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Don't Fear Customer Brand-Switching, Embrace It

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Brooke Lynch


In the initial months of the pandemic, we saw people collecting cleaning supplies and household goods; consumer behavior deviated toward the necessities of day-to-day life at home. Customers also began interacting with brands in new ways, shopping for even the most basic items online. People who purchased necessities at their local convenience store started adding these items to their Amazon carts. 

While undergoing these behavioral shifts, customers also grew more likely to switch brands.

A recent survey from Inmar Intelligence on consumer behavior at grocery stores found that customers are not only willing to try different brands but are actively searching for new products. This could be a product of tighter budgets, with an increase in affinity for brands that offer promotions.

According to McKinsey, 51% of consumers cited lower pricing as the key factor in their switch.  Other factors, including better price-to-value ratios, support for employees, and the repurposing of facilities, also caught the eyes of consumers.

With customers spending more time shopping online, they may also be more inclined to try products and brands they would not have considered (or even been able to find) in physical stores.

Ultimately, these statistics and trends reveal the fragility of customer relationships. Customer behaviors and brand allegiances can change at a moment’s notice, which means their long-term business cannot be taken for granted. Companies need to aim for a higher standard of loyalty: one that will endure even if the marketplace changes or becomes more competitive.

When a company commits to that standard, it will not simply keep its existing customers but attract and retain new ones. A whopping 83% of customers have shown a willingness to repurchase the new products they began consuming during the pandemic

With COVID-19 cases on the rise and stay-at-home orders returning throughout the US, pandemic shopping habits may continue for the foreseeable future. The impact of e-commerce is sure to persist even once the pandemic subsides. It is therefore crucial to rethink the challenges and opportunities of brand-switching and customer loyalty.


Customer Retention vs. Customer Loyalty

Too often, we mistake repeat customers for loyal ones. As a result, we incorrectly believe high levels of retention prove we are delivering exceptional experiences. In reality, retention and loyalty are not synonymous concepts. 

By revealing that many customers made their purchases based on availability or convenience factors, the pandemic showed us the flaw in our assumption. When switching brands became more convenient or cost-effective, that is exactly what customers did. They revealed that they were not so much loyal to specific brand experiences as they were a situation (habit, price, accessibility, etc). When that situation changed, customers had no problem altering their preferences.

The pandemic may be a once-in-a-generation circumstance, but variables that can change purchasing habits arise all the time. New competitors launch. New stores open. New e-commerce apps debut. New discounts and offers emerge. When they do, they may prompt customers to switch to new providers, even if they had spent many years and many thousands of dollars supporting a particular brand.

Truly loyal customers will, however, be far less likely to switch. That kind of defensible loyalty comes from offering products and experiences so exceptional that customers will be willing to pay a little more or drive a little farther.


Attract Long-Term Customers

If you’ve been resting on your customer retention laurels, the previous section may seem intimidating. It does, however, underscore an important opportunity.

The pandemic has caused individuals to reevaluate their purchasing decisions, but once presented with a new product, they showed willingness to continue buying and using it. Consumers are not necessarily habitual switchers who swap brands left and right every time they shop. Instead, they are savvy buyers who are interested in finding the brand that best meets their needs and expectations. Once they find it, they can indeed become loyal. 

The takeaway is clear: by elevating their existing experiences, brands will not simply be making their existing customers more loyal. They will also be attracting new, long-term customers.


Reach New Demographics 

Customers are not only switching between brands because of convenience factors, their needs are completely changing. When considering lifestyle shifts, like moving out of cities and traveling by car instead of plane, we find there is an opportunity to attract loyal customers in formerly neglected demographics.

For example, Car Gurus found that customers who were typically more likely to continue repurchasing a particular brand of truck are now trading them in for new models. Additionally, there was an increase in first-time truck purchases among their Gen Z/Millennial customers. This shift, fueled by increases in home improvements, road trips, and even cashflow from stimulus checks, exemplifies how lifestyle changes are factoring into new purchasing decisions. 

Companies have the unique opportunity to reassess the needs of their customers to create more personalized experiences. Take this opportunity to reach categories that were previously thought to be unattainable.