Lockdown is easing, retail is back open for business and while a sense of optimism lingers in the air, for retailers reopening their stores, the challenge is far from over. Social distancing has turned the shopping experience on its head and new, long-term consumer habits are being formed. The growth of ecommerce has accelerated and while we expect some bounce back as stores reopen, we predict that original ecommerce growth forecasts will be pulled forward as most businesses plan to increase their investment in online channels.
As consumer habits have changed, retailers have had to shift their priorities to focus on operational efficiency and cost savings, while simultaneously increasing their investment in ecommerce. However “being online” isn’t enough; poor ecommerce experiences deprive retailers of crucial revenue. A recent study by Forrester indicates that the pandemic has actually amplified customer demand for better online experiences with consumers citing difficult navigation, inaccurate search, confusing product information, and inflexible delivery and payment options as key problem areas.
Looking ahead, how retailers deliver and connect experiences, and ensure their operational systems are up to the task, will be critical to their success. The winners will pivot quickly, adapt and invest in technology in order to meet accelerating online demand. The opportunity is massive but scaling your ecommerce business is not without its challenges. When it comes to the technology, here are some areas to think about when you expand your ecommerce operation:
Integrate Product Information Management
General purpose tools like spreadsheets and home-grown databases simply can’t scale to match global ecommerce ambitions. If your staff is still relying on these kinds of rudimentary tools to keep track of product information, any expansion of product range or territories is going to quickly run into problems. If you’re a multichannel retailer looking to diversify your offering, grow your online store and retain your high street locations – while leveraging the benefits of a marketplace (see below) – then you need to build near-perfect product experiences, which require consistent product information, delivered in context, for the channels your customers are using. And if you’re expanding into international markets, preparing localised data will be vital to success. A PIM can provide highly personalised, local experiences for your customers.
A PIM provides the infrastructure you need to cost-effectively expand your products, reach more markets and take advantage of new sales channels.
Andy Christodoulou, Head of Product, Secret Sales: “When Ampersand integrated our PIM, it gave us total control over our product data, which we had never had before.”
Invest in Search and Merchandising technology
A personalised shopping experience powered by data collection and segmentation is essential to growing your ecommerce business. By incorporating search and merchandising into your overall strategy, you’re not only much more likely to retain customers, but also move more inventory, grow your profit margins and create an experience that entices shoppers to come back again and again. Of course, great merchandising isn’t just about product placement, it’s also about optimising the path to purchase. The best ecommerce retailers blend those original in-store principles with customer data and machine learning to enhance user experiences.
Andrew, Solution Architect, Ampersand: “The benefits of search and merchandising come down to relevance, accuracy and personalisation: if you make it easy for customers to find exactly what they’re looking for, by pushing what they’re looking for in front of them, you have a much higher chance of converting.”
Optimise your logistics
Prime culture means today’s online shopper expects to hit the ‘Buy Now’ button and have the product in their hands faster than ever, at low or no cost to them. So you need to make sure that your logistics are optimised to ensure quick, accurate and cost-effective delivery (and returns) to keep your customers happy.
Integrating your ecommerce platform with your back office is crucial. Removing manual touch-points allows data to flow in real-time, so you can receive and dispatch orders quickly and accurately. Customers will also receive accurate lead times displayed at the point of purchase. Order updates follow, fulfilling their WISMO expectations, giving them the confidence to purchase again. Automation means quicker dispatch, shorter lead times and a much more streamlined process; merchants have better visibility of their inventory while customers can keep track of their orders.
Consider Headless Commerce
Mobile commerce is the fastest-growing channel in the UK, growing at a rate of 16% annually, however mobile conversion rates are still less than half of those of desktop; in other words, having a responsive site doesn’t mean you’re providing a great mobile experience. In order to provide an optimal mobile experience, some of our clients have chosen a progressive web application (PWA), which can live on a user’s home screen and load instantly regardless of whether the user is online. PWAs can be part of a headless commerce strategy that allows teams to work on the front and back-end systems simultaneously, to further improve mobile performance.
Andrew, Solution Architect, Ampersand: “A headless approach allows for rapid iterations between design and development, quicker load times and greater flexibility in layout, now and in the future.”
Offer a seamless and flexible payment process
Today’s online customer expects choice and convenience, and with 87% of customers saying they will abandon their online carts if the checkout process is too difficult, it’s not an area you can afford to avoid.
Local payment preferences should be front of mind when optimising your checkout. For example, credit cards might be popular in the U.S and the U.K but in the Netherlands for example, 60% of online payments are made through bank transfers with Ideal. Domestic shoppers are also moving more to alternative payment methods, such as Apple Pay and Google Pay. To be successful you must analyse where your shoppers come from versus your payment method offering and localise your checkout.
Adyen says: “Abandoned purchases because of payment-related issues, equating to lost sales is something that can easily be fixed. Your checkout is an opportunity to give customers what they want, there and then. You’ve done the hard work, attracted them to your site and convinced them to hit the button marked ‘Buy Now’. So let’s not fall at the final hurdle. Most of the time, cart abandonment is avoidable. By optimising your payment setup, you’ll increase your conversion rates, and boost your revenue with just a few adjustments.”
Extend your ecosystem to Marketplace
With expansive catalogues and ease of purchase, consumers are turning to marketplaces as a one-stop-shop for all of their product needs. In fact, marketplace sales now account for 58% of all global online retail sales. As products and services are aggregated from a wide range of providers, marketplaces provide shoppers with a bigger range of products than at vendor-specific online stores. Integrating with a marketplace allows you to showcase your products to significantly larger audiences while increasing your brand profile. It’s also an opportunity to streamline your logistics as a marketplace can handle all, or some of that for you.
Andrew, Solution Architect, Ampersand: “Two technologies are key to a successful marketplace: a marketplace management platform for onboarding and managing your sellers, and a PIM to make sure the right mix of products are presented in the most efficient and effective way possible, giving customers the best value for each product category. For niche marketplace Secret Sales, using the Mirakl marketplace management platform, in combination with Akeneo PIM, has significantly increased efficiencies and profitability.”
Now is the time to reallocate investment to deliver better online experiences and set your ecommerce business up to be more competitive as the world shifts to a new normal post-pandemic. Investing in scalable, future-facing technology will enable retailers to meet ever-increasing online demand. Ampersand can help by accelerating that transformation.
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