The rate of change in e-commerce has always been fast. Yes, Covid-19 put everything into overdrive, but many external factors were already in play before then.
While some online businesses are tackling the changes head on, ready and willing to adapt and stay agile in their approach, others are simply getting left behind. For these laggard retailers, the message is clear: customers are no longer in your stores, but instead your store is their world, regardless of channel.
But even if that channel is online, ongoing growth in this area doesn’t necessarily translate to a rise in conversions. It’s evident these businesses need to adapt — and fast. The big question is: how?
Before answering that, let’s first take a look at how we got here by identifying five big changes brands and retailers face today:
1. The Fun Is Moving Online
While more and more shoppers are heading online, typically it has been in-store where brands and retailers could have fun with customers and provide the “surprise and delight” moments where they could set themselves apart from competitors.
Online experiences have historically remained quite functional. Focus has justifiably been on a smooth customer journey right through to checkout. But this hasn’t left any room to add value to customers in a fun or exciting way. Standing out has been hard.
Given the decrease of in-store visits, the onus is now on brands and retailers to move those experiences online, giving customers something they wouldn’t necessarily expect and to keep the businesses top of mind.
2. Social Media Has Moved Us Away From the Home Page
Social media has been a game-changer when it comes to how people are buying online. Whether within the platform itself — like Instagram — or directing people to other channels, customers are interacting with brands at all different points along the “typical” funnel.
Whereas brands and retailers would often spend their time and efforts on their homepages — because that was frequently the point of entry for shoppers — now customers are coming direct to product detail and landing pages. This means that brands must redefine their customer experiences, pivot their efforts, and direct resources to deliver more content to suit different situations.
3. Internet of Things Devices Are Here To Stay
Nowadays, nearly everything is an IoT device. We have wearables with health and fitness applications, fridges that can order groceries, and even grills where users can 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 brands and retailers. But with all these touchpoints comes increasing pressure on businesses, both technologically and in how they present themselves to customers across so many different channels.
4. The Explosion of Choice Is Real
Shoppers can literally buy from anywhere. With international shipping now making overseas retailers more accessible more than ever, and large-scale marketplaces (cue Amazon) saturating the market, brands and retailers are clawing for attention, looking for ways to stand out in any way possible.
Consumers have more choices, which means winning their attention, their business, and their loyalty is an ongoing challenge. The digital experience they receive is a key differentiator.
5. Everything Starts With a Smartphone
The rise in mobile has been well documented, with customers indisputably now browsing mobile first. In the U.S. alone, mobile sales hit $359 billion in 2021, according to one eMarketer study, a 15% increase from 2020. And that figure is expected to more than double by 2025.
One thing to note, however, is that customers aren’t always converting on mobile. Often, they’re using multiple devices to research and interact with a brand before purchase. With customers expecting consistency across all those touchpoints and the risk of them dropping off if those needs aren’t met, this is placing added pressure on sellers.
How Brands Can Remain Relevant
Now that we’ve identified the changes, what should brands be putting their time and efforts into to address these changes to remain relevant to consumers now and well into the future? Following are four recommendations:
1. Prepare for a Digital-Only World
Dabbling in digital or being responsive isn’t enough anymore. Brands and retailers need to invest in new technologies and digital platforms that will support a strategy centered around being digital first and customer centric.
Competing in a digital-only world will be tough. Success will depend on the ability to build experiences around the customers and give them what they want, when they want it. Otherwise, they’ll have no qualms in heading elsewhere.
2. Change the Experience, Not Just the Content
It’s time for brands and retailers to stand out through customer experiences — how they’re delivering those experiences to customers, across what channels, how to do this consistently, and then layering in personalization and relevance.
The key then comes in continuing to optimize the digital experience and the speed at which they can do so. Competitor offerings change. A brand’s products change. Customer preferences change.
So, the pressure is on for brands and retailers to be constantly optimizing their customer experience to stay ahead. That means creating and managing an array of versions of an experience, making thousands of changes every month, every week, perhaps every day if they can automate some of it, across millions of customer journeys.
3. Embrace an Agile Approach
There’s no getting around that delivering a customer-centric, digital-first approach relies on technology and importantly how businesses shape and manage all their processes and workflows.
The problem lies in the bottlenecks and the backlogs that, quite often, the monolithic commerce and content platforms of old can’t respond to. Their inflexibility is killing productivity and the chance to keep up with the change.
These platforms may have businesses releasing monthly if they’re lucky, with many retailers experiencing a backlog of technical change that they simply can’t get done. An agile approach is needed for the flexibility and speed required.
4. Manage Digital Experiences With Content, Not Code
It’s key for brands and retailers to harness platforms that let them define the customer experience in content, not code. With solutions like these, they can eliminate complex templates and templating languages that require developers to make changes and move to a world where changing experiences is straightforward, fast, and easily scalable.
A headless platform — where the front-end presentation layer (head) has been decoupled from the backend functionality via APIs — can address this and give users the flexibility and freedom to focus on improving e-commerce experiences for their customers and driving results for their business.
Embracing these recommendations will help e-commerce organizations to build a loyal customer base, boost sales, and thrive in 2022 and beyond.