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Why brands shouldn’t be relying solely on ecommerce to win post-pandemic

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(Image credit: Image Credit: Zapp2Photo / Shutterstock)

An e-commerce professional starting an article by saying retailers shouldn’t rely solely on e-commerce for future growth? Hear me out.  

Undoubtedly, e-commerce has been one of the biggest success stories of the past year. 

While being forced to do everything from our homes for almost a year stopped many sectors in their tracks, e-commerce rocketed. There’s no speculation about it when you consider that UK online sales in Jan 2021 accounted for a record 35.2 percent of all retail, and online retail sales grew 74 percent YoY in the same month*. These are huge stats that retailers simply can’t ignore. 

Retailers can’t rely on e-commerce alone 

While the e-commerce boom is showing no signs of slowing down, in most cases, providing a top-class e-commerce experience alone isn’t what will keep customers loyal in the long term.  Particularly when you consider the fact that now shops are opening back up, a surprising number of people actually want to get back to them.  In our latest research 63 percent of customers think it’s still important post-pandemic for brands to have a physical as well as an online presence, with this figure rising higher when it comes to the younger demographics.  

Gen Z and Millennials are also craving connection and community, stating they’re more likely to buy from a retailer if they feel like part of a community. The moral of this story? You can have the best website in the world, but if you’re not connecting with these customers in the ways that they want, it could be for nothing.

The route to success for ambitious retailers post-pandemic, then? Getting customer experiences consistent across every channel. 

Recognizing the true meaning of omnichannel  

Shopping has evolved massively over the past decade, from bricks and mortar stores, to the e-commerce boom, to multichannel experiences, where various communications channels and touchpoints were offered to consumers, albeit in a disconnected way. 

Omnichannel takes all of these factors and provides a joined up, seamless experience across multiple touchpoints – whether that’s through websites, in stores, chatbots, apps, telephone comms, email marketing channels, or something else. 

The concept of a fluid or integrated experience is long proven. In the wake of the pandemic, customers will expect not only personalized in-store experiences, but also the same level of service online as they do in-store. Customers' expectations are such that the norm is now for 360 views of their products, instant customer service, and omnichannel purchasing across devices. 

Progressions in the payments industry over the last few years, including innovations to make completing transactions as effortless as possible, are playing a huge part in supporting this move to omnichannel. We've seen Klarna's ‘Buy Now Pay Later’ offer dramatically increase average order values online. The same painless 'one click' service can now be used in-store, instead of lengthy contracts and approval processes. It’s these frictionless payment solutions that keep consumers loyal to brands and spending both online and in-store as they know they can tailor the process to their needs.

We already see omnichannel work really well in areas such as fashion, automotive and beauty, but if retailers really want to get ahead, they should be considering this strategy regardless of the sector they operate in. Of course, omnichannel isn’t easy to get right and does require investment, so to be successful requires buy-in from leadership. This might be helped along when you consider that companies with omnichannel customer engagement strategies retain on average 89 percent of their customers vs 33 percent for companies with weak omnichannel engagement. 

Using data to ensure an omnichannel strategy works  

Once buy in is achieved, customer data should be utilized to inform how omnichannel strategies should play out. There are vast variances between how different audiences and generations shop and retailers can quickly waste money on the wrong thing if this is rushed, so in order to be successful, brands must identify and build experiences with their key audiences in mind. If brands get swept up in flashy tech rather than looking at true customer value, they can end up draining cash with little to no value to the customer. 

For an example of how data could be used in practice, recent research we conducted found that Gen Z are the demographic most likely to want brands to have a physical store, while also being significantly influenced by social media and celebrity influencers. So, brands targeting these audiences know to work these aspects into an omnichannel strategy. Conversely, those from the ‘silent generation’ like being able to speak to a person, find it unsettling when brands seem to know a lot of their personal information and are put off when sent too much digital communication or offers. In this case, brands would be wise to still offer a cohesive, multi-channel experience, but choose to focus less on personalization, heavy communication and ‘new’ digital channels such as chatbots.

All of the above is, of course, easy to practice when retailers have very specific customer groups in mind, but will be harder to achieve for those with many customer groups to satisfy - such as supermarkets. However, it’s not impossible and clever customer segmentation is key.

Creating world-class customer experiences through omnichannel 

As consumer confidence slowly creeps back and spending starts to rise, success is there for the taking for those retailers that provide unique, omnichannel experiences. ‘Experiences’ being the key word here – many of today’s customers no longer want to settle for an online shopping experience on a run-of-the-mill e-commerce site, they instead judge those they shop with on the seamlessness of their entire experience. This is even more true of customers in the younger generations, who will of course be the shoppers of the future, so retailers would be wise to consider this now if they are to invest in their future. 

Tim Edwards, Founder, Supercharged Commerce (opens in new tab)

Tim Edwards is founder of Supercharged Commerce (opens in new tab)