4 minute read

Travel & Retail Results: How Will Consumers Respond to Businesses Reopening?

COVID-19 has brought many challenges and uncertainties for retailers and travel and hospitality brands—debt, decreased sales, store and property closings, staff layoffs, inventory issues, and unpredictable changes in consumer taste (to name a few).

Over the past few months, a surge in online shopping forced retail stores to quickly pivot to e-commerce only and step up their personalization strategies. In fact, 100% of retailers polled during our April webinar made adjustments based on unique customer behavior during COVID-19, 85% leveraged or planned to leverage in-store data to coax customers online, and 44% sent more personalized messages within the first two weeks of the pandemic. With strict worldwide limitations and aversions to travel, airlines, hotels, cruise lines, and tourism got creative with how to engage, inspire, and secure future bookings. From frequent safety and charitable updates to lifestyle tips and Zoom backgrounds, the industry capitalized on building a sense of community and wanderlust until consumers feel comfortable traveling again.

This brings us to one of the biggest uncertainties facing brands today, as lockdowns gradually lift and businesses reopen: 57% of consumers have said this experience will change the way they shop in the future, but will it really? Will the virus continue to impact the way consumers shop and travel—or will they return (if not immediately, then eventually) to their pre-pandemic behaviors and preferences?

SmarterHQ surveyed 1,000+ consumers ages 18-65+ to get a pulse on how they feel at the moment. Here’s what consumers said and some advice for brands on how to accommodate:

Consumer Results: In-Store Shopping Takes Preference

Once physical stores reopen:

  • 36.5% will shop primarily in-store for non-essentials
  • 26% will shop primarily online for non-essentials
  • 12.7% don’t plan on shopping for non-essential items

The majority of consumers plan to shop primarily brick-and-mortar once businesses reopen again, but it’s not the overwhelming majority—just 37% say they’ll shop in-store for non-essentials, while 26% will continue to shop mostly online for non-essentials. And with job losses and slashed incomes a new reality for millions, 13% don’t plan to shop for non-essential items at all in the next year. This not only causes concern for retailers now, but it can be a harrowing look at what’s to come for retail sales this 2020 holiday season.

Retail Strategy: Execute a Balanced Omnichannel Approach

Retail marketers are confronted with the challenge of whether to promote their eventual store openings—or take more of a “wait and see” approach and have consumers slowly trickle in. As the survey results show, some consumers will be eager to return in-store, so it’s important to re-engage previous in-store shoppers with tailored communications about store openings in their area, safety measures, and special discounts to drive them back. It’s also important to identify which in-store shoppers have also bought online during the pandemic and tailor messages that keep them cross-channel, as these customers are more likely to stay loyal and spend more with your brand in the long run.

Retailers also need to focus on doubling down on their most loyal shoppers and nurture those relationships through careful personalization campaigns. And they need to be more cautious and pull back on marketing to those consumers who haven’t shopped with the brand in the past couple of months—perhaps these shoppers have been heavily hit by the financial repercussions and could use a different nurture track and lower send frequency altogether. Check customers’ recently saved wishlists and favorited items, too, as these might be indicators for targeted campaigns and products to recommend around holidays and/or when they’re able and ready to purchase non-essentials again.

Consumer Results: Travel on Hold Until 2021

Once travel and hospitality locations reopen:

  • 29.1% will put all travel plans on hold until 2021
  • 24% will resume travel primarily via roadtrips
  • 13.5% will resume travel primarily via airlines

It looks like many people don't plan to travel this year—a whopping 30% of consumers are putting off all travel plans until 2021. That is unless they’re taking a roadtrip: 24% will travel primarily by car in the coming months. Perhaps this is to avoid coming into contact with crowds at airports, as just 14% will choose air travel as their mode of transportation.

Travel Strategy: Staycations May Be Here to Stay

With roadtrips on the rise this year, there may be an uptick and increased opportunity for travel and hospitality to promote nearby locations and hotel staycations to consumers. Playing into this is an emerging emphasis on rural tourism and remote beach and mountainside getaways vs. crowded cities or any destination requiring air or sea travel. More than ever, brands need to move away from blast communications and instead leverage geo-targeting and personalized messaging to consumers on the type of vacation that best fits their current needs. Staycation-focused content catered to customers living in a city with nearby properties are key—add tips for fun things to do nearby and amenity perks such as taking kids to the pool, golf and gym access, and ordering room service for a much-needed break from home cooking.

For the many who are still too wary to travel anytime soon, continue to educate and update customers on safety measures and precautions. This will help them feel confident in the brand’s security and safety once they do decide to book their next leisure vacation or business trip. Another thing: Shift the focus to targeted offers for 2021 and decrease 2020-centered promotions (prioritize these to customers who have booked with you recently). Consider making the bookings you do offer this year no risk with a full refund—again, easing traveler anxiety—and clearly communicate your travel insurance policy to put customers even more at ease.

If you’re a client of SmarterHQ looking for ways to combat current and anticipated challenges, please reach out to your Client Success Director. Contact us here if you’re not currently a SmarterHQ client and we’ll be in touch.