The vast majority of retail customers (87.9%) felt the shopping experience improved during the pandemic. This coincided with a move to online services and apps, with many saying they will continue to shop in this way even after the pandemic subsides. There is also greater willingness to share personal data, according to new research from analytics leader SAS. However, retailers need to understand their customers and personalise what they offer, as customers will readily switch providers if they think they’ll get a better experience elsewhere.

The research finds that, accelerated by the pandemic, some 15% started using a digital service for the first time. For grocery and food companies it was even higher, with nearly one in five (17.8%) switching to digital for the first time, which equates to nearly 10 million people. The shift is far from temporary. More than one in five retail customers intend to continue using online services (22.3%) permanently instead of in-person or physical interactions, and a similar proportion (23.4%) plan to use a mixture of online and physical.

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Shoppers experiencing an improved service by going online – for example ease of use, more targeted offers and a faster, more efficient service – are perhaps seeing the benefits of sharing their personal data. Overall customers expressed more willingness to share personal data than not and in the case of grocery/food companies this was by a significant margin of 17.7%, more than for any other industry covered by the research.

While there are opportunities for retailers that get the customer experience right, there are risks for those that don’t. Across all industries, over 50% of UK customers said they were prepared to switch provider after just one or two bad experiences.

With the move to more online shopping the risk of fraud increases. Almost two-thirds (61.8%) of all those surveyed, cross-industry, are now either more vigilant when it comes to fraud or have experienced it personally. While it falls on banks to protect customers’ digital identities as face-to-face banking fades into history, any fraud still makes for a negative online customer experience.

The opportunity to impress customers online must be seized

Retailers have a huge opportunity to understand and serve customers better thanks to the uptake of digital services, greater awareness of benefits such as a more streamlined, personalised service and an increased willingness to share personal data.

“It’s clear that the UK’s online retail services, including those provided by supermarkets, have held up extremely well so far during the pandemic and led to clear improvements in the experience for customers. Retailers are currently facing pressures relating to supply chain problems in the run-up to the busiest time of the year, so it’s important they still manage to capitalise on the opportunity that has arisen,” explained Andrew Fowkes, Global Retail Practice, SAS.

“The insights that can be gained from data produced by each digital interaction are the key to delivering highly personalised and rewarding customer experiences. Customers are increasingly aware of this; they want the benefits of a seamless digital experience and, as a result, are becoming more willing to share their data. The onus is on retailers to leverage this data using advanced analytics and AI to always deliver the right response, which sometimes needs to be ‘in the moment’.”

Read more about how customer expectations have changed across industries during the pandemic, and what organisations can do to meet them, by reading SAS’ research report Experience Disrupted: Is COVID-19 continuing to change customer behaviour?