The global disruption caused by Covid-19 has provided the e-commerce industry with a “once in a lifetime” opportunity, but digital-first businesses must be agile and embrace change in order to continue capitalising on this retail evolution, the latest report from Astound Commerce, the world’s largest independent digital commerce agency, reveals.
Despite fewer than half of UK adults (41%)1– saying they would be comfortable returning to retail environments, even with social distancing measures in place, and e-commerce sales predicted to increase by up to 40% across all retail2-, online retailers can’t be complacent and need to reset their businesses to future proof for long-term success, according to the Covid-19 E-commerce Best Practice Guide by Astound Commerce.
As altered consumer behaviours learnt during lockdown become habitual for shoppers, the most successful retailers will be those that embrace these emerging trends in order to remain relevant long-term.
The seven key areas for change, that are critical for ongoing online retail success, according to the report, are:
1. Adapt internal structures. Re-think traditional work streams and hierarchies and embrace staff working from home as this puts digital teams in the consumer’s position and makes them more attune to the at-home experience. By working more dynamically and informally, for instance, daily stand-up’s rather than weekly sales meetings, retailers can adapt to ongoing changes in consumer behaviour. Businesses should re-think their longer-term hiring strategies – customer services, analytics and logistics are all key areas which will need more attention and investment.
2. Invest in customer services. Customer service is a sales channel and must be expanded to provide 24/7 focus with customer service agents available more widely through digital or social channels. Expand the role of customer services staff to include data collection and allow call handlers to spend more time with customers – who will appreciate the interaction while allowing the retailer to learn more about its customers.
3. Lead with data. With non-essential retail businesses reopening, and the potential for localised lockdowns, inevitably consumer behaviour will shift and shift again. Digital businesses must be flexible, and pivot accordingly using data and insight in order to spot and capitalise on new behaviours, customers, segmentation and basket combinations. Using more granular data on customer behaviour means you can quickly remove friction points.
- Intelligent product planning and discounts. As lockdown rules continue to evolve, retailers should introduce range extensions and new products that reflect the changing circumstances, like Anya Hindmarch’s Keep Your Distance handbag sticker, and use data to analyse if these changes are permanent or transitional. Customers want value for money but solutions, such as pushing more selective discounts with a product or story telling focus are preferable to panic discounting.
- Content to emulate the in-store experience and drive retention. Check browsing times on your site and develop editorial content accordingly, such as digital magazines and lookbooks, to engage customers. Tools, such as 3D visualisation, can help customers feel like they are in-store, while functions that connect staff and customers over Zoom for product information and advice, such as Space NK’s Space Live digital customer experiences offering 1-2-1 consultations and masterclasses, can drive loyalty through enhanced digital customer service.
6. Adapt operations. Ensure logistics stakeholders are communicating daily with the wider ecommerce team. Pull stock from different inventory pools, practice government safety measures, invest in optimal warehouse space and leverage technology to optimise logistics networks.
7. Investment in third parties to ensure scalability. Retailers must ensure they have the tools necessary to optimise performance focusing on attribution, so they know who is buying and therefore how to market, promote, reward and sell to each segment differently. Retailers need to prioritise personalisation to respond to changing behaviours quickly and in a way that will build loyalty long-term.
Whether changes to consumer behaviour are temporary or permanent, there is no going back to where retail was before Covid-19, as Terry Hunter, managing director of Astound Commerce UK, explained: “We didn’t choose it, but the challenges of Covid-19 have given the e-commerce industry the opportunity to think, act and work differently. We want to help businesses to embrace this opportunity, reset their operations for what’s to come and, all importantly, future-proof their strategies for long-term success. It’s all about having the courage to consider ideas that would never have been acted on in normal times – only by doing this can retailers learn so much about more their businesses and customers.”
To find out more what digital retailers should be doing to continue trading successfully through the crisis and beyond, access the full guide here.