Competition and consumer expectation on the rise – how to keep up with the ecommerce evolution
Heath Barlow’s keeping us up to date with ecommerce retailing trends that continue to shape our profession.
Ecommerce retailing has proven to be one of the most transformative industries over the last five years. Yet despite the mass throng of changes worldwide, few in the Australian market have chosen to join in the technology uptake. In reality, this hasn’t proven to be much of an issue.
Amazon’s announcement that it will soon join the ranks of e-commerce retailers in Australia has come as a rude shock to Australian businesses. Understanding the trends and developments of Australia’s e-commerce landscape and the expectations of its customers will be the first and most important step to remaining competitive over the coming months.
There are a number of key ecommerce retailing trends that have recently reshaped the industry. Here’s what retail executives need to be aware of:
The convergence of offline and online customer experiences (‘O2O’) and an omnichannel response
It’s not hard to notice the convergence of the customer’s offline and online experiences. Today, the offline consumer experience includes visiting a store, trying on clothes, browsing the shelves and examining products, standing in line to buy items and moving on to the next store. This process is cumbersome for so many reasons: it doesn’t make sense for inventory purposes, as it needs a significant amount of stock on hand; and it can often be time-consuming and frustrating for shoppers. The future of this process is inevitably beginning to ease for both customers and retailers as the online and offline experiences converge.
For e-commerce retail marketers, this trend will mean:
Changing the old ways of marketing the same products via different channels. As consumer purchasing behaviour varies channel to channel, the medium will primarily dictate the content. Providing customers purchasing options on multiple channels, so as to buy whenever is most convenient for them. In fact, 40% of consumers have indicated that this is ‘very important’ for them.
Consciously putting the customer at the centre, regardless of the channel
Creating a strong and integrated presence across all channels to ensure the CX and brand reputation stay consistent from mobile first to mobile only and the inevitable mobile strategy over the past decade, mobile use has continued to accelerate.
Mobile strategies for e-commerce retailers have had to scale in tandem. Each year, mobile technology becomes more intuitive, more useful and more sophisticated in its capabilities. Customers often visit ecommerce websites or apps on their mobile devices first. In fact, the trend seems to be heading to mobile only instead of simply mobile first.
If e-commerce retailers want to stay competitive in today’s mobile-connected world, they will need to continually pilot and test mobile strategies with a small subset of their users or target audience. These strategies should include:
- mobile-optimised email communication: ecommerce marketers need to be sure they are sending out mobile-friendly emails to resonate with their target audience,
- mobile-centric CX: these should be streamlined, efficient and result in user action, and
- mobile-specific customer service and support: retailers should ensure customers have access to the same level of service and support as if they were starting their interaction on a computer, or even picking up the phone to call.
Social commerce and the move to social money
The realisation that invaluable customer advocacy is amplified by the heightened use of social channels has precipitated the necessary embrace of social media as part of the overarching marketing plan. The phrase ‘word of mouse’, coined by the Harvard Business School, was born out of this shift, as the reach of social media is far greater than that of traditional word of mouth.
Social commerce, or the use of a social network in the context of e-commerce transactions, will become a mainstay channel for consumer purchases. While it may not be completely clear to many e-commerce companies how social commerce fits into traditional marketing strategies, it cannot be passed over.
The e-commerce industry is showing movement toward more social commerce options in the near future through the buy now/ install now trend, making it easier than ever for consumers to buy products with just a click. For example:
- Pinterest launched a ‘Buy It’ button,
- Instagram created an expanded ad program called Instagram Ads in addition to its Instagram for Business offering,
- Twitter and YouTube also updated their websites and mobile apps to favour easy e-commerce purchases straight from their sites, and
- Facebook developed a service that lets users send money via its instant messaging app, Facebook Messenger. This service allows users to readily swap money with others, as opposed to businesses, meaning businesses may not be far behind.
Other social channels will be working quickly to catch up with social commerce consumer demands. At the same time, e-commerce marketers will need to determine how social commerce will work within their overall marketing strategies.
Email has become the greatest e-commerce vehicle
For years, throughout the advent of social media, RSS feeds, MMS and other technologies, many people have claimed email is dead. Yet it remains stronger than ever, growing in volume as well as purpose. Ecommerce retailers have used this powerful workhorse channel for years to drive traffic, engagement and, ultimately, transactions via an e-commerce website or mobile application.
It is expected that ecommerce retailers will see email grow to become one of the largest transaction channels. It won’t be long before retailers will email customers directly to have them conduct self-contained transactions within the email.
Email is incredibly powerful, it’s so strong that even Facebook and LinkedIn continue to send email notifications. With a channel so powerful, it will only be a matter of time before email moves into a transaction-based channel, where purchases happen directly within its boundaries. Ecommerce retailers should not only be watching for this move, but planning for it.
Personalisation machine capabilities have arrived and so have customer expectations
The much talked about rise of machine learning to improve personalisation is finally beginning to emerge. Retailers have sought to personalise the customer experience for many years because of its impact and relevancy. However, new channels and enormous amounts of data that make human-driven personalisation impossible are inundating today’s e-commerce marketers. Thus, neural networks, machine learning and artificial intelligence, along with similar technologies, are only just developing the capabilities of personalisation.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence will play a significant role in all e-commerce retailers’ marketing efforts as they experience a radical shift to even more automated processes. Retailers will benefit from this shift in many ways:
- Automating processes will allow time to create more personalised real-time experiences, while removing the costs of manual data mining, allowing for greater personalisation of the customer journey, and keeping customers coming back,
- once-manual data processes and protocols, such as visitor profiling and website interactions, can now be automated, and
- machine-learning algorithms mean ecommerce retailers can collect data and personalised experiences for each visitor, based on their behaviours in near-real time, eliminating the need for static profiles based on outdated or grouped data sets.
All of these factors will contribute to machine learning and AI becoming much more prevalent across the e-commerce industry. However, ecommerce retailers must first identify goals for what it means to effectively use machine learning and artificial intelligence in their organisation, then build a strategy.
Customers no longer view personalised marketing as ‘nice to have, it’s an expectation. So, to see a true competitive advantage, brands must invest in the larger strategy.
Preparing for the future of retail in ecommerce
The next several years will be a transformative period for all brands in the e-commerce retail industry, regardless of shape or size. The much talked-about trends of offline/online convergence, mobile-only strategies, social commerce, transactional emailing and machine personalisation have established a more complete channel landscape than ever before. At the same time, customer expectations are continuing to either match or even beat ecommerce retailers’ delivery.
This, combined with the ‘Amazon effect’, demands a proactive approach to marketing in the industry. Australian retailers must look and plan for ways to capitalise on this e-commerce evolution, using them to not only match but beat customer expectations. The technology is already there and so are the customers. The question is, are you?
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