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Global thought leader and founder of award-winning research firm, Fifth Dimension, Lyndall Spooner outlines how the retail sector can help consumers ride the COVID emotional roller coaster



According to Lyndall Spooner, whether you like roller coasters or not, we have all been riding ‘Dashed Hopes’ the COVID emotional roller coaster for over 18 months and many of us have turned to online retail therapy to cope.

Spooner uses the analogy of an emotional roller coaster to depict consumers’ current circumstances and state of mind.

“Not that riding a roller coaster and online shopping would normally be seen as complementary, but due to COVID they are,” Spooner said.

Spooner is the founder and CEO of Fifth Dimension Consulting and has over 25 years of experience in consulting and research services and is considered an expert in the field of strategy, research and customer experience.  Fifth Dimension is a highly respected and globally focused industry leading Australian owned strategic research and consulting agency that has amassed a distinguished portfolio of well-known clients including: Westpac, Coles, HCF, Telstra, Foxtel, Colgate and the Commonwealth Bank.

“It is hard to do anything when you are on an emotional roller coaster – your emotions dominate your thoughts and actions and you become increasingly exhausted and emotionally drained the longer the ride continues,” Spooner added.

“Our body is just not designed to deal with strong emotions over an extended period of time. Most roller coaster rides last for less than two minutes, so imagine the stress that COVID is putting on our brain.  We have been on this ‘Dashed Hopes’ roller coaster ride now for nearly 18 months, and no one is getting off anytime soon.

“During the pandemic many people have suffered from anxiety – dreading what is coming with every new turn.  With every new lockdown we experience a spike in anxiety, which then morphs into frustration and boredom, and these emotions become even stronger the longer the lockdown lasts. Frustration is more likely to be linked to those who are financially suffering, while boredom is more likely experienced by those who only suffer a loss of freedom.

“Retail therapy has never been more relevant as many of us have turned to online shopping to improve our mood and reward ourselves for living through the pandemic. Typically, retail therapy would be an infrequent event, but during COVID we see consumers repeatedly returning to purchasing as therapy.”

In Australia, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows that total retail turnover in the last 18 months has undergone wild swings. Emotionally charged purchasing behaviours are radically different to the previous year.  Overall retail spending is up in 2020 and 2021, and it is continuing to increase.

The property market is also experiencing significant price spikes.  These trends are also being witnessed globally across the US and parts of Europe.   According to the UK Government total retail sales increased markedly in 2020 and again in 2021. Total retail sales were 9.5 percent higher in June 2021 than they were in February 2020, before the impact of COVID. Similarly in the US, total retail sales have increased between June 2020 and June 2021 at triple the growth rate of sales between 2019 and 2020.

”It is not just that retail sales are moving online, people who have money are spending more than ever before. It is likely we will go in and out of lockdowns for the rest of the year, into 2022 and possibly longer and consumer purchasing will continue to spike along the way,” Spooner added.

“Retailers across the globe have a unique opportunity right now to not only increase sales during these spikes, but also increase their emotional connection with their customers and build longer term relationships and customer value. 

“In 2019, consumers did not need brands as much as they need them today. Times of need are infrequent, brands need to recognise and capitalise on this opportunity and they need to do it now.

“Brands also have a social responsibility to deliver with purpose in an ethical, responsible and compassionate way.  They need to recognise how they can serve the community and their customers riding Dashed Hopes in a manner that helps them endure and survive the ride. Brands that do this well will have far more loyal customers at the end of the ride.”

Spooner outlines six things retailers can do right now to support emotionally drained consumers stuck on the roller coaster Dashed Hopes:

  • Hyper personalise marketing and reward spending

Link retail therapy purchasing events. If a consumer has purchased one item, consider  complementary items you can offer them that will drive a positive response for their next purchase and remind them how positive they felt about their previous purchase,

  • Emphasise positive emotions connected to your brand

Humans are driven by feelings and emotion is what drives purchasing behaviours. Remind consumers of the broad range of positive emotions they can experience with your brand, such as additional online services and personal support and consultations you provide to help them with their decisions,

  • Entertain, interact and inspire

Give consumers ways to be inspired by what a positive life during COVID can look like by exploring and interacting with your brand to alleviate their boredom such as brand stories, editorials, and projects – essentially entertain them and make them feel good,

  • Good for me and good for the planet

Share with consumers stories of how your brand is making a difference on climate change and sustainability.  We are at the tipping point of consumers actually backing their belief in the need to do more to combat climate change with substantial changes to behaviour,

  • Help them to be the expert of your product

Help increase the skills of your customers using your product or service.  Are they using the product or service the right way? Will they get the best results? Look their best? Make them an expert, and increase their personal achievements when they interact with your brand; and

  • Be compassionate, considerate, understanding and responsive of their personal circumstances

Recognise that Dashed Hopes is stressful and bumpy and your customers will need a little extra TLC depending on where they are at on the ride.  Right now your customers in one city are experiencing very different emotions to your customers in other locations.  You need to show empathy that you are right there beside them experiencing the same turbulent ride and tailor your messages and interactions accordingly across the community.

“The Dashed Hopes ride will eventually end, our emotions will return to a normal state, and we will remember the moments where we were able to experience emotional relief and feel good about ourselves as we look to repeat those experiences in the future,” Spooner said.

“In the meantime, there is a lot brands can do to help consumers stuck on Dashed Hopes that will result in many brands having life-long customers once the roller coaster is well and truly on the scrap heap.  In CX terms we call it the emotional connection score which is the extent to which customers are emotionally attached to a brand and resilient to competitors.  If implemented well, my six tips will help brands to increase this score and drive growth through and beyond COVID!”

Fifth Dimension has been recognised for its ground breaking work, being honoured as a 2021 Confirmit ACE (Achievement in Customer Excellence) Award in the Innovation category, a 2020 Confirmit AIR Insight and Research Award Winner, as well as being included in the highly respected 2020 GreenBook Research Industry Trends (GRIT) Top 25 Strategic Consultancies, as one of the world’s most innovative companies. Since its launch in 2006, Fifth Dimension’s four pillars of expertise have continued to evolve new capabilities to embrace uncertainty and drive the development of market leading approaches: strategy, experience, research and technology.

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