Omnichannel has never been more vital for retail

PwC's latest research suggests developing safe and unified experiences is key for businesses as the economy reopens.

An initial pandemic pulse survey conducted by PwC in November found that Canadians were shopping online in greater numbers than ever before.

Now, as the economy reopens but social protocols remain unclear and changing by the day, the professional services firm finds that retailers can benefit from creating more seamless omnichannel customer experiences that provide safe and unifying shopping experiences for customers.

The firm’s most recent pulse survey, released today, also finds Canadian consumers continue to balk at the price of eco-friendly goods and that loyalty programs continue to present important opportunities for retailers.

The first finding is based on the anticipation of a significant increase in foot traffic and amount of stimulus dollars lingering in the economy, as well as pent-up demand, due to the lack of retail and life experiences since the pandemic began.

According to PwC, while shoppers continue to shop online in greater numbers than ever, 69% of respondents prefer in-store shopping experiences even as 56% shop online through a personal computer at least monthly.

“Canadians want great in-store experiences again, and when it is the right time from a health and safety perspective, they will be actively seeking them,” says Myles Gooding, national consumer markets leader and global consumer markets advisory leader at PwC Canada.

PwC says retailers will need to consider how they’re building out their e-commerce strategy and platform, while also providing shoppers with a safe, unified experience across touchpoints, as people emerge from lockdowns.

For example, while 53% of Canadian respondents expect to eat or drink in restaurants and bars in the next six months, that number jumps to 63% when looking post-pandemic. There are also significant differences regarding likelihood to attend mass social events (21% now vs. 40% in a new post-pandemic milieu).

“Retailers who want to compete in a post-pandemic world will need to deliver a balance of digital and physical offerings, including tailored communications and ensuring product fulfillment that meets their expectations,” Gooding says.

This means retailers must prioritize investing in technologies that address supply chain disruptions and enable automation, while also further upskilling their workforce to create seamless virtual and in-person customer service.

The report also delves into consumer perceptions of sustainability, finding that while the number of eco-conscious Canadian consumers has risen during the pandemic, the associated shopping behaviour has not.

Canadians lag global peers when it comes to eco-conscious consumption, largely because price remains a barrier for many consumers, with approximately 50% of respondents reporting that sustainable products are priced too high.

Still, based on the data, PwC believes implementing a sustainable strategy “will be essential for retailers.” For businesses, this means building a clear value proposition that can be ingrained in a culture and that is experienced both internally by employees and externally by consumers.

Lastly, loyalty programs provide a clear area of opportunity: it’s second only to reliability (60%) as the key driver of brand loyalty, with 52% of Canadians considering loyalty programs to be significant to their spending, outranking customer service (46%).