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Your business needs to keep up with changing consumer shopping habits

Columnist Dean Swanson says a shift toward more online and convenience shopping will help your business.

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As if the last few years haven't been tumultuous enough for small business owners, you must also adapt to new consumer buying behaviors. Impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation and lifestyle stages, today's consumers have changed where and how they buy.

Unless you pivot with them, you will lose their business.

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Rieva Lesonsky, one of SCORE’s content partners is president and CEO of GrowBiz Media. I share her thoughts here:

Shopping Channels: The most obvious shift in consumer buying behavior is where they're shopping. Brick-and-mortar is not dead, and in fact, in-store shopping has experienced a bit of a comeback this year as house-bound consumers more fully enter the marketplace. The National Retail Federation predicts overall retail sales will top $4.86 trillion this year, up between 6% and 8%. But e-commerce sales will lead to that growth, likely increasing between 11% and 13%.

Mobile commerce, a subset of e-commerce, measures sales made on smartphones and tablets. Insider Intelligence reports that m-commerce sales hit $359.32 billion last year, up 15.2% from 2020. And they predict that by 2025 those revenues should more than double, reaching $728.28 billion, accounting for 44.2% of e-commerce sales in the U.S.

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Your retail website needs to be optimized for e-commerce and mobile sales if you're a retailer. A recent QuickBooks Commerce Small Business Shopping Report showed that:

  • 48% of consumers stopped shopping at a store they visited before the pandemic because the company didn't have an online store.
  • 53% considered using a business but changed their minds because they did not have a website.

Social Shopping: Social commerce, buying products directly from social media platforms, is quickly growing. Influence Central reports that 45% of consumers were "open to making holiday purchases directly from within a social media platform" last holiday season. Their top social channels of choice were Instagram and Facebook.

A report from Accenture says it expects global social commerce sales to grow from $492 billion in 2021 to $1.2 trillion by 2025 with sales driven by millennials and Gen-Z.

Recommerce: The sales of used merchandise is growing rapidly, led by sales of used clothing. According to Chain Store Age, secondhand apparel, shoes & accessories is already a $36 billion market. It will likely reach $77 billion in the next four years. There is anticipation that the growth of recommerce will be 11 times faster than firsthand retail clothing sales. Consumers are more likely to shop at businesses that let them trade their old clothes for store credit (43%) and offer secondhand clothing alongside new merchandise (34%).

But recommerce is not just about clothing. In 2020, the home category emerged as the fastest-growing resale segment. Zillow reports that sales of secondhand furnishings and décor are strong.

A report from Chairish says they project recommerce revenues to grow 127% by 2027. Recommerce, like most retail these days, is powered by millennials and Gen Zers – 31% of whom say the pandemic increased their interest in buying used, vintage, or antique furniture.

Buy online, pick up in-store: Part of the Click and Collect phenomenon, BOPIS saw sales grow from $22 billion in 2018 to over $83 billion in 2021. About 75% of online shoppers used BOPIS or curbside pickup at least once in 2021.

Retailers like Click and Collect for several reasons:

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  • You can monetize your existing retail footprint.
  • It requires fewer resources than delivering merchandise.
  • It's less reliant on 3rd-party providers.
  • You can launch a Click and Collect option quickly using existing resources.

The International Council of Shopping Centers says more than 50% of adult shoppers use BOPIS, and 67% of those added additional items to their carts.
Social purpose: The pandemic reminded consumers how vital small businesses are to their cities and towns. More people say they're motivated to support locally owned businesses. But the QuickBooks survey noted consumers want to know that ethical practices, sustainable materials and other considerations are in place.

Millennials and Gen-Z consider consumerism a "channel for change" and are activists when it comes to their purchasing behaviors. At any given time, more than half of these generations are boycotting at least one company.

To make sure your company attracts these buyers ask yourself:

  • What does my business stand for?
  • What kind of culture do I want to create?
  • How am I making an impact beyond improving the bottom line?
  • Who Is Shopping?

Amid the pandemic, The Washington Post reported that consumers over 65 were the fastest-growing category of e-commerce shoppers. That means your website needs to be appealing and accessible to older eyes, and you must offer Click and Collect options.
Gen-Zers, who range in age from teens to early 20s, contribute about $830 billion to the U.S. economy. They’re a financially-conscious generation and are price-sensitive. So to attract these shoppers, you’ll want to offer deals and discounts such as:

  • Free shipping (96%).
  • A free and easy return policy (93%).
  • Loyalty rewards (74%).
  • Most (92%) expect some type of discount, particularly percentage-off and free shipping promotions.

Remember to be patient; today's consumers are taking longer to make purchasing decisions — what used to take days/weeks can now take months. Buyers think more consciously about sustainability, value, quality and timeliness.

Dean Swanson is a volunteer Certified SCORE Mentor and former SCORE chapter chairman, district director and regional vice president for the North West Region.

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