While the pandemic-induced uptick in online shopping isn't a secret, new research from Vonage reveals that no other industry has seen stronger growth in customer engagement in the past two years. That includes healthcare, media/entertainment, and other industries that became more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If holiday ecommerce trends are any indication, the shift to online shopping hasn't slowed much yet. But what happens when the pandemic ends? How can online retailers that won customer attention by necessity transform that attention into loyalty with the right customer experience?
The Rise of Ecommerce in 2020
Certainly, 2020 was not the year anyone planned for in January. COVID-19 changed everything about how we live, work, communicate, and shop. It also made the survey data Vonage collected in January outdated by spring. Repeating the same research in August revealed striking differences from earlier in the year, as reflected in the Vonage Global Customer Engagement Report published in October of that year.
The survey of 5,000 consumers in 14 countries found 46 percent greater engagement with retail and ecommerce businesses in August than in January. Younger shoppers reported an increased frequency of engagement more often than older people, which is good news for brands hoping to capture the loyalty of millennials and Generation Z.
Holiday shopping data suggested these ecommerce trends would continue through the end of 2020. Foot traffic on Black Friday was down 52 percent from 2019, and Thanksgiving Day in-store shopping dropped by 95 percent. Online sales totals, however, increased by 39.4 percent on Black Friday, 35.6 percent on Small Business Saturday, and 38.3 percent on Cyber Monday.
It's hard to predict exactly how consumer behavior will shift when COVID-19 vaccines are widely available and people feel more comfortable in stores. But people have become more accustomed to online shopping and digital communication channels in 2020 and are likely to use them more frequently in the future.
For retailers, the business imperative is clear: It's never been more important to deliver an omnichannel customer experience.
Unify Communications for an Omnichannel Experience
The Vonage Global Customer Engagement Report asked people how they like to communicate with businesses and each other. Although channel preferences shifted during the pandemic, the responses from both January and August revealed what marketing leaders already know: A multichannel communications approach is best.
For example, mobile phone calls were the most popular channel for customers to reach businesses and service providers, but while 35 percent listed it as their top choice in January, only 30 percent said it was their favorite in August. Meanwhile, video chatting skyrocketed during the pandemic. In the U.S., only 28 percent had connected with a business via video in January, but 43 percent had done so by August. Global consumers were 23 percent more likely to rank messaging apps as a top-three choice in August than in January and 23 percent less likely to prefer SMS. Second and third choices also revealed preferences for everything from chatbots to push notifications.
Simply put, customers no longer have a channel preference—they have preferences, which often change depending on why and when they're reaching out.
Diversifying communication channels is important, but so is connecting those channels. That way, businesses can recognize customers however they reach out and provide a seamless omnichannel experience throughout the entire buying journey—from shopping and ordering to confirmations and tracking to customer service and marketing—and build trust along the way.
Unified communications with CRM integration lets businesses do just that by combining real-time communication channels like voice, video, and messaging into one cloud-based platform. Customers can reach out however they choose and have the same customer experience regardless of the channel. The system recognizes each incoming caller and pulls up the customer's profile for the company agent to review before or during the interaction so they can offer personalized answers and insights based on context and the individual's buying history.