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The Top Customer Experience Trends Consumers Are Demanding From Retailers

Matt Wujciak


Editor’s Note: To remain relevant to consumers as they navigate the ongoing coronavirus era - the economic downturn and phase 2 of the COVID-19 response, many retailers need to waive any previously planned marketing campaigns for Q3 of 2020. Instead, they need to adopt a more fluid watch-and-respond approach – one revolving around consumer sentiment. This article will provide retailers with the necessary CX and marketing strategies centered around those specific consumer trends.

What influences where you choose to purchase your groceries, or other retail products during the COVID-19 era? Location? Compelling marketing? Product discounts? Customer service? Secure health and safety measures?

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If you’re like the vast majority of consumers, your answer would probably be all of the above, whether it’s a conscious awareness or a “that’s just where I go.” Why? They’re intertwined. However, if you had to give one answer during the COVID-19 era, it would probably be health and safety. Health and safety practices topped the list of consumer concerns in terms of what retailers must do to earn customers’ trust and retention. 

Here’s what consumers are demanding, today

Of actions that retailers can take, the most-cited was having sanitary wipes or a sanitation kit for shoppers at the front of the store (66%), followed by a sanitation mist to clean carts (65%), requiring face masks on all customers (62%), automatically opening doors (60%), seeing associates cleaning stores at all times (60%), limiting shopper capacity in stores (58%), employee temperature checks (57%), transparency into employee policies (57%), no-touch payment options (55%), protective gloves for shoppers or requiring their use (52%), UV light cleaning for groceries at checkout (52%) and curbside pickup (51%).

What do some of these look like? The Kroger Marketplace in Newport, Kentucky cut its occupancy down to 901 and emphasized social distancing immediately at the start of the pandemic. They then installed plexiglass barriers at checkout lanes, and have been safely managing traffic at those lanes, monitored through QueVision. 

“We were able to make some small changes and now it monitors how many people are in the whole store,” Rolfes said. “And will kind of give us a green, yellow, red, to let us know when we will have to start queuing people outside.”

(Source: Magid, as seen in Supermarket News)

Whole Foods Market, Costco Wholesale and, you guessed it, Trader Joe’s ranked as the top three retailers in coronavirus health and safety practices, according to a new study by Ipsos, and the investment is beginning to pay marketable dividends. 

“We found that 62% of shoppers would stop shopping at a retailer not taking health and safety seriously,” Nick Mercurio, executive vice president and service line head of U.S. channel performance at Washington, D.C.-based Ipsos, said in a statement.

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As mentioned, Amazon-owned Whole Foods was the top-performing retailer in the Consumer Health & Safety Index, with near universally compliant policies in some categories - facial coverings, with associates wearing face masks in 98% of the stores visited. The Austin, Texas-based specialty grocer also showed high compliance with six-foot social distancing boundaries in customer interactions (91% of stores), plexiglass barriers at checkout (95%) and contactless payment (87%).

“Retailers need to put a heavy emphasis on proper health and safety measures to win back consumers,” said Steven Flynn, senior vice president of consumer and commercial brands at Magid. “We found that having sanitary wipes and frequently using sanitary mists on shopping carts were the top actions that retailers can take to win back the trust of consumers and get them to return to their stores. Additionally, consumers would like to see self-service and curbside pickup continue, as it gives them the freedom to choose whether they would like to interact with employees or not.” 

What exactly to market and how

Thinking about your loyal customers prior to the pandemic, how else could you communicate value to them based on their changing needs? More than 60% of customers want their favorite brands to stay in touch with them during the pandemic, at least once a month, highlighting some of these precautionary measures in response to consumer demands. We’ve all seen news stories about those changing needs in different industries, informing customers and giving back in a variety of ways. 

One recent example, as seen in the Cincinnati Business Courier, was from lifestyle brand Chaco, the durable hiking sandal with a devoted following. In a podcast interview, Josh Weichhand, managing director of marketing, said initial plans for this summer included a “Factory Bus” they built to travel cross country to trade shows and music festivals to repair sandals and make custom orders.

As event after event was cancelled, they quickly pivoted and retrofitted both their factory and the bus to begin manufacturing face masks to donate to health care professionals. Not only did it bring overwhelming support from health care advocates and fans, it brought a strong call-to-purpose and action to unify employees, develop brand interest, and open doors further for long-term B2C communication. 

According to the Cincinnati Business Courier, Amazon and Walmart, had more than 50% report receiving email communications often, around 45% report communications via social media, and about a third report U.S. mail. Of those, about a third across all channels reported communication fatigue – or receiving too much. Clearly, it’s important to be mindful of sharing information that is newsworthy as you stay in touch with brands. Remember, more than 60% were comfortable with something at least once a month from loyal brands and 55% from new brands.

However, it's important to find the right balance to inform your customers while avoiding “communication fatigue.” As Annette Franz, Forbes Coaches Council and CEO of CX Journey Inc. recently told us:

Communication is one of the most important things to get right – always, crisis or not. I often say that communications are the most-overlooked parts of the customer experience and employee experience. That needs to change. Communications must be open, candid, transparent, timely, relevant, personalized, and consistent.

At no time is this more critical than during a crisis or during a time of uncertainty... Many brands are reaching out to let customers know what they are doing to keep them safe from the coronavirus. My inbox is full of messages from almost every brand imaginable. The content is all very similar but spun for the particular product or service they sell.

Take some time in crafting your messages regarding consumer sentiment, behavioral trends, and health practices (ideally once a month, max – not every week), prioritizing informational value over aggressively blatant product bitches. Remember that many of your customers are receiving constant updates from “every brand imaginable.” Despite the uncharted waters, many customer-centric advertisers are still connecting with consumers in a positive way, investing in the long-term approach of customer health -> trust -> retention. Brand recognition continues to rely heavily on consistent and thoughtful marketing and communications efforts.

Because customers are leery about resuming in-person activities (or the general state of our society), let them know what measures you’ve put in place to keep them and your employees safe - within reason. For example, “sanitize” is currently a highly SEO generated, key word for brand messaging to be used periodically. Focus on facts, including helpful and actionable steps related to safety in a sensitively balanced, and unobtrusive marketing campaign. 

No one’s safe from the behavioral economic consequences brought upon by the coronavirus. But adapting to the right CX strategies, marketing tones, and consumer behavior trends will give you the best chance at being on the favorable side of financial Darwinism. 

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And remember not to over inform your customers on how you’re cleaning your toilets.