The Future Of Experiences In A Post-Lockdown World

  • Six in 10 consumers have said that they intend to continue buying as much online once the pandemic has passed as they do now (Kantar, 2020).
  • In life post-lockdown, consumers will expect a fully connected digital experience and brands will need to move fast to catch-up to this digital demand. 
  • Customers will only engage with brand experiences that explicitly show they care for everyone and those that put protection front and centre. 
  • A touchless approach will transform shopping behaviour and brand experiences, as businesses infuse technology throughout to create a more fluid, personalised journey.  

In this regular column, creative agency Household explores how modern wellness businesses can leverage consumer behaviour to create brand stories and experiential points of discovery for customers. 

This month it is examining how the COVID-19 crisis is reshaping brand experiences and what that means for wellness businesses in a world post-lockdown.

Emerging into a new reality
As lockdown eases and we begin to emerge into a new reality, over the coming weeks, consumers will adapt to a fluid way of working, balancing their time between their place of work and home. 

Research shows that 20–30% of workers could continue working from home (Harvard Business Review, 2020). Retail, F&B and hospitality industries will also begin to slowly re-open their doors, allowing customers to engage with brands with some sense of normalcy. 

However, as this new, adapted landscape emerges we won’t be returning to the world we were once used to. 

Lockdown has forcibly changed the way we live our daily lives and brought with it, new needs, behaviours and mindsets. Some of these are temporary, but others have been accelerated and even forcibly shaped for the long-term. 

So, what do these new behaviours really mean and how will they affect the way we engage with brand experiences as we enter a new reality?

The Future Of Experiences In A Post-Lockdown World
Image Credit: Jacqueline Munguía

Digitally connected shopping
Acceptance of e-commerce has forced consumers across generations to become digitally dependent. Six in 10 consumers have said that they intend to continue buying as much online once the pandemic has passed as they do now (Kantar, 2020). In post-lockdown, consumers will expect a fully connected digital experience, and brands will need to move fast to catch-up to this digital demand. 

Some brands are already adapting, investing not only in their e-commerce capabilities but in bridging the physical and digital worlds. According to Adobe Analytics, curbside pickup at retail stores in the US increased by 208% between April 1st and April 20th, compared with a year ago. 

With the drive for connected digital and physical shopping here to stay, we’re seeing more brands explore how they can create seamless omnichannel solutions, such as supermarket chain Lidl, which recently announced that it is adding lockers in-store for customers to pick-up online orders. 

With the arrival of 5G, brands are in prime position to innovate the omnichannel experience. In the US, retailer CVS has partnered with delivery company UPS to launch prescription drone deliveries to local retirement communities in Florida. And, as 5G becomes a part of everyday life, we expect to see more brands innovate to create hyper-fast delivery methods, to enable customers to get what they need instantly. We only have to look to Amazon’s recent announcement of the purchase of autonomous driving start-up Zoox to see this coming to fruition. 

In this altered reality, a new wave of digitally dependent consumers will demand contactless experiences that bridge online and offline channels seamlessly. They’ll want to be able to shop how they want, where they want, when they want, and brands will need to innovate and invest in their fulfilment methods to create connected experiences.  

Safety at the heart   
COVID-19 has re-programmed the need for good hygienic practices and safety in all of us, so moving forward consumers will only engage with brand experiences that explicitly show they care for everyone — putting protection front and centre. 

Supermarkets were quick to implement safety measures into their experiences, such as socially distanced decals, reduced store hours and regular sanitisation points, to name a few. But as more businesses re-open, brands are adapting to ensure customers can enjoy some normalcy whilst making sure safety is central to the experience. Dutch restaurant, Mediamatic ETEN, for example, has created personal quarantine greenhouses to alleviate the risk of infection by ensuring distance is maintained.

In this new landscape, there is also greater awareness among consumers and brands of the potential effects on our mental health. This is already pushing brands to create safe spaces beyond the physical. Take Apple, not only has the brand implemented a number of physical measures within its experience, but it has also created a suite of comprehensive online mental health resources designed to reassure employees on their return to work. 

Elsewhere, brands are looking to make safety a more connected, autonomous experience by investing in technology. 

Social distancing is vital to continue to slow the spread of the disease — to enable this, British supermarket chain Asda has announced that it is launching a new virtual queuing system for its stores, to maintain social distancing efforts. Booking platform OpenTable in the US has also introduced a new tool, allowing customers the ability to book appointments at supermarkets. 

However, those that win in a post-lockdown world will be the brands that realise physical safety won’t be enough. 

By creating meaningful initiatives and empathetic comms alongside protective measures, wellness brands will find themselves able to drive engagement and form stronger relationships with their customers. Innovation will also be key to make safety an effortless part of the experience. 

The Future Of Experiences In A Post-Lockdown World
Image Credit: Brooke Lark

A completely touchless experience  
This new need to bridge online and offline channels and a collective drive for safety has accelerated another new behaviour – touchless. This new approach will transform future shopping behaviour and brand experiences, as businesses infuse technology throughout to create a more fluid, personalised journey.  

One example is Browns Fashion. The retailer is equipping its sale associates with an app allowing them to book fitting rooms for customers and view their online wish lists, thus connecting the online and offline experience whilst still keeping things personalised.

US retailer Walmart has also shown how data can be used to create a personalised payment experience. The brand has tweaked its app and payment system to connect customers’ loyalty points to personal payments. 

As all of these examples show, the demand for touchless solutions is transforming the physical experience forever, with personalisation, connectivity and seamlessness being key. 

Wellness brands will need to adapt by integrating new technology into their offerings, to ensure they recognise who their customers are and to offer a truly touchless experience. 

Virtual — the new experience playground
Digital adoption isn’t limited to e-commerce. In fact, our whole lives have become digital in lockdown, with consumers socialising and entertaining themselves in virtual realms too. 

With virtual becoming the new hang-out spot, brands have been fast to respond. Virtual consultations have taken off as a way to maintain relationships with customers. Credo Beauty utilised Hero, a virtual video chat startup to enable staff to maintain customer relations, and as retail stores open, staff roles will continue to be indistinguishable across channels. 

And, as customers socialise online to stay connected, brands are finding new ways to engage them. Facebook recently announced the launch of a new feature for small businesses called Shops — the new platform allows retailers to create an online store and sell directly to customers on both Facebook and Instagram. 

Features like these mean brands will no longer be limited to a single touchpoint, instead they can exist across channels, meeting their customers where they are. 

Brands will also begin to test virtual channels as community event spaces, translating their physical experiences and recreating in-store events online in immersive ways. In New Zealand, the town of Whakatāne created a virtual mall for its community to allow them to shop with local and regional businesses. US department store Nordstrom also recently announced that it’s moving all of its in-store events online, showing a shift to virtual becoming the new normal.

And as immersive tech becomes more accessible, we will see more brands connect with their customers in mixed realities, fully immersing them into new experiences. 

Clothing chain Uniqlo recently collaborated with Pokémon Go to launch its new range in the AR game. Customers could buy Uniqlo products for their avatar as well as in real-life, showcasing that experiences are no longer restricted to one channel. 

With customers existing everywhere, brands will no longer see the physical touchpoint existing as a singular experience. They will begin to re-evaluate the role of their staff, and how they can exist seamlessly between online and offline channels, and they will explore opening the doors to immersive virtual experiences that can transcend channels, to connect with customers anywhere and everywhere. 

The new shape of experiences
The landscape of customer experience is evolving quickly. We are entering a new reality and the wellness brands that will win will be those that adapt and innovate to meet new consumer needs. By bridging the gap between offline and online and emphasising safety across the whole experience, brands can build trust and affinity, creating loyalty in a post-lockdown world. 

Here are 5 ways that the shape of experience will change moving forward:  

  1. Safety will become the new code for engagement  
  2. Personal devices will enable a new tailored contactless experience  
  3. The role of staff will evolve beyond the in-store experience to online channels
  4. Virtual spaces will become the new testing ground for brands
  5. Consumers will demand a connected online-offline experience

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