How Covid-19 is changing retail KPIs: From traffic to engagement

How Covid-19 is changing retail KPIs: From traffic to engagement
Gavin Bradley serves as senior creative director for customer experience at Harbor Retail, a design + build firm which helps retailers and brands activate Harmonic Retail™ along the path to purchase. Prior to his role at Harbor, Gavin held multiple creative director roles across retail and marketing companies. He is currently based in Los Angeles.

Traffic. It’s what almost all retailers swore by — that, and time spent in stores. The logic was simple: Get people through the doors and entice them to linger longer, and they’d buy your wares. All that came into question when Covid-19 hit. Even after the shutdowns were lifted, retailers found themselves facing a new reality: Traffic looked (and still looks) nothing like it did the year prior.

Almost overnight, consumers were utilising convenient services such as buy online, pick up in-store; curbside offerings; and next-day delivery. Entire shopping trips were handled online. Basket sizes grew and frequency dwindled. Shopping itself shifted from a form of entertainment to something more transactional in nature.

Not that consumer behaviour wasn’t already moving in this direction. Before the pandemic, mall-based retailers had been underperforming in 19 out of the past 20 quarters. Safety concerns around Covid just accelerated the trend, with earnings at brick-and-mortar stores dropping 256% in the second quarter of 2020.

Even then, however, retailers could still live somewhat by the principle of “more bodies, more sales.” That’s no longer the case. Going forward, I believe the driving factors will be experience and engagement, both of which can influence the quality of foot traffic rather than its quantity — a much better indicator of success.

Three post-Covid success indicators to be aware of

Although sales will always be the ultimate KPI, you need to look at this as more of a “result” than an actual measure. It’s a lagging indicator — not necessarily a predictor of a trend. By identifying and measuring the phases within the customer journey as a whole, you’ll find other metrics to better monitor performance and provide insights that can lead to increased sales. Here are just a few:

#1: Brand health: Measuring consumer sentiment is one of the most powerful ways to gauge brand health and help identify the changes necessary to improve customer engagement. Net promoter scores do just that, providing a numeric value to the loyalty and interest in your brand based on the responses to a single question: On a scale of zero to 10, how likely is it that you’d recommend our company, product, or service to a friend or colleague?

Survey participants are then grouped into three categories:

  • Promoters: A score of nine or 10 indicates a loyal customer who engages in word-of-mouth marketing about your brand
  • Passives: Seven or eight are the most dangerous scores. These scorers are content — but not willing to promote your brand and could be swayed by the competition
  • Detractors: Consumers with a score of zero to six are unhappy with your brand but are willing to engage in a dialogue about their displeasure — allowing you the opportunity to course-correct before there is damage to your brand’s reputation

A healthy NPS varies by sector — and within retail alone, you have a retailer, brand, consumer packaged goods, direct to consumer, and more. All have different NPS averages. However, you’ll want to ask a few follow-up questions to gather additional insights into why the score settles at a given level.

Additionally, NPS data immediately allows you to see who you can leverage as a loyal advocate, who should be engaged more deeply in order to retain them as a customer, and who needs to be given higher customer service to satisfy a current negative sentiment.

#2: Customer behaviour: To increase conversion, brands must reach consumers at the right point along their pathways to purchase. Customer behaviour can provide insights into both interest and intent. The question now is this: Where do you focus your attention?

Beyond the more obvious behaviour metrics such as new or returning customers, tracking engagement can be essential in determining whether someone will buy a product. For online shopping, that includes number of sessions, session duration, page views, bounce rates, etc. For in-store experiences, engagement involves not only tracking customers across stores, but also garnering a deeper understanding around direct customer engagement at the shelf.

Many retailers have already used heat-mapping and customer tracking across entire stores. Today, however, understanding how a customer approaches a shelf, what they explore, how they engage, and when or if they abandon their “at-the-shelf journey” are important metrics for understanding who’s interacting and why certain customer profiles shop in unique ways.

One way we’re doing this at my company is by implementing audience analytics software that’s linked to a user interface’s on-screen journey. Because this technology is integrated on shelves, it gives us a comprehensive picture of how customers engage in both the physical and digital retail spaces. The resulting metrics allow us to note true traffic (opportunity to see a display versus actual watchers), measure session duration (through dwell and attention times), and determine engagement patterns on the user interface (through measures such as journey pathways, durations, and exits) — all completely anonymously. We’re then able to identify variables to experiment with and A/B testing solutions that best align with customers’ needs.

#3: Brand advocates: Every brand has its devotees — those consumers who recommend its products, share its content, or simply sing its praises on social channels. Tracking brand advocacy provides insights into engagement and reach. Monitor shares and comments, of course. Both can help inform decisions around content and channels that drive higher engagement. But also watch for hashtags and mentions, as these are now even stronger indicators of consumer sentiment and engagement.


Retail has changed, and it’s still changing. As such, this won’t be the last time we’ll see retailers needing to rethink the concept of traffic or time spent in-store. Until then, brand health, customer behaviour, and brand advocacy are all KPIs to be monitoring in this post-Covid landscape. If addressed effectively, you can derive new insights into how to draw customers back into your stores.

Photo by Jordan Nix on Unsplash

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