Use Consumer and Employee Preferences to Thrive in the ‘New Normal’

By: on October 7, 2020

Coronavirus. COVID-19. The Covid crisis. You know about it, you’ve read the headlines, you’ve stocked up on hand sanitizer, and as a business owner, you have adapted your business model to new consumer behavior so you can survive this unprecedented time in our lives.

A lot of the changes you’ve already made probably came about from hearing the advice of experts and healthcare officials, not to mention the changes that were mandated by state and city governments. As the country slowly and cautiously emerges from this time of uncertainty and fear, it’s critical to base your strategic business decisions on what your customers expect.

What protocols do customers feel work best for coronavirus prevention? What new expectations have they developed after nearly a year of social distancing? Better yet, how can you anticipate their new needs to provide the best possible experience without putting them (or your business) at risk?

This May, we ran the COVID-19 Consumer & Employee Impact Survey polling over 500 U.S. consumers to get their answers to these questions. In this report, you’ll find out exactly what the impact of coronavirus has had on consumer preferences in order to better adapt your business to survive and thrive and increase consumer trust.

Despite income taking a hit, people still want to shop (safely)

It should be no great surprise that the pandemic has had a huge impact on a lot of people’s incomes, and our survey confirmed that nearly half of the people surveyed have seen their incomes decrease since COVID-19 hit the U.S.

Coronavirus Impact on Income

We also learned that one-third of people surveyed saw that decrease in salary due to being let go or furloughed from their jobs.

Top reasons for COVID based changes to income

The economic impact of the pandemic is devastating, but if there’s one positive element we can pull from this data, it’s the fact that 58% of people surveyed either did not see a decrease to their income or actually saw their income increase since the pandemic hit. This translates to the fact that there are still people out there with money to spend.

Knowing this, the question becomes how can businesses like yours use this consumer behavior to adapt and make customers feel safe patronizing your shop?

The answer: Follow and enforce strong safety regulations.

We learned that nearly three in four people would outright refuse to shop at a retailer that failed to follow standard local safety regulations such as face masks and regular disinfectant cleaning.

71% of consumers refuse to shop at retailers not following COVID regulations

Right off the bat, that’s a huge percentage of the population that you could encourage to shop at your store with a few small adjustments—and remember, those adjustments have the added benefit of protecting you, your employees, and your customers from catching the virus. It’s a win-win-win.

“But,” I hear you say, “I don’t have the budget to pay for things such as extra cleaning supplies and masks for my employees.”

Fear not—we asked our survey respondents how they would feel about paying an additional “COVID fee” on top of the price of their purchases if they knew that fee was being used to better facilitate safety measures taken in your establishment. Over half said they would be okay with that.

Consumer willingness to pay a COVID fee towards safety and sanitary regulations

This is encouraging because it affirms that customers are eager to ensure their own safety and the safety of others while continuing to support businesses such as yours.

Takeaway: Everyone is feeling the strain right now, but as long as your business is following (and enforcing!) guidelines such as mask requirements and social distancing, consumers will feel safe shopping with you and your brand.

Tech that can help: Smart devices such as thermometers and wearables can help screen every shopper that enters your store and keep track of employees’ health.

Following safety regulations can help people feel comfortable in public spaces again

In another not-so-shocking revelation from our research, we learned that a majority of people still aren’t totally comfortable resuming public activities that involve crowds or large groups of people.

General comfort levels with resuming public group activities

That’s pretty reasonable, considering the infection rate in the U.S. is still holding steady.

We wanted to dive a little deeper though and try to understand what benchmarks people were looking for in their surrounding areas before they’d feel safe resuming normal public activities. The top pick for the surveyed consumers was seeing no new COVID-19 cases within their area for a certain period of time.

Benchmarks people want to see before feeling comfortable returning to public group spaces after COVID

We found this trend carried through to employees as well as consumers with 63% of survey respondents saying they were “not at all” or “minimally” comfortable returning to work in an office setting and being in close proximity to coworkers.

Employee comfort levels resuming in-office work

Even more compelling than this is the fact that 37% of respondents said they would consider quitting their jobs and looking for work elsewhere if their employers asked them to resume in-office work before they’re prepared to do so.

Employees willing to resign if forced back into an office before they're ready

This is an interesting data point because it strongly supports the idea that you cannot force people back into normal activities before they’re ready. This is a pretty universal conclusion that applies to customers at retail stores, diners at restaurants, and employees in offices.

What you can do is do everything in your power to:

  1. Make sure the people who return to your business are as protected as possible from infection.
  2. Use social media to reassure them that safety measures are being followed, enforced, and taken seriously inside your business.

Those safety measures can look different depending on what type of business you are, but the basics will be the same—require face masks indoors, sanitize surfaces between encounters, limit capacity inside your store, etc.

Consumer preferred sanitary regulations

Takeaway: You can’t force anyone to resume regular, in-person activities before they’re ready. What you can do is make sure they know exactly what new safety measures you’re taking to protect them. Make those safety measures a part of your brand, and customers will feel as comfortable as possible visiting your business.

Tech that can help: Customer relationship management or social media management software will help you stay in touch with customers and also make sure they’re aware of the precautions you’re taking.

More of life is happening online, and people are mostly fine with that

Finally, our survey showed that a whole lot more activities are taking place online now that the pandemic has pushed everyone into social distancing practices.

That includes online shopping with 60% of survey respondents saying they were purchasing things “somewhat” or “significantly” more online than they were before.

COVID increased frequency of online shopping

It also includes working, as we learned that an astounding 82% of employees transitioned from working in an office to working from their homes.

82% of employees transitioned to working from home during COVID

The really good news here is that people are mostly fine with this new remote world.

When it comes to online shopping, 73% of people who said their internet shopping had increased felt as though they would “probably” or “definitely” continue purchasing from online retailers even after the pandemic subsides.

Consumers expect to continue online shopping even after COVID

As for employees, it seems like the transition to working from home agrees with a lot of them. A majority (72%) said they would like to work from home “more often” or even “permanently” after the pandemic.

Employees want to continue working from home after COVID

This positive experience with working from home stems from things such as better work/life balance and higher job satisfaction.

How employees rate working from home

Takeaway: Thank goodness for the internet. Because of it, people are still largely able to fulfill their work responsibilities, collaborate with coworkers, and buy the things they want and need without leaving their own homes. It’s up to you to make your business as remote-friendly as possible.

Tech that can help: Ecommerce software will bring your retail business to online shoppers and remote collaboration tools will make working remotely easier for employees.

Equip your business with software to meet people’s needs

With a clearer understanding of what consumers and employees want, the next question you have to ask yourself is where do we go from here? How can you make sure your business is doing everything it can to keep customers and employees safe, reassure them that safety protocols are being followed, and enable more online interactions?

The short answer is that you should find the right software to do all of these things and more.

There are tons of existing software tools that will be invaluable to your business, including:

The bottom line is you have lots of options to match your specific needs and budget. To learn more about any of these software tools, or any of the other software categories that can help your business survive and thrive during the pandemic, schedule a call to talk with our business software advisors and get your questions answered.


Survey methodology

To gather the information reported in this article, we surveyed 564 respondents within the U.S. We used screening questions to narrow respondents down to those with relevant histories and experiences, and we worded the questions to ensure their meaning was understood.

The information reported in this article has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. For more information, see our methodologies page. If you’d like to obtain the charts in this report, contact lisa.hedges@gartner.com.

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How (and Why) You Can Implement a COVID-19 Safety Fee

How To Ensure Health and Safety in Retail During the Social Distancing Era

What Patients Want When Resuming In-Person Doctor’s Office Visits

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