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As if the last few years haven't been tumultuous enough for small business owners, you must also adapt to new consumer buying behaviors. Impacted by the still-raging COVID-19 global pandemic, inflation, and lifestyle stages, today's consumers have changed where and how they buy. And unless you pivot with them, you will lose their business.

Here's some of what you need to know.

Shopping Channels

The most obvious shift in consumer buying behavior is where they're shopping. Brick-and-mortar is not dead, and in fact, in-store shopping has experienced a bit of a comeback this year as house-bound consumers more fully enter the marketplace. The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts overall retail sales will top $4.86 trillion this year, up between 6%-8%. But e-commerce sales will lead to that growth, likely increasing between 11% and 13%.

Mobile commerce (m-commerce), a subset of e-commerce, measures sales made on smartphones and tablets. Insider Intelligence reports that m-commerce sales hit $359.32 billion last year, up 15.2% from 2020. And they predict that by 2025 those revenues should more than double, reaching $728.28 billion, accounting for 44.2% of e-commerce sales in the U.S.

Your retail website needs to be top-notch and optimized for e-commerce and mobile sales if you're a retailer. A recent QuickBooks Commerce Small Business Shopping Report showed that:

  • 48% of consumers stopped shopping at a store they visited before the pandemic because the company didn't have an online store
  • 53% considered using a business but changed their minds because they did not have a website. 

And it would be best to build relationships with companies like social media platforms and delivery services, like Instacart—which mobile shoppers frequent. Plus, you need to create a mobile customer experience that doesn't discourage shopping but increases customer engagement.

Social Shopping

Social media is another channel consumers are turning to more. Social commerce—buying products directly from social media platforms is quickly growing. Influence Central reports that 45% of consumers were "open to making holiday purchases directly from within a social media platform" last holiday season. Their top social channels of choice were Instagram and Facebook.

A report from Accenture, Why Shopping's Set for a Social Revolution, says it expects global social commerce sales to grow from $492 billion in 2021 to $1.2 trillion by 2025. Sales driven by millennials & Gen Z (responsible for 62% of those sales) give social commerce a 17% share of the e-commerce market (up from 10%).

Again, small retailers need to up their social game, ensuring they have a presence on these social platforms and the means to sell directly from them. One caution: writing about the report, Marketing Dive warns, "Trust in social commerce remains a high barrier to entry, with half of surveyed social media users concerned their purchases won't be protected or refunded properly—a similar challenge when e-commerce first emerged." 

Recommerce

Recommerce is the sales of used merchandise, and it's growing rapidly, led by sales of used clothing. According to Chain Store Age, secondhand apparel, shoes & accessories is already a $36 billion market. It will likely reach $77 billion in the next four years. There is anticipation that the growth of recommerce will be 11 times faster than firsthand retail clothing sales. Consumers are more likely to shop at businesses that let them trade their old clothes for store credit (43%) and offer secondhand clothing alongside new merchandise (34%).

But recommerce is not just about clothing. In 2020, the home category emerged as the fastest-growing resale segment. Zillow reports that sales of secondhand furnishings and décor are strong. Statista projects that the furniture resale market will increase 70% from 2018 to 2025.

And a report from Chairish says they project recommerce revenues to grow 127% by 2027. Recommerce, like most retail these days, is powered by millennials and Gen Zers—31% of whom say the pandemic increased their interest in buying used, vintage, or antique furniture—particularly online.

BOPIS

BOPIS, or buy online, pick up in-store, is part of the Click and Collect phenomenon, which saw sales grow from $22 billion in 2018 to over $83 billion in 2021. About 75% of online shoppers used BOPIS or curbside pickup at least once in 2021.

Retailers like Click and Collect for several reasons:

  • You can monetize your existing retail footprint
  • It requires fewer resources than delivering merchandise
  • It's less reliant on 3rd-party providers
  • You can launch a Click and Collect option quickly using existing resources

The International Council of Shopping Centers says more than 50% of adult shoppers use BOPIS, and 67% of those added additional items to their carts.

Consumers like to Click and Collect because they don't have to wait for items to be delivered; they're not paying for shipping. It's very convenient for busy shoppers.

Social Purpose

The pandemic reminded consumers how vital small businesses are to their cities and towns. More people say they're motivated to support locally-owned businesses. But the QuickBooks survey mentioned above also shows that consumers care more than just the products/services they purchase. They want to know that ethical practices, sustainable materials, and other considerations are in place. And that these companies have morals that align with theirs and will do business with these companies over other, even cheaper options.

Social purpose is underscored by a report from CompareCards, which says, "Social purpose is no longer just a 'nice to have'. Having a social purpose is essential today." Millennials and Generation Z consider consumerism a "channel for change" and are activists when it comes to their purchasing behaviors. At any given time, more than half of these generations are boycotting at least one company.

The NRF agrees, saying today's consumers expect businesses to stand for something and want to do business with companies that look after their employees, have made inclusivity a priority, and have committed to being a better company.

To make sure your company attracts these buyers ask yourself:

  • What does my business stand for? 
  • What kind of culture do I want to create? 
  • How am I making an impact beyond improving the bottom line? 

Who Is Shopping?

Two generations radically changed their shopping behaviors in the last few years—baby boomers and Gen Z'ers.

Amid the pandemic, The Washington Post reported that consumers over 65 were the fastest-growing category of e-commerce shoppers. That means your website needs to be appealing and accessible to older eyes, and you must offer Click and Collect options.

Generation Z, who range in age from teens to early 20s, contribute about $830 billion to the U.S. economy. They're a financially-conscious generation and are price-sensitive. So to attract these shoppers, you'll want to offer deals and discounts.

What Do Consumers Want?

Gen Z is not the only consumer group looking for deals. According to Influence Central and Adtaxi's Data, Digital Trends & the Reopening report, online shoppers want:

  • free shipping (96%)
  • a free & easy return policy (93%)
  • loyalty rewards (74%)

Most (92%) expect some type of discount, particularly percentage-off and free shipping promotions.

Overall, these reports bode well for small business owners. That QuickBooks report says nearly half of consumers are now more likely to try new businesses than pre-pandemic, which means you need to make sure you're reaching these potential customers through your marketing efforts.

Remember to be patient; today's consumers are taking longer to make purchasing decisions—what used to take days/weeks can now take months. Buyers think more consciously about sustainability, value, quality, and timeliness. 

Need help understanding these shifting consumer behaviors? A SCORE mentor can help. You can find a free mentor here.

About the Author(s)

 Rieva  Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky is president and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBusinessCurrents.com.

CEO, GrowBiz Media
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