Ecommerce in Challenging Times

Here are a few questions I was recently asked in a webinar for The Fashion Network and The Ecommerce Club

What significant changes have you seen over the last few months of etail?

Innovation and speed to market has certainly changed. We’ve seen the prioritization of functionality that businesses now needed, things like delivery services, click and collect, payment options and bookings. We’ve also seen many things become deprioritised, replatforms put on hold, recruitment freezes, marketing spent cancelled or deferred etc. There are also businesses that haven’t had an online presence, and they’ve needed to make decisions and adapt quickly.

Payment options have certainly evolved and become more important, we’ve seen greater adoption of split payment, buy now pay later options both by retailers and customers. Also thinking of how payments work with your international customers, its essential to have a suite of products on offer. We will also be seeing the emergence of more payment options entering the market very soon, with Facebook entering this arena and looking to dominate social media payments.

We’ve seen a change in attitude and resilience of businesses (and people), adapting to a new way of working and communication. Attitudes to home and remote working will certainly change. This could have huge benefits to businesses as well. Online sales are typically split 50:50 before and after 5pm, therefore why shouldn’t working times change to reflect this as well. Social media and customer services staffing should certainly be adjusted.

A tolerance and acceptance of a slower service has been seen by customers. This may allow businesses to look at their delivery and collection models and adjust their services. The world has slowed down and customers’ mindsets have been adjusted, they have reflected on pricing of products and delivery, and offset this against urgency. We’ve all seen products during this period, particularly high demand items, can always find something cheaper if prepared to wait. Exchange and returns policies have also changed, with many of these extended, it will be interested to see what happens with this in the future.

Product ranges and best sellers have changed for many businesses, as buyer behaviour and the need for essentials or products they have never bought before has changed, so has the need for businesses to adapt to demand. Multi channel retailers may have been significantly impacted by not being able to access stock that was in stores. Need to consider how these stores can be accessed in future as distribution centres and how can you utilise this stock online as well. Consumer trends and attitudes have changed, with less newness potentially coming through, businesses need to trade their way to success and evolve their product offering.

We’ve seen the human side of businesses shine through. Personality of brands and employees has been something that people will remember long after this. Generosity and charitable work, producing PPE, hand sanitiser etc. Having fun with your brand and making customers laugh and value your business. This will really help the long term success of the business, discovering a new audience and helping your existing audience appreciate you and love you more.

Content has become far more authentic and less polished. Without the ability to shoot high production content, and people not being able to get together or travel etc. we’ve seen a change to photography and video and it hasn’t necessarily been a negative thing. Influencers and social media content has certainly had to evolve.

The emergence of video as a widely accepted channel has been one of the biggest shifts throughout this period. We’ve had the ability to use video as a form of communication for many years, but its never really been a popular channel. Now its been widely used in business and social life with all demographics. People have become far more accepting of seeing themselves on video, especially with the lack of makeup and haircuts etc. as well as also becoming Tiktok experts.

We shouldn’t also forget the ugly side of this, we saw the profiteering, the redundancies, cancelling of contracts and orders with major suppliers. People won’t forget how they’ve been treated throughout all this.

Will consumer buying behaviours change now and in the near future?

Consumer buying behaviours have been changing for many years and will continue to do so, this has simply speed everything up dramatically and forced change. The shift and prioritisation of essentials and non-essentials, in store and online will certainly certain. Habits have developed and been forced, but it has also highlighted to people what they appreciate and miss.

Accessibility has changed over the years, from desktop to laptop, to tablets then a significant shift to smart phones. With more people working from home and less travelling to work, we may likely see some a bit of resurgence for desktop shopping.

We’ve seen a huge influx of customers of different demographics purchasing from different demographics for the first time. Discovering brands for the first time, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of these new customers discovered during this period, even if existing customers haven’t bought as frequently. You need to identify what has happened during this period and develop marketing strategies to follow up with your different types of customers.

Attitudes to Essentials & Non Essentials have changed. Amazon has become even more important to their customers and they’ve seen huge growth yet again. The supermarkets whilst grocery has grown, they couldn’t keep up with delivery slots and customers have switched loyalty to find delivery slots from any supermarket. This may have significant impact long term as customers choose to buy when is convenient for them, rather than shopping from their preferred supermarket.

Working from home, and changes to work life balance will change buying behavior and timings at which they shop online. Changes to personal and financial circumstances have certainly been impacted. Lifestyle changes have been forced, no eating or drinking out, no holidays etc some people may have saved a lot of money during this period. It is also likely this period will have had the biggest impact on people’s body shape and fitness, some people have really embraced fitness (possible for the first time), whilst other’s habits and routine has changed. This has resulted in different buying behaviour as well as changes to the clothes they are purchasing or will need to purchase.

Social media will always play a huge part in the customer’s purchasing decision and we have seen this evolve further with the tagging of products, social payments and Wechat shopping malls.

It will be interesting to see how this period potentially speeds up the adoption of purchasing via different devices, the internet of things, smart watches, voice purchasing etc.

There is certainly a long overdue change required to offline, with the government, local councils and commercial property owners needing to do something together. This overdue awakening is needed to save the high street. Retail will be on a trajectory to become far more experiential to become more relevant than simply selling. The multi-channel retailers, need to get their strategy right, there are very few that have been truly successful losing their shops and focusing solely online. They soon see that they aren’t as good as the pureplays, their strength is the multi-channel and their brand, and they need to preserve this.

How might the customer experience/journey need to change?

Businesses need to trade their way to success. Think about what you are selling and understand the 80:20 Rule. 80% of your sales will come from 20% of your product range and efforts, so understand this number, the products, the customer, where these sales are coming from etc. Pay attention to your merchandising rules, your onsite marketing, personalisation and stock.

Ask yourself what are your Unique Selling Points and what is your niche? Very few businesses do anything unique anymore. They have quantifiers like we do free delivery, we have great customer service, we have great value products. What is the purpose of the business and why should customers choose you?

Need to think how online and offline support one another. Booking appointments, click and collect, browsing the stock that is available in store, content creation, stock management, returns and exchanges etc. Product and supply chain will likely to have been impacted, so you need to do your best to sell what you have got and to make a profit.

Address and reassure concerns over safety – think of the implications and speak to members of the team and the customers. Learn from other retailers and continue to adapt.

Think about how you can encourage the customer to buy the right size rather than to buy and try two sizes. Look at the sizing guides you have, give more accurate information. People’s body shape has been impacted and these fluctuations may lead to buying the wrong size, thus increasing returns. Returns is such a huge cost to a business, yet it never gets the attention it really requires.

Multi channel retailers should be looking at how they utilize their stores more, they have the people who understand the product and customer better than most in their business. Can they be supporting on social media, customer services etc. Where possible businesses should be looking at utilitising the stock within the store, dispatch from store has many advantages.

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