The sudden closure of many retail businesses in the UK, coupled with government pressure to minimise time outside, has pushed a previously reticent group of consumers away from bricks-and-mortar and onto the internet for their shopping needs.
It is highly likely that a great many of those who have shopped online for the first time in March 2020 will do so again, and this presents an interesting opportunity for eCommerce companies.
What has changed?
It would be unfair to say that those who hadn’t previously purchased regularly on the internet fit into a particular demographic. But there is certainly evidence to suggest a larger number of those who have had to change their buying behaviour are of the older generation.
Additionally, there is likely to be a larger proportion of technologically apprehensive people within the new group of online shoppers. This means that retailers may need to take things back to basics to get the best out of them, which is no bad thing. The core principles of eCommerce are simplicity, communication and clarity. There are a number of major retail sites which have lost sight of this in preference of feature-rich, complex user experiences which assume that everybody already understands ‘the basics’ of buying online.
Distressed purchases and unprecedented demand have likely seen artificially inflated conversion rates for some retailers – I know that I personally have endured some horrendous buying funnels to secure toilet paper this month! But the reality of the situation is that these new customers are, in fact, going to be harder to convert and turn into return customers for the future – but it is absolutely possible.
Understanding your new segment
While ‘purchased under duress’ doesn’t sound like the most reassuring new segment in your CRM system, the circumstances under which you have obtained your new customers shouldn’t be underestimated. Nor should it be ignored when understanding the potential for future engagement with them.
Your business was there when their usual supplier failed to deliver. You likely helped them at a time of emergency (again, especially if you sell toilet roll) and this is something that they are likely to remember when you try to re-engage them. Ironically, this may be an ideal opportunity for some more traditional marketing, as a non-technical customer is far more likely to respond to traditional marketing through the post than a targeted email campaign.
There’s a lot to be said about keeping things simple. But striking the balance between that and selling the features which should encourage a new customer to stay online with you is tricky. However, a series of simple communications both online and offline should be well within the capability of even the most basic CRM and email marketing setup. These could include:
- Guiding a customer through the process of registering an account
- Setting up some account preferences
- Incentivising a follow-up purchase
I’d recommend steering clear of any heavy personalisation initially, as privacy is often a factor cited by those who don’t feel comfortable shopping online. Diving feet first into a fully targeted selling campaign is likely to exacerbate this unease.
On-site, things will need to remain as simple as possible. Accessibility and clear messaging are important. Keep the checkout to as few stages as possible and avoid the temptation to upsell and cross-sell. These things can be added in time as the customer’s confidence increases, but a softly-softly approach is safest if your personalisation and A/B testing tools permit.
A great example of this is from our client, Swimming Pool Chemicals, website. They’ve kept the checkout simple, including a ‘Contact Us’ call-to-action in case the user wants to call for more information.
A change in focus
We’ve spent ten years creating online operations focused on internationalisation and the ability to deliver within a 24-hour window of buying. All of that has now become irrelevant, and we’re back to a couple of very simple questions for potential customers: “Do you have what I want?” and “Do I trust you enough to buy it from you?”. Everything else – even price, to a degree – is secondary.
To reflect this shift in behaviour, trust signals are extremely important. Including these signals such as an up to date copyright logo and payment methods can help put the user at ease.
Promoting trustworthy reviews such as Trustpilot is another way to instil trust with your customers.
It is likely that we will see huge restrictions on international trade and impacted domestic delivery timescales for the rest of 2020. Even nationally, logistic networks will struggle to get all but the most urgent items to us on a next day basis. There is a perception of scarcity which, except in a few small cases, is a temporary blip in availability as opposed to a long-term absence.
These factors mean that behaviours are likely to change as consumer expectations change. Larger shops consolidated into single deliveries and the ability to select alternatives or substitutions in the event items are unavailable, are likely to be hugely appealing to buyers. Simplicity for customers to manage orders before they are dispatched and clear messaging around delivery expectations is also highly important – especially if your customer service offering is reduced over the phone.
Our client, Charlies, clearly communicates changes to delivery timeframes, allowing you to set expectations with your customers before they get to the checkout.
It’s likely that an increase in online orders will result in a high number of returns. As we continue to observe the nationwide lockdown, many people will be unable to make it to their local post office or within the usual 14- or 28-day return period. Reassessing your returns period and communicating this on your website is another method of reassuring your customers. Provide updated timescales and clearly communicate how they can return the item.
Preparing for the unexpected
With an uncertain financial future and the prospect of a prolonged recession, customers will be looking for alternatives to paying immediately for products. Finance options such as Klarna, Paypal and V12 allow the customer to spread payments across three months or longer. Depending on the value of the product you’re selling, some customers could spread payment over 36 months, while you would receive the majority of the order value (minus the provider’s fee) up front.
As with all financial products, there are requirements around how information is presented to the customer prior to signing up for credit, so you need to ensure you meet these before offering the service.
Many retail businesses with a strong online offering have continued to succeed through these turbulent times. There is now an opportunity to take this further and to invest in the acquisition of a new wave of customers, securing their repeat business even as things return to normal. What are your thoughts on the changing landscape of eCommerce? Send us a message and let us know.