Undoubtedly 2020 has been a year of change and challenges for everyone and every business. This includes our digital behaviours that have also changed in recent months, Hootsuite and We Are Social’s October 2020 Global Statshot indicates that since July we are spending an average of 7 minutes more per day scrolling social media (2hrs 29 min) and the amount of internet users have increased 7.4% year on year.

Within the Australian retail sector, we have observed a rapid consumer shift to ecommerce as COVID-19 related restrictions resulted in the temporary closure of ‘bricks and mortar’ stores. In turn, Australian retailers have had to accelerate the rate of their digital offering expansion and pivot their strategies to keep up with increased online consumer demand. An example of this is the Accent Group turning their physical stores into ‘dark stores’ to assist in the online order fulfillment process, as they experienced an uplift in online sales during the lockdown period.

Demonstrating just how rapid this uplift in consumer demand has been, the October 2020 Statshot report shows an astounding 89% of consumers visited an online store in the past month globally, and 74% made an online purchase. However, Australian retailers shifting their focus to online is not new or ground breaking, and has been a global trend that has gathered pace locally over the past several years.

Over the past 9 months, as COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions have been imposed, Australian consumers have made a rapid shift to purchasing goods online out of sheer necessity. With consumers that may have been previously unfamiliar with online shopping or uncomfortable gaining confidence in making online purchases, and are continuing to do so even as physical stores have reopened or are re-opening.

In the last few years, online or omni-channel retailers have grown accustomed to heavily focusing their online presence, customer experience and inventory on appealing to a younger tech-savvy audience, who do have the confidence to make online transactions. However, when comparing the digital habits of what many retailers consider their ‘core’ audience to the online habits of older demographics in recent months, it may surprise that there are minimal differences in purchasing volumes.

The October 2020 Statshot indicated that globally, there is only a 2% difference between internet users aged 25-34 year old (75.7%) and 45-54 year olds (73.7%) who admitted to recently making an online purchase. Comparatively, in July 45% of 45-54 year olds anticipated to shop more frequently online after the pandemic, and 73.7% of this age group confirmed they had in fact made an online purchase in the past month. This data demonstrates a real opportunity for retailers, who are used to putting those younger demographics at the core of their digital strategies, to think outside the box and examine how exactly they can gain further market share by reaching this growing audience segment.

A great practical strategy retailers can adopt to target beyond their core demographics is engaging in social listening activities. Social listening gives retailers an opportunity to track conversations relating to their brand on social media, which can then be analysed for insights to inform how best to expand their digital targeting. By examining which platforms are most popular within these new demographics, which retailers wish to target, and exploring what kind of conversations are being had around their product offering, retailers are able to make informed decisions about their social media outreach.

Social listening may seem like social media monitoring, however, the two activities actually differ in significant ways. Social media monitoring predominantly looks at metrics like engagement rate, mentions and hashtags, whereas social listening aims to look beyond numbers and considers the sentiment behind the data. This helps retailers understand how people feel about them and their competitors, as opposed to just identifying how many times they are mentioned. Social listening allows retailers to recognise and pivot to leveraging changing consumer behaviour, which is crucial in being a nimble retailer who has its hand on the pulse.

Retailers are operating in a disruptive, scary and uncertain time, however, there are opportunities for retailers to take advantage of many exciting transformations occurring within their customer-base and amongst consumer demographics. By paying close attention to the ever-evolving needs of the customer, retailers can use these as a way to inform how they can expand their existing customer base.

Gunnar Habitz is senior partner and alliance manager for Asia Pacific at Hootsuite