Shifting priorities have meant that getting produce delivered safely and securely is more important than ever in Belgium. Brands that provide a digital-first shopping experience with a conscience have risen to the top of this year’s rankings, as CSR (corporate social responsibility) rapidly becomes the most important buying consideration for the Belgian customer. Where money has been tight for many Belgians, companies offering value for money have been well appreciated.

Though many Belgians had expected fewer restrictions going into 2021, lockdowns have remained in place and contact-free deliveries have been a lifeline for customers stuck at home. Customers expect a seamless, personalized experience – they have been making enough sacrifices without sacrificing their customer experience.

There’s no change in the leading sector in the 2021 Belgian market since last year. Grocery retail has been hugely important across the world throughout COVID-19, and it remains in the top spot in Belgium. Grocery stores are some of the very few physical stores which have remained open throughout 2021, making them a real destination for shoppers. Going to the grocery store is no longer just a job to tick off – many customers have found comfort in preparing home-cooked meals while stuck indoors, meaning the grocery stores are instrumental in making lockdown a little easier.

Aside from the physical experience of shopping instore for groceries, high ranking stores have made the digital purchasing experience as seamless as possible, reducing contact time with customers. Colruyt is one of the leading Belgian supermarket chains, who placed second in this year’s rankings. Colruyt is known to have a clear vision of offering customers high value at a low price point, and has pivoted to offer a minimalistic in-store experience, as well as digital channels to cut contact altogether.

Colruyt offers a price matching service, where if a customer finds a product cheaper in another store, they will refund the difference. This, combined to its commitment to offering quality products at very affordable prices, has boosted its popularity throughout COVID-19, where finances have been tight. Its Collect&Go1 option gives customers the ability to order groceries online for collection at over 200 venues with a quick turnaround, which has allowed even the most vulnerable to access value products. The supermarket scores high on Integrity and Expectations pillars, as customers view its value promise as a real bonus for the local community.

It’s not just the grocery retailers ranking high for customer experience in the 2021 survey. Coolblue – a major online electronics retailer in Belgium – landed the top-ranking spot.  A combination of clever marketing and an outstanding customer experience – from shopping to delivery and return – has made them a staple in the Belgian electronics retail market, improving its ranking position by three from last year and bringing it to the top of the Belgian podium.

Its digital footprint allowed it to remain a key player in the rankings through COVID-19, as it has well-established hold in the e-commerce channel. Coolblue is more than a native digital brand though. It has recently decided to integrate physical sales channels in its distribution model, by opening approximately seven stores in Belgium2, the Netherlands and Germany, enabling them to also reach those customer segments which still favor a physical shopping experience.

Coolblue aims to deliver a truly seamless omnichannel experience, making it a market customer experience champion. It scores high in Time & Effort, Personalization, Resolution, and Integrity due to its commitment to tailoring the customer experience at every touchpoint, and its investment in employee welfare – happy colleagues make happy customers.

Customer experience is not only thriving in grocery retail, but also for general retailers. Coming in third place in the rankings is, an online marketplace which offers products and services from numerous vendors. With such a vast offering across consumer good categories, and its reputation for quick delivery, has met the needs of Belgium’s demanding customer throughout COVID-19. As a digital-only platform, it has been a lifeline for many customers wanting to get all their goods ordered and delivered in one quick and simple transaction. excels in Time & Effort and Personalization, thanks to its intelligent algorithm and superfast delivery service.

Loyalty and advocacy are key goals for all customer experience activities, and each behavior is driven by certain pillars of excellence. In the Belgian market, advocacy is driven by Integrity – customers need brands to show up for their community in order to promote them within their circle.

The key driver of loyalty is Personalization, which customers demand when making a purchase. A personalized journey to checkout will likely keep customers coming back. COVID-19 accelerated the digital maturity of the Belgian customer, putting pressure on companies to upgrade the quality of user experience on digital channels, including small, local brands. Moving forward, a winning combination of physical and digital excellence will likely be the key to customer experiences that delight – physical venues are becoming experience centers, rather than traditional stores, and brands that make this a reality quickly, while ensuring their digital presence is watertight, can succeed in the market.

Many Belgians have emerged post-COVID-19 with a stronger sense of purpose, with a better defined vision on customer experience and with a better understanding of how data and AI can create competitive advantage.

Patrick Maes
Head of Customer, Sales and Marketing Advisory
KPMG in Belgium

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