Preparing for the “New Normal” in eCommerce

We don’t have to tell you that 2020 has been a challenging and disruptive year.  You’re living it, and just like us, you’re probably wondering what the “new normal” will be.

Unfortunately, we can’t predict the future – but we can look at the eCommerce trends over the past three months and provide some general guidance that can help your business be better prepared for the road ahead.

But let’s start with where we are right now:  Businesses with an immature eCommerce presence are suffering.  Traditional retail was already in bad shape, and the events of 2020 have hastened the decline.  Fourteen major retailers have filed for bankruptcy so far in 2020.

Companies with mature eCommerce operations have fared better, but there are still plenty of challenges and unknowns.  Even Amazon, the poster child for eCommerce, faces some serious challenges.

It’s not our intention to spread doom and gloom.  Just the opposite, actually.  Challenging times present opportunities for reflection, innovation and improvement.  We’ve all been dusted up a bit over the past few months, but it’s time to pull ourselves up and prepare for what’s next.

Here are some areas to keep in mind as you plan for the “new normal”:

Increased Competition

The stability of revenue from physical retail locations is a big question mark.  Many retail locations are now open, but with considerable restrictions.  And consumers are still hesitant to venture out.  So companies are making investments in their eCommerce channels.

If you’re selling online, you’ll need to be prepared for a new wave of hungry competitors looking to poach your customers and revenue.  Here are some areas to review as you prepare for increased competition:

Explore New Markets & Market Segments

Earlier this year, we spoke with an industrial supply company who made the decision to stop serving small and medium-sized businesses because the cost of sale was too high.  Call center employees often had to spend 15 minutes on the phone with a client to help them identify the correct part and complete the purchase.

Under the call center model, that 15 minute call cost the company $5, which exceeded the profitability of the average order within that segment.  The company was losing money on each SMB order.

We made the suggestion that the SMB segment could be better – and profitably – served by moving the SMB business to an online, self-service portal.  It was a win-win for everyone.  Customers could quickly locate and purchase the item on their own, and the company’s cost of sale was reduced to a few pennies.

Think about your business – there’s likely a customer segment or sales channel that you’ve overlooked because it’s too expensive or time consuming to serve.  eCommerce technology is rapidly evolving, and chances are good that there are new platforms, features, extensions, or applications out there that can help you enter new markets and serve new segments.

Some things to consider as you contemplate new markets and market segments:

 

Product Information: Provide Quality & Depth

A big criticism of eCommerce is that it’s hard to make a connection between the consumer and the product.  The consumer can’t try on a sweater online – or they can’t compare the connector on their worn-out wiring harness with the new one to ensure compatibility.

We’ve all abandoned countless shopping carts because we just weren’t sure that the item was right for our needs.

You can convert more online sales – and minimize returns – by providing better information on the products you sell.

If you’re currently selling online, you’re already spending a lot of time managing your product data.  The idea of adding and managing more data may seem intimidating.  You’ve got to sleep sometime, right?

Fortunately, there has been a lot of innovation in this area, and there are applications and platforms that can help you manage your product information quickly and economically.  Here’s some areas to explore:

  • Product Information Management Applications – Our favorites:
  • ERP Integrations – Provide real-time inventory and availability

 

Increase Loyalty and Build Relationships

Each year, on or near our birthdays, we all get a couple of emails or text messages from companies wishing us a happy birthday.  These messages are usually accompanied by some sort of freebie or discount.

To a lesser extent, we occasionally receive “reminders” of items that we left in a shopping cart accompanied by a promotion or coupon encouraging us to complete the purchase.

Most online sellers have some sort of customer loyalty strategy or process that they deploy to stay in front of their customers.  But in our experience, the application of these strategies is incomplete and inconsistent.

Customer loyalty is an art:  You want to stay front and center in your customer’s mind.  But you don’t want to be overly communicative or obnoxious.  As an online retailer, you’re already spread thin, so finding the right balance and mix of customer communications is difficult.

But with competition increasing, there’s more pressure than ever to keep your customers close.

Consider revisiting your customer outreach strategy.  Analyze your transaction history and identify areas of weakness.  Then implement some new processes and monitor the results.  This is an area where you can start small and expand where you see positive results.

If you have a reasonably-modern eCommerce platform, you should be able to download your transactional history and perform a basic SWOT analysis.  From there, you’ll be able to use the features and functions of your eCommerce platform to address weaknesses and capitalize on opportunities.

Here are a few eCommerce functions that can help you become better at communicating the right message to your customer at the right time:

 

We certainly understand the challenges you face in this difficult business environment.  You’ve put a lot of effort into building your business, and we want to see you thrive and grow.

We’ve been helping clients build and strengthen their eCommerce presence for more than 20 years now.  We’ve seen the good, bad, and ugly.  If you’re looking to strengthen your eCommerce abilities, we want to be a partner in your success.  Let’s talk about your vision and build a plan together!

 

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