COVID-19 placed the spotlight on eCommerce. The impact of the global pandemic has unsurprisingly forced changes to the smallest of habits, from the way we shop to the way we work to the way we simply communicate. And it’s unlikely these changes will ever fully reverse.
Following the first UK lockdown back in spring, online retail became a necessity for many, driving floods of new customers online for the first time. Throughout 2020, the evolution of eCommerce has accelerated with online shoppers now accounting for 81 percent of the UK population. With this rise in demand, changes in consumer shopping behaviours have occurred and businesses have raced to adapt.
As lockdown restrictions continue to roll on, making predictions can feel a little like a guessing game at the moment. But one thing we know for certain is that we – businesses and consumers alike – have all been impacted by the events of 2020 and as a result, expectations have changed.
Looking back at the year, we can get a real sense of where eCommerce is heading and the changes that could be here to stay. From the growth in direct to consumer to the rise in social proof to how online retailers can meet changing customer expectations, we’re discussing why a digital-first mindset is key to eCommerce success in 2021 and beyond.
Meeting your customers’ changing expectations
Managing customer expectations is challenging – and that’s even before a global pandemic was thrown into the midst. But those retailers who remain agile continue to be the most successful. Flexing to the needs of their audience, these businesses have been able to reach shoppers where and when they feel comfortable.
Research shows that eCommerce in 2020 will rise to more than 30 percent of total retail sales. Due to the sudden closure of physical stores for periods of times, this is perhaps unsurprising. But a larger proportion of this online custom than you may realise has come from shoppers who were previously hesitant to buy online. For some, this transition will be permanent and with this comes a whole new wave of users to cater for.
So how do brands deal with this? There’s a lot to be said about keeping things simple. Being honest, clear and transparent can go a long way, helping you to manage expectations and maintain trust with your audience.
Communicate product availability
Higher demand for online products has led to items selling out. Merchants and couriers alike have, at times, struggled to keep up with such high demand and this has made good old-fashioned communication key.
This year we’ve seen frantic searches for more than just toilet paper as product availability is a challenge numerous eCommerce businesses faced. While long lead times aren’t ideal, many shoppers are willing to wait for what they really want, especially if they know when the item will be back in stock. After all, it saves them the inconvenience of continuing to shop around only to be disappointed once again. This also pushed pre-order functionality and stock replenishment email notifications to the forefront.
As demand for online shopping grows, many businesses struggled to maintain their standard or next day delivery promises. This added pressure on the supply chain resulted in many disappointed customers and we’re not out of the woods yet. With Christmas just around the corner, how many consumers are going to find themselves frantically seeking gifts that are guaranteed to come in time for the big day? Clear communication and spectacular customer service will certainly play the leading role in this year’s festive production.
But it’s not only dealing with all those extra orders that’s putting pressure on eCommerce businesses. With an influx of online orders likely comes a flurry of additional returns to process too. It has become the norm around peak for standard returns periods to be extended, benefitting both brands and consumers by providing more time to return items and subsequently more time to work through your returns process.
Provide great customer service
The events of this year have undoubtedly increased the numbers of questions and concerns your customers have. And when they reach out, they expect an answer. 2020 hasn’t been the time to stay silent. Your audience took comfort in simply knowing you’re operating, you’re listening and you’re working to address their concerns.
As circumstances fluctuate, setting expectations on response times and ensuring your business is ready to handle increasing enquiries is a must going forward. Also remember to place regular emails, content and updated FAQs at the core of your communication to keep customers well informed.
Customers and brands alike have lost out on face to face interactions, so how else can eCommerce brands keep that human connection alive online? Today, there are numerous communication channels available – from live chat to social, phone and email. Each consumer will have a preference in how they want to engage with the brands they love, so it’s important to find out what your audience prefers and communicate with them in the most effective way possible.
Direct to consumer
The shift to online shopping has highlighted how important it is for businesses to have a direct relationship with their customers. As the pandemic has heavily impacted the high street, many manufacturers have experienced a decrease in sales due to physical stores and retail partners closing.
As a result, a number of traditional businesses – possibly most notably, Heinz – have embarked on a D2C selling model in a bid to supplement their business, driving direct sales and leveraging the changes in today’s shopping behaviour. With many retailers unfortunately closing their doors for good due to the implications of COIVD, we expect D2C to become a more popular strategy for eCommerce businesses.
Going direct to consumer (D2C) involves businesses selling directly to the end customer, cutting out the middleman and the need for third-party retailers. More than simply generating direct sales for your business, there are many reasons why D2C selling could benefit your business including:
- Getting your products to market faster
- Personalising and improving the user’s shopping experience
- Increasing customer loyalty
- Building customer relationships
Deciding to sell D2C is a big business change, but when done right, it can be a strong and long-term strategy for success. If you’re thinking of making this transition to help protect your business against future uncertainties, you need to carefully consider your eCommerce strategy, how you will avoid and manage conflict between selling channels, how you will take your D2C brand to market and even what eCommerce platform is the right one to support your needs.
Showcasing social proof
Online competition is stronger this year than ever before. With this increased competition, it has become all the more important for businesses to keep their customers engaged and stand out. One shift we’ve seen over the past 12 months is the importance of highlighting value over focusing solely on the price of products.
A method of showcasing value is through social proof which we have seen rise through the ranks this year. Whether it’s user generated content (UGC), reviews, testimonials or social media posts, social proof has enabled brands to show their audience the genuine value they offer – a compelling selling point I’m sure you’ll agree.
Social proof is powerful, especially during times of change when shoppers are looking for guidance and reassurance. Validating a choice, it can be used to assure your customers that your products are worth their interest and money by using other shopper’s experience as proof. As more and more shoppers use their social media channels as a place to browse and even purchase products, we expect social proof to go from strength to strength as an online marketing tactic.
Research shows that 70 percent of people will trust a recommendation from someone they don’t even know. Promoting positive reviews and ratings is known to reinforce purchase decisions, but social proof has grown to be much more than just reviews. This year has seen user generated content really come into its own to become a powerful method of driving conversions.
As the population has been confined to their homes for the majority of the year, more and more users have flocked to social media as a form of both social engagement and entertainment. In fact, mobile phone usage has significantly risen since the start of the pandemic with some users reporting screen time increasing by 200 percent.
With more eyes online, producing relevant and useful content to share through your social media channels has become an even more effective method of staying in touch with your audience. Shopping functionality on social has also increased with many platforms now a compelling sales channel too.
Social media has really proven its value to brands this year – both big and small. When accompanied with the desire of customers’ to share their feedback on your products, social media has become a powerful channel for promoting social proof to an engaged community. Whether it’s through videos, photos or even hashtags, this organic and authentic form of content has kept consumers and brands connected during times of separation.
As the year progressed and the peak shopping period was on the horizon, brands rightly shifted their focus to online shoppers. But unable to shop in physical stores for the majority of this year, purchasing gifts became a whole lot trickier. As a result, gifting services have risen in popularity, making peak season a little more manageable for eager shoppers. Allowing customers to remotely give gifts, many businesses have created a gifting service to complement their online offering.
As Christmas fast approaches, businesses are getting creative to offer their customers the fuss free online shopping experience they need. From dedicated delivery dates to gift wrapping services, personal recommendations and unique messaging functionality, an online gifting service can mimic that of an in-store shopping spree. As shoppers become more accustomed to this way of shopping and find it a hassle-free method of giving gifts, we predict a rise in eCommerce merchants offering some form of gifting service. Plus, with nationwide events such as Valentine’s Day and Easter occurring in the first half of the year, gifting services are likely to prove useful well into next year.
The gift of giving has got even better this year. Both the provision of and demand for subscription purchases has snowballed, offering a great gift alternative that can last months or even years! A convenient and unique gifting experience for both the buyer and consumer, shoppers are able to treat friends and loved ones to an online subscription at a price point that best suits them. Could your products be adapted to provide a subscription service?
No matter what we face, to succeed in eCommerce, businesses must adapt to the way their customers want to shop to foster brand loyalty and increase conversions. With rolling national lockdowns and many shoppers opting to avoid brick-and-mortar stores, online retail has been placed at the core of shopping experiences. Those businesses less digitalised scrambled to adapt while those with an existing eCommerce presence worked to capitalise on the demand even more.
This year, the shift to digital has accelerated two-fold. But how can you make the most of this demand into next year?
While there’s no resisting the changes 2020 has brought, a period of disruption can be a good time to test, learn and adapt how your business responds to new shopping behaviours – many of which are likely here to stay. Your focus should be on providing your customers with value, using your social community and creating a frictionless, inspiring online shopping experience.
Making plans for 2021? If this year has taught us anything, it’s that an online presence is a must-have for your business and your audience. If you need to chat more about eCommerce and the possibilities it can offer your business, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team.