It’s no secret that retail and rent-to-own customers are shopping online more now than ever before. This pandemic continues to make social distancing and shopping from home the new normal throughout the country, and has changed the way people are searching for and selecting home essential goods and services at your rent-to-own locations.
Chain Store Age, a retail news publication, reported that consumers shopped heavily online in the second quarter as the pandemic accelerated the ongoing shift to the channel. In fact, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, second-quarter retail e-commerce sales in the United States grew by almost a third (31.8%) from the previous quarter and were up 44.5% year-over-year. And online sales totaled $211.51 billion for the quarter (accounting for 16.1% of all retail sales), up from $160.41 billion in the year-ago period.
Strong e-commerce growth, however, was not enough to offset losses from brick-and-mortar closures due to the pandemic, as total retail sales dropped 3.9% from the prior quarter, per a report by Emarketer. E-commerce is expected to account for 14.5% of U.S. retail sales this year, up from 11.0% in 2019, according to the research firm, which also expects that e-commerce will retain its increased share of the retail market going forward.
“Even as stores reopen and brick-and-mortar sales rebound, they forecast that e-commerce will lose just a 0.1% share of total retail sales in 2021, before gaining more than 1 percentage point each year through 2024,” the report said. “By then, U.S. e-commerce sales will surpass $1 trillion and represent 18.1% of total retail sales in the United States.”
The statistics I am sharing are retail driven, but I have confidence that the rent-to-own industry data has similar trends. With more and more retail consumers taking on household essential goods upgrades during the pandemic, the rent-to-own community is reflecting similar tendencies. The increase in sales volume of furniture groups, larger televisions, new refrigerators, or washer and dryers are driving the lineup of essential items that rent-to-own dealers must have in stock today to satisfy the needs of their consumers.
These shifts in how a customer in the rent-to-own market currently shops and their experiences have also dramatically evolved over the past few months. Indeed, the current climate has made it apparent just how critical a robust website and website strategy is to the bottom line.
Having a strong online presence or, in other words, a website that represents your brick-and-mortar experience, is essential in these times. If you do not have a website, get one. If you have a website but have not reviewed or upgraded the functionality to include a few key elements, now is the time.
Here are a few things to think about when reviewing your current website’s capabilities:
- Can your customers see available inventory and weekly, monthly and total pricing?
- Can your customers put items into a shopping cart and make a payment toward a rental transaction?
- Does your website have chat functionality? Live chat has become the leading digital contact method for online customers, as a staggering 46% of customers prefer live chat compared to just 29% for email, and 16% for social media, according to superoffice.com.
- Does your website encourage shoppers to introduce themselves by creating a customer profile and, in turn, receive a tailored shopping experience?
- Does your website showcase up-to-date store hours and information on all the ways shoppers can engage with you?
- Have you defined all the measures you’re taking to keep shoppers safe in store, in addition to the delivery and installation of their rental?
Don’t wait any longer. With more customers than ever starting their shopping experience at home and online, an up-to-date website will attract and retain more customers and ensure they can communicate effectively with your business.
This blog was first published in the November 2020 issue of Retail Observer.
Keven Dalke is director of Rent Direct at Nationwide Marketing Group