TL;DR The e-commerce business of the future will be well-positioned by taking advantage of three main areas: the use of technology to create slick experiences, data to build loyal and lookalike customers and creating entertainment to encourage repeat business
The combination of technology and data has been driving the e-commerce industry forward for years but the future will contain a third element which taps into more traditional marketing.
Physical stores, particularly those with significant floor space, have been adept in the world of experiential marketing – offering food-tasting, product demos and even celebrity appearances – but this idea is now coming to the online world as well.
The e-commerce sector is growing rapidly and analysts are predicting that it will be the “biggest beneficiary of the coronavirus pandemic”.
Consumers are comfortable spending online and even before Covid-19 came into the world and forced us all to buy more via our phones and laptops, the UK’s e-commerce industry was predicted to grow 7.6% year-on-year. Expect that figure to be higher as a result of lockdown.
New niches are developing and smart businesses are taking advantage of an ever-growing array of digital options to get to know their customers better, personalise online shopping, automate certain tasks and deliver a richer, deeper experience.
The successful e-commerce businesses of the future won’t be simply asking ‘What’s the conversion rate of our website and how do we increase it?’ They’ll be asking ‘What do our customers spend on average? Who are our returning customers? How many times do they buy?’ And ‘How can we encourage our customers to spend more with us, more regularly?’
The biggest of them all, Amazon, has been able to find answers to that final question for 25 years and, while we can’t all be Amazon, a range of solid digital tactics can be applied in order to reach a strategic goal.
These range from creating loyalty schemes and product bundles to personalisation and automated emails.
Very few e-commerce businesses take advantage of the plethora of options available to them, and understanding and applying the right ones for your business is a great place to start.
This kind of thinking is likely to be accelerated by the Covid-19 lockdown with BBC business editor, Simon Jack, stating: “The digital transformation of businesses will get faster, with more automation and artificial intelligence to approve loans, profile customers, control stock and improve delivery.”
It’s all about the data
At the heart of any business is its data. Or should we say that it should be its data.
Businesses, faced with being told that business intelligence and digital transformation are vital to not only their growth but their survival, are often still struggling with implementation. Issues include working with legacy systems, the inability for platforms to co-exist, a lack of staff engagement and data and organisational silos.
Valuable, powerful customer data can sit across sales platforms, website analytics, email clients, social media accounts and more.
Integrating this information to build rounded views of customers and their touchpoints with your business will play a big role in the future of e-commerce and, indeed, of business more broadly.
Moving experiential marketing from offline to online
Recent research shows that 84% of consumers are demanding more assistance and guidance when searching for products online and, while the Covid-19 lockdown has been a key driver of this, customers will continue to need support and reasons to buy within an increasingly competitive market.
Live streaming events, virtual stores, product demos and brand ambassador or influencer Q&As are just some of the methods businesses can use to deliver richer, deeper customer experiences.
South East Asia e-commerce specialists Lazada is merging shopping with entertainment and social experiences to deliver something it calls ‘Shoppertainment’.
The company’s chief marketing officer, Michelle Yip, told The Drum’s Digital Transformation Festival: “We recently had our brand report that found consumers think of Lazada as a platform where we help them to connect with each other and a place for them to be entertained and relaxed.
“Sometimes people watch the livestream to be informed, for example, to taste wine. If our brand partners are trying to showcase events like a wine fair, a toy fair or a baby fair, we can do these through live streaming too.”
Imagine combining a few neat ideas and digitising the experience for the launch of a new bike, for example.
The store expert – along with brand influencers or ambassadors to take advantage of their social media following – could run through the benefits of the new product aligning this with target customer profiles. For example, detailing, through specific product features, how the new bike aids the incremental gains a serious, competitive road-racer is looking for.
Influencers or ambassadors can then take the new bike for a test ride – complete with helmet camera – and provide a commentary on how it feels and what they are experiencing.
Customers get to ask some of their burning questions, virtually meet the influencers they love while spending more cash than they would normally. They have a fun time, are more engaged and their future spend is likely to increase as a result.
There would also be the opportunity to cross-sell a range of related products to an excited audience who will be more likely to spend as a result of their engagement levels.
Enhancing the customer experience
As a result of the Covid-19 situation, retail specialist Storefront has partnered with virtual and augmented reality firm Obsess to create virtual reality stores which sit on top of e-commerce websites.
Obsess founder and chief executive Neha Singh, said: “The Obsess virtual shopping platform brings the discovery and brand experience, which is lacking in the current e-commerce interface, to online shopping in a very scalable way.”
Gamification is another option for e-commerce websites with leading ‘players’ being rewarded with special offers or even access to new products ahead of their full release. Imagine being one of only a handful of people to own the newest smartphone, football kit or road bike?
Despite being in the business lexicon for a number of years now, digital transformation of business is still in its infancy and is changing constantly.
Gaining – and maintaining – that competitive edge is more crucial now than ever within the world of e-commerce as competition grows and our love of online shopping deepens.
With that comes a need to deliver more than just a transaction; shoppers want to be entertained and are craving support for their next purchase.
Smart e-commerce businesses are not only using technology to sell seamlessly but to ensure they create a customer for life.