The “new normal” may be here to stay, with retailers and consumers alike embracing the new, online-driven landscape of the retailer sector. Yet, we cannot attribute this development exclusively to the pandemic. Even before 2020, brick-and-mortar retailers had been fighting a fierce battle against leading e-commerce players.

These challenges have now accelerated, but this doesn’t mean that stores are unimportant.

Retailers that market their products online use the possibilities of an optimized consumer approach. The advantages of online shopping amplify flexibility and convenience, such as the opportunities for comparison across a wide range of products on offer, browsing and shopping whenever you like, contactless payment and delivery of the goods to your home, etc.

With stores closed, online channels have naturally seen an uptick in demand. Fifty-eight percent of consumers expect to do more online shopping than they did before. Interestingly, we’ve consistently seen two groups over-index in this behavior: those aged 16-34 and those aged 65-plus, according to Mintel.

Yet, it’s the blurring of boundaries between the physical and online that for many consumers is the biggest win for e-commerce. Modern, casual and individualized ways of communication alongside the simplified integration of services can give the customer the feeling of being addressed personally. This approach contributes to customer loyalty.

This Doesn’t Mean That Stores Become Unimportant

Equally, customers also want the advantages of online shopping when making purchases in physical stores. The latest data from McKinsey suggests that retailers can’t afford to be in a wait-and-see mode. First, they need to reimagine their baseline requirements and then turn their attention to taking the customer experience to the next level. The point of experience (POE) is to replace the point of sale (POS) in the future.

The advantages of e-commerce shouldn’t be overstated. Exceptional customer service, knowledge and a tailored approach cannot be exactly replicated through e-commerce. It’s time to start the revival of physical trade, to meet customer wishes, and to make shopping an experience in physical trade as well.

The pandemic has led consumers to adjust their behavior in almost all areas of life, adapting to the new normality and focusing on values such as commitment, reliability and sustainability. Important aspects that we must take into account in future communication include the following:

1. Re-thinking the in-person experience.

Previously, it was important to draw the consumer’s visual attention to the product using a strong design and to combine storytelling with strong emotions to create a perfect brand world.

In the new world, a direct connection must also be established, which allows for the most personalized interaction possible. Consumers inform themselves about products online before, during and after the purchase. Sixty percent of people in Germany use their smartphone to get further information about products because the information at the POS or on the packaging isn’t enough. Similarly, 80 percent want a seamless connection between online and offline channels.

2. Linking stationary business with online business.

The trends in the consumer world require an amplified networked approach, which is also necessary for brand design. That is why we break down the silos between packaging design, client engagement and digital content design.

We’ve recognized that the customer journey in the brand world must be simplified more than ever and that the possibility of interaction amplifies customer loyalty, which ultimately leads to brand success.

Some retailers have already recognized that consumers need shopping experiences and more service, but the digital transformation needs meaningful concepts and reliable partners for its consistent realization. The aim should be to harmonize digital experiences with real experiences.

What works online will be adapted to physical retail in the future, and both the digital and physical market presence will be homogeneously linked to each other in such a way that the consumer is offered a simplified brand and shopping experience.

This omnichannel concept offers consumers the information and services they want at all touchpoints and surprises them with relevant content and an individual approach at the right time.

3. The revival of the QR code.

The proliferation of QR codes during the pandemic has largely been an unspoken success story for connected packaging. After years of uncapitalized potential, the QR code has now found a platform for track-and-trace systems and digital restaurant menus facilitated by the ease of consumers using their smartphones.

With the usage of QR codes to link consumers to their regional web presence, retailers can meet their customers’ needs for information and entertainment around the clock as well as provide a seamless shopping experience. Codes can help link consumers to recipe ideas, interactive games, and provide greater traceability to where the product was made.

Customers can check stock levels before ordering products using track-and-trace technologies. These systems further track when the product either arrives at the customer’s home or when it can be picked up in-store.

The use of QR codes in-store further provides the opportunity for brands to identify and provide more detailed and rich data profiles of a product’s existing consumer market. This data can better inform brands of existing consumers’ geo-locations and session durations to allow for both better conversion rates and broadening the scope of their consumer market.

Overall, the use of coding at home and in-store can trigger a holistic, shared brand experience.

Digitization is Rewriting the Rules of Retail

Consumer expectations for a seamless shopping experience can be met by using different digital links between the online and offline channels. It’s irrelevant whether we “only” provide additional information about the product or entertain the consumer with augmented reality applications.

As long as there’s a consistent strategy behind it, connected packaging can build a bridge between the online and offline worlds, and offer the holistic appearance from which both stationary and online commerce benefit.