How to win peak ecommerce in light of COVID-19

25th Aug 2020

While the pandemic has clearly ravaged the high-street, consumers had already been shifting from physical to digital for years. COVID-19 only accelerated this trend, and the investment in digital could be a silver lining for many brands if they’re ready to embrace the opportunity.

A Kantar study, by Detail Online, of Europe’s three largest e-commerce markets: France, Germany and the UK, showed that the share of consumers that do more than half of their total purchases online had increased between 25% and 80% since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

More advanced retail businesses have already started their pre-holiday preparation, including cleaning up product data and ensuring that their infrastructure can support more traffic than last year. 

However, there’s still a lot of preparation to be done, so here are four key priority considerations: 

Make Data-Backed Decisions Mandatory 

As a shopper, if I go onto a store’s website that I’ve regularly purchased men’s casual clothing from, but I’m shown a promotion for women’s clothes, I most likely won’t feel compelled to continue browsing, as they would appear not to have what I’m looking for. But if a digital experience recognises my preferences and knows my past purchases (you bought a pair of trousers, so here’s a shirt that could match) I’d feel like the brand understands me and I’d be more likely to purchase.  

Those kinds of personalised experiences and recommendations aren’t a guessing game. It’s all about the data, and the most progressive retailers make data-driven decisions. They incorporate and analyse data that comes from POS, CRM, loyalty systems, ERP, geolocation, supply chain and social media. 

A recent survey of retailers by Retail Touchpoints found that there’s room for improvement when it comes to incorporating these data sources. While 76% used loyalty system data to provide better recommendations, only 40% used GIS and ERP.  GIS (geographic information system) data could be the difference between recommending a winter jacket or a swimsuit.  

Collecting data is the crux of a successful AI-based project, where retailers can automate a more personalised digital experience for customers, based on constantly changing behavioural data and business insights. 

It is challenging to predict what personalisation and product strategies will work best. Now is the time to test and experiment with different presentations of product, sort and ranking algorithms, boosting and pinning different featured products.  So, when the peak period comes, during back to school season, Black Friday or the Christmas holidays, all with restricted in-person shopping, you’re not guessing how online will perform.

Digital channels will most likely be the main touchpoint that you’ll have with your customers during 2020’s peak trading season, so be prepared to collect useful information to power a “you-know-me” type experience.  

Enable Simpler Online Product Discovery

Once you’ve identified this season’s hero products, based on data from last year and your current customers’ behaviours, you need to ensure that customers can find them. Smarter recommendations could help your customers discover products they didn’t realise they needed, which could lead to spontaneous purchases. 

Furthermore, customers expect a consistent experience regardless of channel, with 70% of millennials, for example, willing to let retailers track their browsing and shopping behaviour in exchange for a better shopping experience. Another survey suggests that half of millennials (56%) said they would swap their current brand for a brand that caters to them.  The mandate from digital natives is to create a digital experience that predicts user intent in real-time and provides the information that individual users need, across all digital touchpoints. 

Recent developments in advanced search algorithms can do just that by capturing and interpreting feedback loops of user signals, using machine learning to automatically improve the search and browse experience without having to bug your IT department. As shoppers become more sophisticated, teams become leaner and retailers are forced to digital-only touchpoints, it’s time to stop losing valuable conversions from poor search and browse experiences.

Embrace New Ways to Deliver 

Omni-channel flexibility comes in many forms, such as Buy Online, Click and Collect or Ship from Store (SFS). The most important thing is meeting your customers where they want to be met. Covid has presented major disruptions to the supply chain including delayed fulfillment, unpredictable delivery, and warehouses operating at half capacity. Consumers have appeared to become more patient as the pandemic grips the world, but they are definitely enjoying the bloom of new pickup options and services.

If you’re a digital native brand, are there complementary brick-and-mortar and omni-channel retailers that you can partner with?  Consider how you can extend your footprint and presence to get closer to your customers. With the uncertainty ahead, consider diversifying your offerings. 

Some businesses are finding new ways to share their products, and although it started out of desperation, some may be worth holding onto. For example, the date in a box that restaurants are providing — a meal kit that comes with a menu, instructions on how to heat things up, and a flower to adorn the table. Customers will remember the atmosphere you created for them when they unpack their delivery and those extra thoughtful touches can go a long way to creating a loyal customer.

Embrace Smarter Virtual Assistants 

Now that you’ve stabilised your supply chain, built contingency plans and identified personalisation strategies and products to promote, you need to finally consider the frontline, your customer support. One of the big challenges to providing a connected experience is being able to collect, analyse and react to real-time data across all of the different touchpoints customers have with a brand — clicking through a link on a marketing email, abandoning a cart on mobile, researching on a laptop.  A customer’s profile of preferences should follow them on every channel, including support. 

According to a recent Gartner report*, “By 2025, customer service organisations that embed AI in their multichannel customer engagement platform will elevate operational efficiency by 25%.” AI helps deliver a cost-efficient, automated yet human experience in conversations, keeping customers full of holiday cheer and costs low. Recent advancements in natural language processing can fortify chatbots to help customers resolve issues quickly and efficiently on their own, without sacrificing the user experience or taking them away from your site. 

Once Covid broke out, one thing changed very quickly: millions of people stopped going to retail spaces for everyday purchases. Conversations that would happen face to face with a knowledgeable employee were forced online. By considering a question-answering system that learns and improves over time, you can ensure your customers will find the answers they need, and your support centre won’t be bursting at the seams. 

Stand By Your Customer

You can thrive during this peak trading season if you’re able to stand alongside your customer at every part of their journey: from browsing, to purchase, to pick-up, to support. The retailers that win this year will be able to provide a connected and personalised experience regardless of what happens over the next couple months. 


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