Small businesses have been forced to adapt quickly to find new ways to serve customers — during the midst of a pandemic.
And, many of the changes that they made will likely continue even after the threat of COVID-19 recedes, according to Rieva Lesonsky, a nationally recognized small business expert and best-selling author.
Lesonsky shared her insights about changing consumer behaviors and offered practical advice to help companies thrive — during her talk, “2022’s Hottest Businesses, Markets & Trends.”
The South Florida District Office of the U.S. Small Business Administration presented Lesonsky’s webinar on Jan. 6.
“One of the things that business owners have to be really aware of is that consumer buying behaviors have changed. They changed because of the pandemic and they changed because of generational changes — and it’s likely these changes are going to be embedded in their future behaviors.
“First of all, consumers were made really aware of small businesses during the pandemic because so many of their businesses in their towns were so impacted, and they’re really, really motivated to shop local — to shop from locally owned businesses,” she said.
At the same time, people are taking longer to make decisions about purchases.
“People used to decide something on the spot, or it took a couple of days to make a decision, and now it can take weeks, sometimes even months to make a buying decision.
“And, they’re thinking about things other than this product here or this service.
“They’re thinking about sustainability and value and quality and the timeliness of it.
“Consumers today are really interested in how a business behaves, in their ethical behaviors, in what they think — in how they participate in the neighborhood and in the world, at large,” she said.
Lesonsky shared some statistics about post-pandemic buying behaviors:
- 48% of consumers were more likely to try new businesses than they were pre-pandemic; they’re more experimental, more exploratory
- 83% of online shoppers found a technical issue while shopping on a small business website; that’s bad because they’ll just go somewhere else to purchase the item
- 48% stopped shopping at a store where they shopped before the pandemic because it didn’t have an online option
- 53% considered using a business but changed their mind because it didn’t have a website
On one hand, that’s good news for local retailers and for new shops — because consumers want to shop local and to try new things.
On the other hand, consumers are taking longer to decide on purchases and they’re demanding an online purchasing option, she said.
“If you are a retailer, you need to have an e-commerce site. It’s not debatable. It’s not a question. It’s a must. You have to have an e-commerce website,” Lesonsky said.
Plus, it’s not enough to simply have a website: It must be monitored to ensure that it’s working — because if it’s not, you’ll lose sales.
It’s also important to be able to handle transactions made through Smartphones or tablets, she added, because those kinds of purchases are becoming more popular with consumers.
It’s important to know what your customer wants and to cater to those desires, she said.
To help close sales, keep in mind these consumer preferences
- 96% of online shoppers want free shipping
- 93% of customers want a free return policy
- 92% expect some kind of discounts
- 74% say they want some kind of loyalty reward
- 70% say they want the same- or next-day delivery
Of course, not every business can provide free delivery, because it’s too expensive, she said.
“I think most people understand that from a small business, that’s not going to be available,” Lesonsky said.
She suggested another approach, instead, known as BOPIS. The acronym stands for Buy Online, Pick up in Store. Consumers place their online orders and come to the store, where it is delivered to their car.
Keep in mind that when you use BOPIS, it’s essential to have the ordered item in stock and available when the customer arrives to pick it up, Lesonsky said.
It’s not all about convenience
While convenience is important, there are other factors at play, Lesonsky said.
“Consumers have a different mindset.
“They look at companies like Ben & Jerry’s that stand for something — particularly Millennials and Gen Z. You’re talking about two huge generations. I mean, between the two of them, you’re talking about almost half of all Americans,” she said.
“It’s just huge numbers of people who consider consumerism a channel for change. It’s how they manifest their own activism. They’re looking at what companies do; what companies stand for; and, more than half of Gen Z and Millennials are boycotting at least one company.
“It’s not like, ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter.’ It matters today,” Lesonsky said.
Companies also need to pay attention to how they reach their customers.
“Your marketing has to be inclusive. You don’t want to be gratuitous – you want to be genuine, you want to be authentic,” Lesonsky said.
She advised those listening: “Ask yourself: What does your company stand for? What’s your culture? What are you trying to create?
“You need to know the answers to these questions because customers, employees — they want to know,” she said.
About Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and president of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. You can follow Lesonsky at Twitter.com/Rieva. Visit SmallBizDaily.com to sign up for her free TrendCast reports.
Published February 09, 2022