When it comes to eCommerce, the rate of change is unprecedented. Covid-19 has put everything into overdrive, but a lot of the external factors that came in its wake were already in play before we even knew it existed. And while some businesses are tackling the changes head on, willing to adapt and stay agile in their approach, others are simply getting left behind.
So, what are the external factors that are really driving the industry forward at pace?
With lockdowns and social distancing in place around the globe and general shopper concerns, the pandemic has decimated the number of interactions that are happening in brick-and mortar stores. But the fact is that shoppers had already moved away from the high street, and the rise in digital interactions has been driven largely by an increase in mobile use.
Although more shoppers are heading online, typically it has been in-store where retailers could have fun with customers and provide the “surprise and delight” moments at which they could set themselves apart from competitors. Online experiences have, by comparison, remained quite functional. Focus has been on a smooth customer journey right through to checkout, but this hasn’t left room to add value to customers in a fun or exciting way. Standing out has been hard. Given the decrease in in-store visits the onus is now on retailers to move those experiences online, giving customers something they wouldn’t necessarily expect, something to help keep the brand top of mind.
Social moves consumers away from the homepage
Social media has been a game-changer in how people buy online. Whether within the platform itself, like Instagram, or directing people to other channels, customers are interacting with brands at different points along the “typical” retail funnel. Online retailers have traditionally spent time and effort on their homepages, naturally, because it was usually the first point of entry for shoppers. Now, however, customers are landing directly on product detail pages (PDPs) and product landing pages (PLPs). This means the brand experience needs to be redefined and efforts and resources must pivot to deliver more content to suit evolving situations.
IoT devices are here for the duration
Nowadays, nearly everything is an IoT device. From wearables with health and fitness applications, and fridges that can order groceries, to barbecue makers like Traeger Grills that allow customers to control their barbecues via Wi-Fi. This connected world, and the proliferation of IoT devices, is opening a stream of possibilities for customers to connect and purchase from retailers. But with all these touchpoints comes increasing pressure on retailers, both technologically and in how they present themselves across so many different channels.
Anywhere and everywhere
Shoppers can literally buy from anywhere. International shipping brings overseas retailers into the living room, large-scale marketplaces (cue Amazon) are saturating the market, while domestic retailers cleave attention, looking for ways to stand out in any way possible.
The role of mobile
Customers are very evidently browsing mobile-first. Even in lockdown with shoppers at home, they’re still predominantly using mobiles to browse. But, this doesn’t mean that browsing is converting into sales. Often, customers are using multiple devices to research and interact with a brand before purchase, which places added pressure on retailers to deliver consistency, personalization and performance across all channels, and meet expectations without risking buyer drop-off.
These factors are driving change and creating a growing wedge between the current customer experience and what customers expect from their interactions with retailers. Clearly, they are no longer in physical stores, so instead the online store becomes their window on the retailer’s world. Compound that with the fact that because of COVID-19 some retailers are seeing Black Friday volumes online every day – an increase that doesn’t necessarily mean a rise in conversion rates and sales – and its clear retailers need to adapt and think not just of the future but how they can stay relevant now.
Digital is the new black
Dabbling in digital isn’t enough anymore. Now more than ever, retailers must invest in new technologies and digital platforms that support a strategy centred on being digital-first and customer-centric. Competing in a digital-only world is tough. Success depends on building experiences around the customer, giving them what they want, when they want it, so they don’t start favouring the competition.
It’s time for retailers to stand out through the customer experiences they offer – not just what’s being delivered, but the channels that customers connect through, and the layering of personalization and relevance. Keep it going. The best digital experiences are those that are optimised to keep evolving. This requires creating and managing different levels of customer experience, implementing thousands of changes every month, every week, perhaps every day if retailers can automate it, so that it underpins millions of varied customer journeys.
This approach relies on technology and the ability to shape and manage processes and workflows and this can be challenging with monolithic eCommerce platforms presenting bottlenecks and backlogs. In fact, it’s the inflexibility of these old solutions that is killing retailers’ opportunities to keep up with change – never mind real-time website updates, monthly updates are more likely.
Legacy platforms are forcing retailers to control experiences through content management system (CMS) templates that are inefficient in delivering a high-performance frontend and that business users have little control over. No matter how responsive a retailer aspires to be, they are hampered by a lack of agility.
It’s time for retailers to do away with inflexible technology and broken CMSs, and instead harness platforms that help to define the customer experience in content, not code. Eliminate complex templates and templating languages that require developers to make changes and shift to a world where changing experiences is straightforward, incredibly fast and easily scalable. It’s the only way to align with what today’s customers expect and continue to stand out from the eCommerce crowd.
By James Brooke, CEO, Amplience
James Brooke is CEO and founder at Amplience. He founded his first internet company in 1994, and since then has been at the forefront of new media and ecommerce as an entrepreneur and as a leader in the most innovative global agencies and consultancies. As CEO and co-founder of Amplience, the leading customer-first commerce experience platform, James is committed to building a world-class software company that is at the heart of digital transformation initiatives in every sector.
Holly brings a wealth of experience in both print and digital publishing. As Modern Retail’s Content Editor, Holly is passionate about helping independent retailers to thrive in today’s ever-changing market.