently to order their grande, iced, sugar-free, vanilla latte with soy milk… when they could simply use the mobile app to skip the line.

Employees of many stores were laid-off when the pandemic first hit, and new employees may have filled their place once reopenings commenced. As a result, you may have to deal with less knowledgeable customer representatives now.

For example, one study found that 40% of UK customers who shopped in-store, found the experience “less enjoyable” than before coronavirus.

Fortunately, not all is bad. Customers are still making online purchases.

Connecting with Customers Online

When I walk into my favorite coffee shop, they know my name. It’s like the sitcom Cheers. The baristas say my name, we exchange pleasantries, and they have my order ready, no mobile app required.

What if your e-commerce platform could do the same?

In some countries, customers conduct more online shopping with retailers they trust, instead of a pure e-commerce brand they’ve never interacted with.

Spain’s retail online revenue growth since January (CCInsight data)
Spain’s retail online revenue growth since January (CCInsight data).

What if selling was more about building a relationship, much like someone would do in-store, to keep customers coming back over and over?

Take the Ritz-Carlton as an example. There’s a reason they’re known worldwide as one of the top-tier hotel brands. Their philosophy is not just providing a great place to stay for a night, but that true hospitality “results from long-term commitments by the hotel brand, by each property, and by every staffer, with passion and with pride.”

Couple and receptionist at counter in hotel wearing medical masks as precaution against virus. Young couple on a business trip doing check-in at the hotel

Each staff member is responsible for noting the preferences of each guest. These preferences are loaded into a computer system that connects to every Ritz-Carlton. When a client books a room, all preferences are linked to their profile, and every staff member is provided this information to make the experience as seamless and customized as possible. Guests are greeted by name when entering and leaving.

“I knew that a repeat customer lifelong was worth about $200,000 to the company, so I was willing to move heaven and Earth to keep that customer so that they spent this $200,000 with me, and not with my competitor. That included teaching every employee problem resolution and saying, ‘You can spend up to $2,000.’ Nobody ever spent $2,000, but they bought breakfast or sent a food basket or some cookies and so on, and the guests were amazed. We created instantaneous loyalty. That was an economic decision. It was not a decision to throw away money.”

–– Horst Schulze, Ritz-Carlton Co-Founder, President and COO (1988-2001), Vice-Chairman (2001-2002)

Final Thoughts

Closeup of calico cat, curious, looking at laptop, notebook, computer, pc screen, funny, on home, house room carpet floor, touching mouse, touchpad, looking up

We’re facing the unknown.

Cities and countries are shutting down again.

Stores such as Walmart, Target, and CVS are requiring customers to wear masks.

Even if your store is open now, will it shut down again? Will the store hours change?

With all the unknowns, the long lines, the rising coronavirus cases, more people are buying online and may continue to do so for a very long time.

If your e-commerce platform can communicate across multiple channels and understand each and every preference of your customers, relationships may begin to form. Brand advocates may emerge and bring you new customers.

Relationships have never been more important for your brand.