How Coronavirus Deliveries Are Changing Consumer Behavior
The coronavirus crisis has changed the way people buy and use products and services. Since the start of the crisis, for example, three in four people have bought at least one product online that they’d normally get at the store. And many plan to keep shopping this way even when the threat of COVID-19 is lower – four in ten people say the virus has fundamentally changed how they plan to make purchases.
As the coronavirus crisis redefines people’s perceptions of risk, they’re purchasing different products in new ways. While some of the more drastic changes in consumer behavior (like stockpiling essential goods and choosing takeout over a night out) are probably temporary, small rural businesses should be ready to cater to new buyer preferences – even after the crisis ends.
Online experience is the new customer experience
The most visible shift in consumer behavior is a sudden growth in online purchases. People from all age groups who haven’t shopped online before are now trying it for the first time. About 9% of people made an online purchase for the first time in the last few months. While older generations have resisted e-commerce in the past, more than 50% of people over 65 now shop online.
For many online shoppers, the entire customer experience now takes place on the internet. From product discovery to customer support, almost all your interactions with these customers are virtual. While small businesses don’t have the same online resources that large online retailers have at their disposal, your business can still provide a smooth online experience that makes it easy for people to shop when they don’t feel comfortable leaving their homes.
Your business’s online experience doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should provide online security. Elderly people – who are most susceptible to coronavirus and will likely take longer to return to your store in person – are also most cautious about online privacy and security.
A strong business internet connection is also a must if you want to receive and fulfill online orders from customers. Rural businesses without access to cable internet can get reliable internet service with a fixed 5G or 4G LTE internet connection. Fixed wireless internet uses a wireless router to convert mobile data into Wi-Fi – like a mobile hotspot, but stronger and faster.
Delivery is now part of the everyday customer journey
Because more people are shopping online, delivery is now a key step in the customer journey. It’s also the step where small businesses can gain an advantage over large online retailers by delivering products faster and in better condition. For example, while Amazon can deliver some Whole Foods products to rural customers, it can’t deliver a hot meal like a local restaurant can or perishable groceries like a local supermarket or farm can.
Because deliveries help people avoid crowded businesses, they’re an important part of slowing the spread of dangerous viruses. In the last few months, many have embraced the convenience of having local products delivered right to their doorstep. A third of people, for example, have ordered takeout due to the coronavirus crisis and just as many have ordered groceries.
Other people, especially the elderly, miss the leisure activity of visiting a local business in person. These people will often choose “click and collect” options that let them order products online but pick them up outside the business. This type of curbside service helps people retain the leisure aspect of shopping – a consumer behavior called “recreation-conscious” buying. It also gives people worried about online security the option to pay for their purchase in person.
A delivery economy also gives people the opportunity to make sure what they need is in stock before they go to make a purchase. In rural areas, people often need to drive significant distances to visit local businesses. If an item is out of stock (like so many were at the beginning of the crisis), your customers might see the trip to your store as a waste of time and gas. For people who use it, a delivery or click and collect option eliminates these fruitless shopping trips.
How can rural businesses thrive in a delivery economy?
There are opportunities in the coronavirus crisis for small rural businesses, but there are also challenges. As large online retailers see higher revenue from more online sales, many small businesses are taking losses they can’t recover from. Local restaurants, too, are struggling to adapt to “a transformation unlike anything the industry has experienced since Prohibition.”
Despite these very real economic challenges, there are opportunities for small businesses in the new delivery economy. When small rural businesses embrace online retail, they can:
- Deliver goods to local areas faster than big retailers. Being in close proximity to your customers makes it easier to deliver purchases quickly and in good condition. While large online retailers have had to introduce slower delivery times due to closed airports and reduced trucking options, local businesses can usually deliver to anyone within driving distance.
- Expand their customer base with online retail. Local businesses often only serve local customers, but that isn’t a necessity in a delivery economy. Small businesses can reach new customers anywhere in the world with online retail and, while shipping options are currently limited, this can open up new opportunities to grow revenue after the crisis.
- Build local community on social media. Whether you own a gas station where people stop to get coffee before work or a construction company where the employees know everyone in town, local businesses are an essential part of rural communities. By posting updates and interacting with customers on social media, your business can continue to bring people together – even when a virus is keeping you physically apart.
Get a reliable internet connection for your rural business
Less than 10% of people say they’ll return to stores immediately after their states lift their lockdowns, which means many small rural businesses need to adapt to the delivery economy if they want to survive through the end of this year.