I joined Pinterest in the height of the global pandemic. From my home office and virtual landscape, I’ve spent the past six months scaling our advertising business in the UK and Ireland, as well as working thoughtfully to ensure that Pinners in these countries have a personalised, meaningful experience on Pinterest to help them create a life they love. While I didn’t anticipate that my first day would involve meeting my new colleagues via video calls, I have gained invaluable perspective and resolve that I will take with me into next year and beyond.
What has defined my decision-making thus far, as well as my understanding of where Pinterest sits in this new world, more than anything else is getting a front seat to the ‘Future of Shopping’.
For the past couple of decades, technology has been re-setting the bar faster than most businesses can keep up. In a period of global social distancing, this is truer today than it has ever been. More retailers in every industry have been relying on technology to keep their businesses afloat. Those with an established and robust digital strategy have undoubtedly been better prepared to react without a playbook. Others scrambled to upgrade their online experience. 2020 undoubtedly reshaped the retail industry with long-lasting changes to consumer behaviour.
‘Keeping pace’ is no longer sufficient for success, or even survival, as is evident in the public struggles of many high-profile retailers and famous brands. In a post-pandemic world, brands and retailers need to look to consumer behaviour from the digital perspective and embrace tools that anticipate what customers will want in the years ahead.
Online vs. in-store
Consumer behaviour has already changed beyond recognition in recent years. Well in advance of any national efforts to practice social distancing, retailers were facing massive challenges. ‘Brick and mortar’ retailers were seeing falling shop floor traffic as customers gravitated towards the convenience and practicality of online shopping. The proportion of users shopping digitally in 2019 was 82% (up from 53% in 2008) according to research by the Office of National Statistics.
This year has accelerated this shift beyond imagination, along with further long-term changes to consumer habits and behaviour. Out of necessity, 2020 has marked an incredible surge in online shopping, bringing millions of customers into a trend towards ecommerce that has been growing for years. We have seen this clearly at Pinterest with the percentage of users who visited places to shop on the platform growing more than 50% in the first half of 2020.
While eCommerce has incredible benefits in terms of personalisation and convenience, it has work to do in order to match the real world experience of inspiration and discovery. An in-store experience offers a huge range of variables which can be tailored to the customers experience, from product placement, customer pathing and checkout.
The value of insights
At Pinterest, we have seen changes not just in how consumers are choosing to shop, but also what they are purchasing. As consumers changed their routines and habits, it has proven to be a particular challenge for marketers who are typically used to relying on past patterns of behaviour to determine how best to engage their audience. Marketers have needed to find new ways to inspire people to engage with brands that fit with their new lifestyle and mindset. The question is, how can marketers and brands obtain reliable information on how people will react to an unprecedented situation?
This year has highlighted that the value of insights showing real-time information on how people are planning their future cannot be underestimated. For instance, Pinterest saw a significant growth in use cases like ideas for cooking quickly and easily, crafts and lesson plans for kids, tips for growing vegetables, working from home and more during the early months of lockdown. Unsurprisingly, this is markedly different to ideas that people were looking for at the same time last year. It is crucial for brands and marketers to align their efforts with this customer behavior and adapt their messaging. Many industries will see permanent changes in consumer behaviour after this period so the critical nature of insights will remain into 2021 and long after this is behind us.
What is the future of shopping?
In order to succeed in 2021 and beyond as well as keep pace with changing customer behaviour and expectations, retail’s future will need to combine the best qualities of real-world and online shopping experience. Those who relied on in-store showcases to sell now must find new ways to let their customers sense, explore and size up their products, while creating escapism in inspiration.
Mobile-based AR is one of the elements driving the coming revolution in remote retail and allows retailers to leverage the best of both online and brick and mortar, while making it easier to go from inspiration to purchase. Smartphones will continue to transform shopping and will remain a crucial point of engagement especially when stores re-open with less inventory to accommodate space for distance-conscious customers.
We know shopping – and the future of ecommerce – is more than searching for a singular product and not as simple as just blending bricks and mortar and online. We’re focused on making that experience as inspirational as possible just like flipping through the pages of a favourite catalogue or walking through the aisles of a store that feels handpicked.
Instead of walking down our favourite high street to see the windows ahead of the festive season, inspiration will likely be from the comfort of our own phones. In a year when more people than ever will be shopping online for the festive season, Pinterest can replicate that experience for consumers and retailers through curated collections and visual discovery. We’re not just a place to buy – we’re building a place to shop online, while creating escapism in inspiration, which is needed now more than ever. I firmly believe that this is the Future of Shopping.
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