The goalposts have moved for digital customer experience. Retailers the world over need to excel online now or risk losing out.

COVID-19 has triggered a colossal shift in consumer behavior and shopping habits after millions of non-essential businesses were forced to close for months with little warning. In the weeks since, online shopping has switched from a convenience to a necessity.

Before March 2020—or “before Coronavirus,” as it will forever be known—around 3-4% of U.S. grocery purchases were conducted online. By the time the virus had reached its peak, this number had jumped to 10-15%—and that’s a significant rise. Even once stores reopen, the number of online grocery purchases is predicted to stabilize at 6%.

The reason? Some shoppers will want to avoid stores which attract large groups of people. The fear of contracting COVID-19 is a powerful motivator for ordering online, with just one-third of U.S. adults saying they would feel safe shopping in malls again.

For retail brands, this has serious implications. Retailers without digital shopping channels and customer support may struggle to meet customer needs. And, just as importantly, digital customer experience needs to be at the top of its game. In a time when brands are eagerly competing for much-needed e-sales, you either give buyers an engaging, satisfying experience or you get outshone.

Why it’s now or never for excellent digital CX

No doubt about it, companies need to invest in improving their digital customer experience to meet evolving customer behavior, needs, and expectations. Outstanding CX helps brands retain their market share—even under threat from new rivals.

After all, businesses which prioritized brick-and-mortar sales before the pandemic aren’t just competing with other stores on their street or in their corner of the mall any more. Now, they have to stand out from countless new competitors from all over the web.

A global recession might not seem like the ideal time to invest in improving your website, customer support, and communication channels. But the Advertising Research Foundation urges brands to continue advertising as much as possible, warning that businesses choosing to “go dark” take as many as five years to recover their market share.

Investing in your digital customer experience can help to secure loyalty and increase revenue. Here’s why:

Adjusting business models to deliver an outstanding digital customer experience is vital not only to survive in a post-COVID-19 world but to flourish.

So, how do you do it?

Seamless connectivity: the tech you need to create competitive CX now and into the future

It’s no secret that life right now is far from how we know it—or how we’d like it—to be. But rather than viewing digital channels as a ‘need to have right now,’ retail brands should look at them as what they really are: core elements in the marketing mix.

This commitment should be evident in the CX, too. The key is to leave shoppers so satisfied, that online purchases feel like the best way to buy, not just an unavoidable necessity.

Connected, contactless delivery

Curbside delivery will continue to be an essential service as some customers continue to avoid person-to-person contact. Offering this isn’t just convenient: it demonstrates your company’s dedication to the safety of your customers as well as your employees.

However, the logistics require consideration and integration. Your system should allow for drivers to record a successful delivery into your inventory management system without requiring a customer signature. Unified platforms which connect multiple tools (for order picking, delivery, inventory management, etc.) make this level of connectivity simple.

Omnichannel customer support

Omnichannel service is one of the most important steps in building a competitive digital customer experience. But it’s not enough to just have email, phone, and social media support–each of these channels needs to work as well as the rest, with no weak links.

87% of consumers agree that brands should work harder to provide a consistent experience across channels. Achieving a connected service can lead brands to enjoy 91% higher customer retention than competitors.

Customer service agents obviously play a pivotal role in this: Reps must have instant access to customer history during interactions. More than 70% of customers hate having to repeat themselves when dealing with a brand, and 30% feel that a company knowing about their previous interactions helps them to feel valued. Having gone through a global pandemic, we can also expect customer tensions to be a little heightened—the more retailers can do to reassure customers and respond to questions quickly, the better.

There are ways to do this and to automate related tasks for streamlined, efficient service. Dixa's customer service software unifies the customer experience across phone, email, chat, and messaging apps to ensure that no customer gets left behind while empowering agents with customer data for a better working experience.

For brands increasing their focus on online retail, or going online-only, acclimating to changing consumer behavior isn’t easy. But embracing the latest technologies and understanding why customer needs have changed is essential for survival and success.