As if the past decade was not challenging enough for traditional retail, with consumers increasingly embracing online channels, the tumultuous circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic drastically accelerated the shift. Brands have had little choice but to adapt.
In many ways, ecommerce has been a lifeline for consumers through the pandemic. Without the ability to buy online the shops and supermarkets that could open would have been overwhelmed, while those that were shut would have seen business grind to a halt. Brands rose to the occasion when consumers needed them the most.
For many, that meant going direct to consumers online to offset the closure of physical stores. But while there was certainly a short-term response needed to meet the excessive demand, the savviest companies realise there are longer-term structural changes that are likely to be permanent.
“The pandemic has not only driven more people to shop online but also led to experimentation and willingness to try new things, categories and products,” says David Spitz, CEO of ChannelAdvisor, a multi-channel commerce platform that helps companies sell online.
“A lot of these behaviours will stick because, for instance, once customers have shopped online for groceries they realise what a huge time saver it can be. They may enjoy going to the supermarket periodically because of the experience but, by and large, it’s a great convenience to have it done for them.”
In a UK study by ChannelAdvisor last summer, when coronavirus restrictions had temporarily eased, 60% of consumers were shopping online more frequently and 40% said they were going to Amazon before checking anywhere else. Some 37% had bought items they had not purchased online before, while 32% were buying from companies they had previously purchased from.
Meanwhile, the Office for National Statistics reported an 80% increase in online and click and collect grocery services. Covid-19 has reshaped the retail landscape and the industry shows little sign it will go back to how things were pre-pandemic.
To be successful in this new age of retail, brands must meet consumers where they want to shop. While many companies dismissed online marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay in the past, the reality is that consumers now gravitate to these channels. The younger generation of consumers is also increasingly shopping through social media and while channels such as Facebook and Instagram are still more about storytelling than transacting, brands must be ready to adapt and engage with these consumers as inspiration changes to purchase intent.
While traditional retail focused heavily on packaging, advertising and shelf placement, the important factors in the digital world are product information and fast, reliable delivery. The former is about product attributes, the fidelity and accuracy of data, and being transparent in areas such as user reviews. The latter is the essential component of a successful ecommerce operation, not least because consumers increasingly expect to be able to buy something and have it delivered the same day.
“Businesses often overcomplicate it, but the consumer equation is pretty simple: great selection, great prices and convenience equals a good experience,” says Spitz. “Amazon recognised this more than 20 years ago, that is part of the reason it has had so much success. Brands ignore the channels where consumers want to shop at their peril. If they are not there, the customer will go to a competitor.
“With ecommerce, it’s very easy to try new things. We’re big proponents of being agile. Brands must be able to try things and quickly adapt depending on whether they are seeing results. Agility is about future-proofing a business, Covid-19 showed that pretty distinctly. Companies have to be able to move really quickly, which is partly what we enable our customers to do.”
The key for brands is to take the lead from channel-agnostic consumers. Prioritising a convenient and consistent shopping experience across every channel - whether that is a marketplace, a brand’s website, social media or a retail partner - can only benefit the consumer.
“We’re a robust ecommerce platform that helps our customers do all of that successfully,” Spitz adds. “You have to keep the consumer as the North Star. Consumers want to shop in a variety of different ways, increasingly online but in some cases in physical stores too. Keeping to that North Star is a good way to guide yourself. Those that did that during Covid-19 prospered.”
ChannelAdvisor’s multi-channel commerce platform helps brands and retailers improve their online performance by expanding sales channels, connecting with consumers globally, optimising their operations for peak performance and providing actionable analytics to improve competitiveness. Thousands of customers use the platform to securely power their sales and optimise fulfilment on hundreds of channels including the big ecommerce players such as Amazon, eBay, Google and Facebook, as well as more niche and regional channels around the world.
The technology not only enables brands and retailers to seamlessly connect to multiple channels, but it also then helps optimise those channels for success through tools like data transformation, advanced repricing algorithms, inventory management, advertising automation, shoppable media and competitor analytics. By doing so, the company allows brands to thrive in the evolving multi-channel ecommerce landscape.
“If we look back over the past few decades, the retailer and brand relationship was often lopsided in favour of the retailer. That is not true anymore. My advice to all brands is to get closer to your consumer, meeting them exactly when and how they want to shop, including across a variety of online channels,” says Spitz.
“The progress of digital isn’t slowing down, if anything it may speed up further, especially as delivery options proliferate and give faster access to products. The quality of data and analytics is going to be a core competency needed by every brand to succeed in digital. Ultimately, that’s what we do best. We help retailers and brands of all types and sizes connect to more consumers around the world, and do it efficiently. Our job is to help our customers succeed in digital transformation.”
For more information, visit channeladvisor.com
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