E-commerce is experiencing rapid growth with no sign of slowing down. Retailers and brands are finding that the new normal in retail and e-tail marketing is much like trying to hit a moving target. They have to take a refined aim and build in some lead time.
This marketing strategy requires businesses to adjust their digital infrastructure and tactics. Otherwise, they will miss the target as consumers prepare for their holiday marketing and ad campaigns.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows e-commerce retail sales in Q2 were up 44.5 percent from 2019. Other reports show U.S. online sales were up nearly 80 percent for June year over year.
Retailers are facing an unprecedented amount of engagement, evidenced by data from fraud prevention company Forter’s Global Merchant Network of 750 million users, which showed a surge in online transactions in April and May.
Apparel and accessories saw a 99 percent increase in transaction volume, as well as three-to-four times the normal rate of gift card purchases. Unfortunately, this boom was also accompanied by a surge in fraud. Overall fraud activity increased roughly 30 percent from March 1 to May 15, Michael Reitblat, Forter’s CEO, told the E-Commerce Times
E-commerce sites can continue the momentum gained from COVID-19 once the pandemic subsides. But no universal formula for doing so exists. Much of their ongoing marketing success is dependent on the industry; according to Lil Roberts, CEO and founder at Xendoo, a cloud-based bookkeeping and accounting service focused on small business owners.
“Some industries are growing wildly, while others will never be the same again. E-commerce, home services, and technology companies are thriving as they’re adapting to the restrictions, helping combat the pandemic, and proving to be a necessity to consumers and businesses. Hospitality and certain professional services, however, are struggling due to travel restrictions and social distancing regulations,” she told the E-Commerce Times.
New Challenges Demand New Tactics
The boost in e-commerce sales is not without its challenges, however, suggested Evan Kohn, chief business officer at Pypestream, an automation and AI customer experience firm. For brands that have not prioritized digital transformation, this is a rough wake-up call.
“Not only do brands need a solid technology foundation to handle the influx in sales, but they also must dedicate resources to creating a world-class customer experience to keep their shoppers happy, informed, and loyal,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
The main obstacle retailers face now is ensuring the continuation of the supply chain, from procurement all the way to delivery, urged Roberts. The strains currently happening with the USPS will affect delivery on both sides of the supply chain.
“Even if a supplier does not use USPS, other delivery carriers are being pushed to the limit and may be impacted, even if indirectly,” she said.
Supply chains, manufacturing, and delivery of products have quickly adapted to the new normal. However, while retail sales models are being reinvented through e-commerce, the high rates of unemployment will strain retail consumer budgets, warned Diaz Nesamoney, CEO of digital marketing firm Jivox.
Investment in Marketing
Consumer behaviors have changed significantly, partly due to their fear of going outdoors to stores and malls and partly due to restrictions by state and local government in how commerce can be conducted, he noted.
“Given how long the pandemic has lasted, several of these behaviors have become permanent, and so brands need to respond by investing in, and embracing, digital sales and marketing as online buying has grown exponentially,” Nesamoney told the E-Commerce Times.
This demands one-to-one personalized messaging. It also requires advertising that emphasizes specific and relevant products and where and how to buy these products digitally. This goes beyond one-size-fits-all advertising, he added.
Large traditional brands that do not invest quickly and aggressively in one-to-one e-commerce marketing stand to lose market share to their D-To-Customer competitors. Those competitors are typically digital natives, have strong e-commerce offerings, and excel in e-commerce marketing, Nesamoney said.
On the other hand, he noted, smaller DTC brands who have had very little competition from larger brands due to their over-reliance on brick-and-mortar distribution now have to stay ahead with investments in technology. That will enable them to stay ahead despite much larger e-commerce marketing budgets that are flowing into the market from the large brands.
“The race for e-commerce market share is on,” he said.
Digital Transformation Essential
During the height of COVID-19, 20-to-25 percent of transactions came from new online users. This means that merchants are dealing with customers they have never seen before, according to Forter’s Reitblatt.
“To capture more revenue by ensuring they are not declining legitimate customers and providing consumers with a good experience, merchants need access to data that will help them identify legitimate customers from fraudsters and process transactions quickly,” he said.
Retailers who have invested in digital transformation have been — and will continue to be — more able to adapt quickly to new market opportunities, Reitblatt observed. This will take market share from competitors who are less digitally oriented.
“It is likely that these companies will sustain growth through retaining existing customers while acquiring new customers.”
Consumers are now more comfortable with e-commerce. So the ability to keep customers coming back will be what sets merchants apart from one another, he added.
“Promos and extended returns policies have a role to play, but at the end of the day, customers are looking for a seamless experience across all points of the online purchasing journey. Making it easy for them to find, buy, and receive their goods in a timely manner will be critical,” Reitblatt emphasized.
Currying New Customers
Indeed, this is an unparalleled point in time for e-commerce sites. With the rush of the supply chain being online, e-commerce companies have been able to acquire new customers at a high volume during this time.
By marketing and presenting buying opportunities to their newly acquired customers, momentum can continue moving forward, according to Xendoo’s Roberts. To maintain momentum, sites should continue to connect with their buyers and audience. They need to gather feedback, see what promotions or items their buyers are looking for, and try to deliver, she recommended.
Another approach more digitally-savvy brands use to continue e-commerce sales flourishing is finding ways to expedite shipping to maintain a positive customer experience, noted Reitblatt.
When delivery from third-party retailers is delayed, being able to process purchases and get product shipped within two to three days on your own site will establish a stronger relationship with consumers that keeps them coming back, he said. Other merchants are pivoting to offer new lines of products that are more in tune with current consumer requirements, behaviors, and preferences.
“It’s really about meeting and exceeding customer expectations,” he said.
Tap Into Email
Email needs to be front and center within every retail and e-commerce marketing mix, according to Melissa Sargeant, CMO of Litmus. That is how to effectively create more authentic human-to-human connections and experiences with customers because they expect brands to know what they want.
“This stresses the importance of brands gathering as many insights about their target audience through email, to then use to inform other channels,” she told the E-Commerce Times.
If marketers neglect this part of the marketing process, their multichannel marketing plan will miss the mark. Instead, they need to invest in the audience insights garnered via email to inform the rest of the brand’s marketing strategy. Then they will know how to maximize their efficiency and budget, Sargeant explained.
Email is here to stay. The ROI of email is unparalleled and with more shoppers making online purchases, retailers are going to be chomping at the bit to press send on their holiday campaigns.
“However, brands need to focus on making truly authentic connections through marketing efforts for them to stand out in the crowd at a time when the best way to reach consumers is digitally. Retail marketers must rely on email to drive target audience insights and the sales they need,” she said.