COVID-19. I barely knew what it was at this time last year and yet, it has now made its way into my vernacular on a daily basis. All of ours, for that matter, so I’m sure you can relate. Other terms and phrases that have become ubiquitous staples in our rhetoric over the past year include:
- Social distancing
- Wear a mask
- Flatten the curve
That list encapsulates so much burden we have endured and is indicative of how our lives have changed. However, with the new hope of vaccines helping us return to normalcy, it’s very possible that 2021 will mean an improvement for businesses, but it’s up to business owners to recognize what it would take to gain their consumers’ trust to feel safe as they venture back out into the world, masked up and vaccinated, to experience just a shred of life as we knew it before.
We have become so hyper-aware of how fragile everything is when it comes to exposure to each other and how fast germs can spread through touch and airborne droplets thanks to updates from the CDC over the past year. Our everyday life is different, the way we take care of ourselves is different, the way we see how businesses operate is different.
We just have to make the best of our new normal to ensure our local businesses, our economy, our livelihoods, and our well-being continue to prosper despite the seeming relentless shadow that COVID-19 is still casting on the world.
How COVID has Affected Businesses
It just goes without saying what an impact the pandemic had on businesses in 2020. It was a very hard year for many. Some companies shut their doors temporarily, some for good.
Overall, the economic effects were undeniable and it could take years to recover, per some of the research below:
According to a USC study, “The COVID-19 pandemic could result in net losses starting at $3.2 trillion and reaching as much as $4.8 trillion in U.S. real gross domestic product over the course of two years.”
CNN Business has been tracking America’s recovery since the start of the pandemic: “From your job to your home to your groceries, COVID-19 has disrupted nearly every aspect of life. This dashboard shows how the economy continues to change as we grapple with life during the pandemic.”
As of March 4, 2021, here is where the country stands:
Image Source: CNN Business
Image Source: CNN Business
Image Source: CNN Business
How COVID-19 has Affected Consumer Trends and Behavior
According to UserTesting findings during a public survey they conducted at the beginning of January 2021 in four different countries including the U.S., the U.K., Australia and Singapore, the general consensus when discussing the pandemic is everyone’s pretty worn out and that is something businesses need to keep in mind.
“Getting back to whatever kind of normal we’re going to have is based on the perception of trust,” said Michael Mace, VP Market Strategy at UserTesting. “If the government in your country isn’t providing that trust, it’s up to the companies to step up and establish trust.”
The vaccines will play a big role in returning to normalcy, which experts are anticipating could be as early as this summer or fall. Once people feel confident on how effective the vaccine is and they feel safer to come out of their homes, studies show that the recovery toward getting our lives back to normal will certainly improve.
It is also likely that we’ll start to see a big uptick in travel once again, which will really help the hospitality industry. Where people will go will obviously depend on levels of immunity, variations and strains of the virus in different countries.
Activities people plan to maintain as we return to a new normal.
Image Source: UserTesting
How Companies can Adjust to the New Normal
As a business, it’s important to understand the pandemic has affected everyone differently from person to person. Some people have lost their jobs, some people have developed health problems, or someone they love has, and many, many people have suffered the loss of a loved one.
If you’re dealing with the public at all, it’s hard to make assumptions. You can’t assume people are feeling the same way you are due to economics, health issues, or emotional factors, like the need for human interaction.
Consumers themselves are trying to be rational in how they’re interacting with the rest of the public when they do go out. If your brick-and-mortar location survived the pandemic and is still standing (no pun intended), ready to welcome back consumers in person, obviously big crowds are a turnoff.
Customers are also trusting your business to keep them safe, whether that’s in the form of sanitizing your venue or regulating the behavior of people with crowd control during normal business hours. If they trust you, their perception of risk changes dramatically, and they will step into your business and engage and purchase whatever it is they need to purchase. Their anxiety levels will decrease, and it will drive them back to your business.
“If you have a government that’s doing a good job of reducing risk, then all businesses benefit and it gives you a starting point that’s much healthier, but that trust has to be earned,” said Mace. “If the government isn’t earning that trust for you, then you, as the business owner, have to do it yourself. Prove that you can regulate the behavior of the people you have there in your venue and more people will be willing to turn out.”
Having empathy for your customers is an opportunity to improve relationships with them by recognizing just how exhausted everyone feels after dealing with the repercussions of a pandemic for almost a solid year.
Image Source: UserTesting
A huge number of people want to change their work patterns, so businesses need to be thinking about what that means for them.
If this change pattern is going to be really long-lasting, that has enormous implications for traveling, for urban planning, for retail, for restaurants, for other industries, so businesses need to make sure they’re thinking it through very thoroughly.
“It will mean new opportunities, it will mean new challenges, so you have to be ready for that,” said Mace. “One thing we need to be asking ourselves is what other lifestyle changes are expected to come? It is possible to predict what the possibilities are and it’s your job to pick which of those possibilities you want to pursue.”
It’s what every business should be thinking about right now – people are very malleable, they’re very stressed, which makes them open to potential future changes if you do it right. What are the changes that you want to drive? What are the things you’re planning to improve or fix in this new world to which we’re headed?
Building and Sustaining Customers’ Trust
Creating trust during COVID times can get pretty tricky, as more and more establishments are starting to reopen. One great example is how the Potomac River Running Store has responded to the pandemic and how they’re committed to doing their part in ensuring the health and safety of their customers and employees.
According to the company’s website, here are the measures they’re taking at all of their store locations:
- Masks must be worn by all staff
- Customers are expected to wear masks based on government mandates
- Capacity is not to exceed 50% of maximum allowed occupancy
- Cleaning and sanitizing high-touch surfaces including [doorknobs], checkout counters, keyboards, tables and chairs, phones and tablets, treadmill, etc.
- Surfaces will be sanitized after each use
- They use disposable gloves for cleaning and sanitizing
- Restrooms will be temporarily closed
- For in-store shopping, walk-ins for shoe fittings are welcome or customers may make an appointment ahead of time to reduce exposure while waiting
- For curbside pickup, customers may call ahead with their order and let the store know when they plan to arrive for retrieval so the store can have their order ready to bring out to their vehicles
This is just one of the many businesses that are taking action to protect themselves and their patrons and sustain the success of their company, even if it means completely reconfiguring how operations run every day. If you’re open for business, gaining your customer’s trust and keeping them safe at all times must be your first priority.
If there’s one thing we can all take away from the COVID-19 pandemic is how resilient we are as individuals and as a society and we will certainly bounce back from this.
Whenever someone makes a purchase on your site for the first time or has come back to your business after almost a year after the pandemic hit, it’s imperative to nurture those relationships now more than ever. Because you never know which of those loyal customers will be the ones responsible for breathing life into your business when you’ll need it the most.
This pandemic is uncharted territory. No one has a quick fix, no one has a roadmap of exactly how we’ll navigate to a new normal, but what we can do is take it one day at a time, one customer at a time and keep creating that trust, as people slowly get vaccinated and find the courage to return to a life they once knew.
Finding comfort in their favorite brands is what is going to get them there and it’s up to you as the business owner to create and maintain that comfort for your customers.