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Shopper Trends|September 11, 2020

4 Steps to Win Shoppers by Showing You Care, from Neurologist Dr. Gayatri Devi

The path to connecting with your shoppers requires showing you care about them, and that goes well beyond keeping them safe. Here are 4 tips on how to show you care from leading neurologist Dr. Gayatri Devi.

Shoppers have got pandemic life down, but is that enough?

The frenzy of the first six months of the pandemic, when consumers redirected much of their time toward reorganizing their work, schooling, social lives, and shopping – all while avoiding the virus ­– is thankfully behind us. Now we are entering phase two, with new routines and a better sense of control and confidence, but the emotional toll lingers.

For one thing, the pandemic has created loneliness. Even when we are with others, we are lonely for the ones we are not with, and we are missing the life patterns that filled our days. People have a natural need to connect with others in physical ways, which is why we are so eager to return to restaurants and to mingle with others in stores. But the new expectation is that every place we mingle needs to demonstrate they really care about keeping us safe from a resurgence of the virus and making us happy.  

What can retailers and brands do to show they care? WSL Strategic Retail CEO Wendy Liebmann talked about the state of the shopper’s brain today with neurologist Dr. Gayatri Devi. Following are four key lessons from their conversation, including edited excerpts from Dr. Devi.

Lesson 1: Shoppers Need to Know You Care

Shoppers want to feel safe, but proving you care means building trust, even as we wear masks that hide a reassuring smile. The environment retailers create, and the stories brands tell need to include more “sharing-the-moments.” As Dr. Devi puts it: Can we trust the salesperson when we can’t correlate their smile with their eyes?

“These are very, very basic, hardwired, millisecond decisions that our (reptilian) brain makes, unbeknownst to us,” she said. “The ability of the brain to make a determination about emotion ... that is what is being ravaged in this pandemic. That we're not able to do that, with all of the restrictions in place, it's taken a toll on trust.”

Creating an environment of safety in retail, both physical and emotional, means training everybody on the staff to show they truly care. This can come across in many little ways: when a shopper is searching, offer to help – that shows you care. Say “thank you for visiting us,” or “thank you for wearing a mask and keeping us all safe.”

“Customers in retail environments are more attuned to that (caring),” Dr. Devi said. “They're more scared and therefore more attuned to any breaks in that chain of care.”

Lesson 2: Shopper Choices Need to be Supported 

Shoppers want to feel they are managing well in this pandemic, so reassure them that choosing you was a smart choice. Caring means helping them make the right choices, from the products they buy to choosing to make a trip to your store.

“Having that sense of making the right choice is so important, I think in this situation, because there are so few choices,” Dr. Devi said. “Many of the choices we used to make – What do we wear? How much lipstick do we put on? – all those (decisions) are being made for us.”

“From the retail perspective, if you can make that interaction between the customer and the purveyor a good one, a happy one ... the value of that is much (greater) now than it ever was because the number of interactions is fewer. So if you can enrich it, you're probably going to create more dedicated customers.”

Lesson 3: “Connecting” Today is Different

The sharp reduction in shopping trips means retailers and brands need to find ways to make each interaction count more. They need to care enough to make a lasting impression, for example, emphasizing the safety of the store while encouraging staff to look for the signs that shoppers want to connect. Dr. Devi offers a real scenario.

“One of my mentors just went to [the store] and she bought herself eight new outfits. And one of the main reasons she did that, in this time of the pandemic, is because she has a personal relationship with the clerk at the store. She goes there because she is spending more time at home alone, and because she wanted to reach out and really engage with someone.”

“If we can make that experience more caring, more real, more connected, then I think that there's an upside to all this, because people may want to be able to reach out in contained environments like that. They may feel safer.”

Lesson 4: Humanize the Shopping Experience Even on Your Website

As Dr. Devi said, we have an animalistic longing to be with others, and we need to find ways to satisfy that need by using the shopping screen as part of the larger retail experience.  Shopping online during a pandemic needs to be more than efficient. Humanizing the online shopping experience means adding visual cues and language that surprise and delight shoppers. Unexpected spots of joy during the online shop can show that retailers and brands care.

“How do you truly connect with someone when our core brain, our reptilian brain, is telling us this is all just make-believe; it's all just on a screen? That's a big problem for our high-bandwidth world.”

“People really need people,” Dr. Devi said. “We will do a lot … we may even put our lives at risk in order to connect with another person. I never quite realized how important that was until this pandemic.

“If we can create safe environments where people can interact, be able to trust and satisfy our core reptilian brains, we may yet make something wonderful from this pandemic.”

You can listen to Wendy Liebmann and Dr. Devi’s entire conversation, in our Future Shop Podcast: The Power of Retail to Create Calm in Stressful Times

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