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Adapting to changing customer needs in post-lockdown Britain

Adapting to changing customer needs in post-lockdown Britain

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Kaushalya Somasundaram, Head of Payment Partnerships and Industry Relations, Square UK, explains how businesses need to keep up with customers’ expectations following the pandemic to keep up with sales both instore and online.

The past year has accelerated technological transformation like never before. The sudden shift to digital has had a massive impact on the way companies of all sizes operate.

As we start to come out of lockdown, businesses face another wave of change as customers expect a seamless shopping experience both instore and online. To stay competitive in the current fast evolving climate, businesses of all sizes have been prioritising agility and flexibility, and above all else, listening to their customers. 

The need for choice

The pandemic prompted people to shop more locally, and also reconsider their methods of payment. Our Cash and the Pandemic 2.0 report found that Britons exhibited a strong preference for cashless payments as a ‘safer’ option during the pandemic. 

Luckily, SMEs have proven to be resilient in the face of the incredible challenges posed by COVID-19, adjusting practically overnight to the new consumer and market demands. The share of Square businesses in the UK that went cashless has risen by more than 4x since last year, and more than 50% are now accepting payments online.

While a move to cashless has been magnified by health and safety concerns, over half of the UK public expressed that they would like cash payment to still be an option in the future. For businesses, this is a key element to consider, as it is likely to impact their revenue streams, with 57% of respondents saying that having a variety of payment options would increase the likelihood of their return.

Businesses that provide shoppers with a variety of payment and shopping options are those who are likely to reach a widened customer base and engage their audience for longer. Our research found that half the UK public reported that their local businesses were offering a range of different payment methods for them to choose from, again showing the high level of agility SMEs exhibited.

Supporting SMEs

Our research also found that 41% of respondents had started shopping at independent stores within their communities more frequently since the start of the pandemic. As restrictions begin to lift, 46% of the UK public said that shopping locally would continue to be a priority for them.

In addition to this, the pandemic provided many small businesses with the opportunity to explore new ways of engaging with their customers. For example, pivoting to online has given small, local businesses the opportunity to reach a much wider customer base. Of all the businesses that are currently taking online payments with Square, 21% began doing so in March 2020 or later.

Staying agile 

This is an exciting time for businesses to delve into previously uncharted territory, reach a wider audience and experiment with new payment options.

The omnichannel customer experience has become an essential element of a successful SME, with the pandemic accelerating its importance for businesses. By offering customers the best of both worlds, striking a perfect balance between the benefits of in-store and online, as well as providing a variety of payment options, small businesses can gain a competitive advantage and ultimately help boost the local economy.

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