It comes as no surprise, given the social, economic and lifestyle changes brought on by the pandemic. With more people stuck at home and supermarket supply chains under duress, COVID-19 managed to fast-forward the eCommerce industry about 4–6 years into the future.
So, what does this mean for businesses today?
The customer experience is paramount
Recent years have trended towards smoother online shopping, But, post-pandemic, we’re no longer measuring the difference between good and bad user experiences. Today’s savvier, more demanding consumer will be comparing good experiences to great ones.
Any eCommerce website must meet a minimum user experience (UX) standard to even warrant consideration in a mass market. Especially when the website next door can easily offer an equivalent product with better customer service.
Considerations for eCommerce businesses seeking a competitive edge should now include:
The mobile eCommerce (or “mCommerce”) experience is no longer an afterthought or merely a “consideration”. Not when you hear that the mobile market share is set to make up half of the total US eCommerce market by the end of 2020, or that 64% of customers use multiple devices to start and complete transactions.
Even with the rise of tablet devices and larger mobile phones, a brand’s small-screen shopping experience will continue to play a significant role in converting visitors to customers.
A positive on-site user experience is now the bare minimum for satisfactory engagement. Beyond the interface, today’s confident consumers crave a “connected experience”, with personalised service consistent across every engagement channel. And it’s not just a handful of people, but 69% of them, according to Salesforce’s 2018 State of the Connected Customer report.
Highly desirable “connected” experiences also include synchronising eCommerce with social media, past the initial marketing touchpoint, allowing you to attract already-engaged users by supporting seamless cross-channel buying experiences.
Through solid UX and customer experience (CX) design, this level of service is very achievable for most brands, with larger eCommerce platforms possibly seeing benefit from emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Automation is the way forward
As lockdown and pandemic concerns chip away at consumer hesitation around transacting online, we see increases in both buying frequency and per-cart spend, as well as in the number of consumers prepared to go digital.
Automation is modern technology’s answer to scalability, particularly at the layperson level, where even cottage industry operations can access sophisticated solutions to help their business grow.
Administrivia and back-office processes
Ask any entrepreneur — even in a digital age, “paperwork” still manages to eat up a lot of time. Automating processes such as order fulfillment, inventory management and bookkeeping can free up a significant amount of hours for other essential business tasks.
Perhaps one of the most useful automation options we’ve implemented for eCommerce SMEs — and for organisations who want to establish an eCommerce offer in addition to their “normal” business — is the ability to automatically “batch sync” their inventory database with their online storefront. This not only saves time and effort on manually updating stock counts, it also circumvents potential situations that may give rise to new tasks, like having to contact customers personally to let them know an item they ordered is out of stock.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
According to Grand View Research’s April 2020 paper on the CRM market:
Following the COVID 19 outbreak, customer relationship management solutions are being increasingly adopted and are utilized to their complete potential across industries. The enterprises are able to leverage most of the customer relationship management features to pursue sales, serve customers, and increase the productivity of employees.
While large enterprises have been the biggest adopters of CRM solutions to date, small businesses — with tighter budgets, smaller margins for error, and fewer hands on deck — may find post-COVID relief in consolidating and automating their customer relationship workflows.
Doing good is essential
This year’s groundswell of #BlackLivesMatter activity has been the catalyst for long-overdue change. International backlash against businesses paying lip service to social justice shows consumers are no longer content with capitalism that doesn’t care.
The impacts of progressive cultural shifts cannot be overlooked. While industry giants like Amazon, Alibaba and Rakuten could hypothetically rely on market domination to compensate for slow progress (to an extent), smaller players may soon live or die by the growing proportion of customers willing to walk away from brands that fail to change.
Ethics and authenticity
Audiences are no longer fooled by performative “wokeness” — they’ve learned from racist ad campaigns and leaked internal communications. The effect of misguided marketing doesn’t end with social media outrage; it hurts brand equity too.
At the end of 2019, The Guardian reported a record high in ethical consumer spending in the UK. In 2020, New York University’s Center for Sustainable Business reported significant growth in sustainability-marketed products. Even though such consumer goods come at a higher price, they’re still seeing continued growth even “in the face of the pandemic”. It looks like the shift towards human-first business values won’t go away any time soon.
Brands are now being called upon to improve their approach to equality, human rights, sustainable practices, fair wages, inclusivity, accessibility, and more. 2020 presents the perfect opportunity for businesses to assess their impact on both people and planet; to improve their policies, processes and supply chain; and to prepare for the future of eCommerce in a socially conscious generation.
Jay Hollywood is co-founder and Creative Director of Humaan, and current AWIA Director.