Narvar Marketing Lead Andria Tay on Research Design that ‘Groks,’ Retail Trends, and Sci-Fi Pastimes

Editor’s note: This interview is part of Mission North’s “Marketing Risks Worth Taking” series, an ongoing forum with marketing leaders who are sharing their perspectives about adapting to a new reality. 

Andria Tay, global director of content marketing and communications at Narvar, has many serious interests that are indicative of the academic-level attention she brings to her roles as marketer and researcher for a leading post-purchase engagement platform. For instance, she’s enthusiastically attended motorcycle and auto races around the world, including Brands Hatch (U.K.), Monza (Italy), Catalunya (Spain), and Formula 1 at Marina Bay (Singapore Grand Prix). She also is a sci-fi aficionado, which makes keeping up on futuristic brand-marketing innovation seem like no work at all.

“I’m passionate about technologies like AR, VR and IoT,” Tay said, “I have also been following smart home technology for well over a decade.”

Given everything that’s happened in the last 15 months, we were grateful to catch up with Andria for Dispatch’s ongoing conversational series, which features the sharpest minds in the marketing game. We chatted extensively about her research team’s inner workings and key consumer and retailer trends. Our Q&A has been edited for length.

Data reports are such a big part of successful B2B marketing today. For Narvar’s 2020 State of Returns—with the pandemic dominating in the background—was preparing the questionnaire different compared to years past?
We were keen to understand how consumer behavior or sentiment had changed due to the pandemic, so there was a certain amount of longitudinal data we wanted to capture to help see the impact clearly. But we’d also been absorbing a lot of information from the broader market—from our retail clients, analysts, and other SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), which helped inform some of the new lines of inquiry.

How exactly?
For example, management consultancy Bain & Company talked a lot about the “loyalty shock”—the fact that consumers were trying other brands and retailers at a high rate due to the challenges of shopping during shutdowns, or while supply chains were restricted. So, we wanted to explore that more deeply and understand people’s primary motivations—one of which was a desire to support local business, another was simply a desire to try something new out of boredom—and how it might impact retail strategy moving forward.

What findings really stuck out?
One of the most interesting retail trends that was accelerated due to the pandemic was the availability of alternative delivery and return methods. Curbside pickup, buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS), same-day delivery options, alternative location drop-offs for returns, printerless, contactless—all of these became high-priority initiatives for retailers to roll out or promote to continue doing business in 2020.

However, realistically we also knew that retailers might not be able to support this full array of options long term. We wanted to understand not only what adoption of these myriad options looked like among consumers, but also to get a sense of the value to them post-lockdown.

“One of the most interesting retail trends that was accelerated due to the pandemic was the availability of alternative delivery and return methods.”

Can you go deeper into the methodology?
Sure. We asked in straight-up monetary terms: “Did you try this service? If so, would you be willing to pay up to $5, over $5, as part of a subscription, or would you only use it for free?” The results gave us a great indication of what consumers value most, and where retailers might be able to focus their investment. We plan to continue looking at how this evolves over time, as well as use this methodology to explore other questions in future research

What was the most interesting trend?
Probably the biggest change year-over-year is that we saw a significant jump from 48% to 62% in ‘bracketing’—the practice of buying multiple versions of items to check out at home with the intention of returning what doesn’t work. We’ve been tracking bracketing for years now—but we anticipated that it would surge based on the shift to e-commerce last year, which made it even harder for consumers to try things out before a purchase.

What was more surprising was the scale of ‘loyalty shock.’ Nearly 60% of consumers tried a new retailer during the pandemic due to wanting to support local business or just wanting to try something new as much as out of necessity. Almost 90% of those consumers expect to continue frequenting those new retailers.

So, how is research content design evolving?
Our guiding principle for content design continues to be: How can someone get the most value from each slide in a snapshot that people can easily grok? Can people pull out a slide and chuck it into another presentation to make a clear point? We don’t always hit that mark with every page, but that’s what we aim for. And we’re striving for interactivity as a next evolution in how we present these findings.

“What was more surprising was the scale of ‘loyalty shock.’ Nearly 60% of consumers tried a new retailer during the pandemic.”

What are going to be the big retail or e-commerce trends for the rest of 2021?
Two things. First, a focus on returns management and efficiency. It sounds self-serving, but honestly, after years of highlighting the issues and solutions around returns, we’ve seen this becoming a much higher priority and area of focus for retailers and analysts. We have also noted an increase in inquiries from journalists, primarily since the accelerated shift to e-commerce has put a bigger spotlight on the problem. We’ve also observed a lot of M&A activity in the post-purchase space this year, which is further validation that this is a hot space.

Second, a shift in how retailers utilize physical presence. Many retailers have already started to do more ship-from-store to fulfill e-commerce orders, primarily because that inventory is ‘forward-deployed,’ meaning it’s closer to the consumer where it’s more efficient to fulfill from both a cost perspective as well as being more sustainable. But we also know that many retailers are rethinking the role of the store as a channel.

In the way that the pandemic proved that remote work can work, it also proved that many things previously thought to be in-person purchases—fresh produce being a great example—can be handled online. In that environment, what should the primary functions of a physical location be?

In people’s everyday lives, the pandemic also defined what’s important. Obviously, you haven’t been traveling abroad for motorcycle and auto races. What are some other passions you’ve been able to dig into while remaining at home?
I’m a pretty serious nerd and love most sci-fi and horror so I have been bingeing on all the amazing shows like “Devs,” “Debris,” “Tales from the Loop,” “The Nevers,” as well as being able to take little VR breaks in the Oculus Quest to play “Beat Saber” and “Pistol Whip.” Plus, like many other folks, I’ve been investing in some home improvements instead of international travel, but I am looking forward to getting back out there later this year!