From toilet paper shortages to ever-fluctuating safety protocols, 2020 was a year that presented unprecedented challenges on nearly every imaginable level. But even as those challenges mounted, many retailers found innovative new ways to ensure their most important messaging — like restock updates, shipping information, and safety procedures — could reach consumers who needed those messages more than ever before.  

As life begins to open back up, new buyer behaviors, priorities, and preferences will set a higher standard for your customer experience going forward. And value-based personalization is your best option to deliver the meaningful, engaging interactions your brand needs. 

So, how have consumers changed the way they shop in 2021? And — perhaps more importantly — how can you evolve your marketing approach today to deliver the value-based personalization shoppers have come to expect as soon as possible?

Most buyers are adopting a hybrid approach to shopping

During the pandemic, many consumers changed their approach to shopping. They became not only more receptive to online messaging, but also more willing to merge their online and offline buying habits through safe, customer-centric channels like curbside pickup. In fact, a majority of consumers not only adapted ‘hybrid habits,’ but plan on making these changes permanent in 2021 and beyond.

Considering that 31% of consumers bought something online through curbside pickup in 2020, that’s a big deal for any retail brand. If you’re not working toward a hybrid online shopping experience, you’re already falling behind. Because 53% of shoppers who opened their first email or tried BOPIS during the pandemic plan to continue this trend post-COVID.

Value-based personalization is the key to retaining these customers

It’s no secret that COVID-19 safety protocols made it more difficult for retailers to reach customers through traditional marketing means. And most companies responded by quickly ramping up their investment into personalization.

SMS push notifications, online-to-store order fulfillment, returns, and online upsells helped retailers to capture greater online engagement and make up for much lower in-store activity across 2020. And as retailers rushed to meet customers’ changing demands by offering new channels for connecting with buyers, customers came to expect every online interaction to provide meaningful, relevant experiences.

Value-based personalization means continuing online engagement with newly converted omni-channel shoppers in ways that offer the increased ease, safety, and individuation those shoppers have come to expect. And— if you’re not quite there yet — here’s where you should focus your efforts first.

Embrace change

Our survey found that during the pandemic, shoppers craved information about how brands were implementing COVID-19 safety precautions. In fact, 53% of consumers feel that it is “very important” for the brands they shop to have a strategy in place for social distancing and adhering to CDC-recommended guidelines. 

That said, these feelings are not likely to change even as more and more states ease their pandemic restrictions. Retailers should anticipate constantly changing safety protocols as this year progresses and make it a priority to reach out to customers as quickly as possible whenever conditions change.

You also need to re-evaluate how you’re segmenting audiences. As buyer behaviors and preferences evolve, it’s likely their terms of engagement have too. Meaning that the strategies you’ve been using to reach out to and communicate with customers may not be as effective or impactful as they once were.

Be flexible 

If 2020 taught retailers anything, it was to expect the unexpected. It was a year full of not just ever-changing safety protocols, but shipping delays and extreme fluctuations in stock and supply chain activities too.

Moving forward, prepare your marketing approach with pre-made email templates and messaging that can be used to reach buyers with the right messaging in just a few clicks. Planning make-good offers ahead of time that can be personalized based on things like customer tenure, LTV, or level of engagement is another important way to keep customers coming back to your brand no matter what 2021 brings.

Focus on experience 

In 2020, nearly half of consumers said they shopped more on their smartphones. And now that shoppers have integrated mobile devices into their daily routine, it’s unlikely that they’ll change that behavior anytime soon. Retailers who fail to build value-based personalization into their mobile outreach channels are likely to find themselves left behind as customers embrace a mobile-first approach to brand interaction. 

One of the first things you can (and should) do to ensure your mobile experience is ready for post-pandemic success is to test for dark mode optimization and update text and template designs to ensure satisfying user experiences every send.

Optimizing your emails for mobile screens, where nearly half of all emails are viewed, is also critical. As is building out holistic behavioral touchpoints across email, site, and SMS to build a more seamless experience for any hybrid shopper who is likely interacting with your brand across more channels than ever before.