During the past few months, the customer experience has inevitably taken a backseat as retailers prioritise maintaining profit margins and business stability. With social distancing measures in place, the in-store experience naturally leaves a lot to be desired.

But focusing on the bottom line doesn’t mean retailers should ignore the need for a great customer experience. In fact, businesses could be missing a big opportunity to tap into new audiences and build brand loyalty right now.

Consumers everywhere are stuck at home staring at their laptops and smartphones. They’re bored and restless and with the country now facing a second wave of COVID-19, they’re shopping online more than ever.

Emarsys’s ccinsight tool shows that Aussie consumers who still prefer a brick-and-mortar retailer have shifted to online shopping, in many cases for the first time. At the time of writing that data shows that online retail spending (at brick and mortar retailers) in Australia has jumped to 124% year-on-year growth.

Pure-play e-commerce brands are also seeing massive growth, with brands like Kogan.com attracting more than 300,000 new customers between April and June. Meanwhile, Australian furniture and homewares brand, Temple and Webster is now valued at $1 billion following bumper profits during the pandemic. Analysts and fund managers also believe Catch Group, owned by Wesfarmers, is now worth between $1-1.5 billion.

But consumers are nervous, they’re still worried about supplies and they’re looking for support. Crashing websites, incorrect stock estimates and unhelpful error messages are not what customers need right now. They need to know that their favourite retailers can be relied upon during the crisis.

For this reason, a strong, predictable and reliable customer experience is vital. But how do you maintain such an experience with so much instability? Here are three ways to get started:

  1. Be transparent and set expectations with customers

With so much uncertainty and turmoil, customers are desperate for ease and reliability. The best thing that your business can do is help reassure consumers that it’s still business as usual.

Clear and concise information delivered up-front is vital. No shopper wants to spend an hour on a site, only to be told that there are no delivery slots available at checkout. If you’re expecting delivery delays or stock issues, make it clear to customers up-front. You’re better off losing one sale than losing the customer forever due them having a bad experience. A few small tweaks to the language on your website homepage, product pages and checkout processes can go a long way in ensuring a seamless and satisfactory customer experience.

  1. Take advantage of your customer data

Data has always been a huge part of customer experience management. Having a good understanding of customer behaviour is more important than ever. So much of what we thought we knew has changed. If you asked the average retailer or analyst their predictions on what they thought consumers would be buying in bulk in the first half of 2020, none of them would have told you face masks, hand sanitiser and toilet roll!

If businesses are going to get ahead of this crisis they need to plan as close to real-time as possible, that means relying on the most up-to-date data sources. Tools such as ccinsight, can help brands keep track of daily consumer spending trends on an international level. These types of projects are not only helping to predict spending but can also tell brands where to focus their CX efforts when it comes to particular products and promotions.

Online retailers were particularly fast to react during to the pandemic by leveraging data insights to pivot their sales and marketing strategies. For example, many fashion retailers switched from selling their Autumn collections to comfortable and sophisticated loungewear. Shifting their focus during this period of business disruption has helped many fashion retailers keep afloat while their physical stores were inaccessible.

  1. Reassess your customer journey

If you’re a business trying to survive this crisis, now is not the time to have a poorly optimised mobile experience. It’s not just mobile experiences that need to change. Brands must take the time to tweak their customer journeys across all devices.

By using the available data, retailers and brands can bring forward those product categories that are in high demand, helping streamline the customer journey and make it as easy as possible for consumers to find what they’re looking for. At the same time, optimisation will also be vital. Longer wait times and frustrations at checkout or potential payment issues will be magnified, causing major frustrations for end customers.

For many brands, COVID-19 will prove a stress test for their websites and wider customer experiences. But the goal during this crisis must be to help minimise disruption and support customers, and that means keeping CX front and centre.

Adam Ioakim is managing director for APAC at Emarsys