There is a lot of money to be made in online retail. Australia’s e-commerce industry has grown 21% in the last 4 years. Online sales are expected to pass $32 billion by the end of the year. Global retail e-commerce sales are expected to reach a whopping $4.5 trillion by 2021, according to Statista. However, as enormous as these figures seem, it’s small businesses that have a lot to gain from these e-commerce trends.
Let’s take a look at the top e-commerce trends to see how businesses can start planning for the future.
More tools available for small businesses
When retail moved online in the mid-nineties, the road was paved by industry giant, Amazon. While Amazon still leads the pack, the e-commerce world has opened up opportunities for everyday people to set up shop. Overheads are low, online stores can be created relatively easily. And with a great marketing platform, building an audience and sharing content is easy.
Smaller businesses have more opportunity to focus on providing a great purchasing experience. You may not have the budget of Amazon, but there are ways to make an impression and improve customer loyalty with minimal resources.
A great experience is completely dependent on the level of service a customer receives. Yes, site design and UX is incredibly important but you could have the best looking site in the world and fall flat because you didn’t have the service to back it up.
Small businesses that don’t have an entire marketing team available benefit greatly from powerful and cost-effective marketing software. For example, Shopify allows business owners to launch their online store without the need for a web designer, marketing or accounts team. The Shopify integration with Vision6 will take marketing to the next level with customer data synced in real-time. A wide range of email templates available and automation series can help support your customer’s journey.
The popularity of conversational commerce took off in 2017 as online retailers sought out new ways to improve customer service online. Shopify’s integration with chat apps like Tidio, Formilla or Reamaze, allow online retailers to receive enquiries directly from their customers in their online store and across social media. These enquiries can be managed by human team members, AI chatbots, or a combination of both, depending on the retailer’s needs.
Websites that convert
Another important part of customer service is providing the right information to your customers when they need it most. Are you being asked the same questions again and again by your customers? Remove the extra barrier of having to reach out to customer support every time your customer has a question by including an easy-to-find FAQ page on your website. As well as being found in your website menu and footer, you might like to provide easy navigation to it from the “Contact Us” page.
A seamless customer experience across all channels
According to the IAB Australia, almost half of purchases in Australia each month are made on a mobile phone. The industries with the highest percentage of mobile purchases compared to other purchase channels are games and apps (54%), followed by fashion (49%), digital entertainment (44%), entertainment tickets (43%) and, finally, travel (41%).
It’s nothing new that our e-commerce sites must be mobile responsive. To provide a truly impressive experience, we have to streamline the customer journey across multiple channels, including your physical store if you have one.
In a survey by British tourism business, TUI, it was found that almost a third of their customers began their through a different channel to the one on which they eventually made a purchase. They found many of these customers researched in-store then purchased online. Or vice-versa, researched online and then purchased in-store.
So TUI developed an omnichannel strategy to connect the customer’s in-store experience with their home experience to make it as seamless as possible. A user who has started their holiday research at home could visit a store, login to their account and continue their research using touchscreens and interactive maps with the help of a travel consultant. Alternatively, new users could start their research in-store and save their information to continue on mobile, tablet or desktop once they had returned home.
TUI tapped into the emotions of store visitors, allowing them to browse through potential holiday destinations according to their mood on the day. Nurturing the emotional side of the customer journey doesn’t end at purchase either. Once customers booked their holiday, they were encouraged to take an in-store selfie and share it on social media. This built excitement towards their holiday and enhanced their overall experience.
The omnichannel integration was a success, tripling sales in the store this campaign was first launched in. It was implemented across 30 stores and average spend increased across the board.
Email and SMS automation
There is also an opportunity to take omnichannel campaigns a step further using an email and SMS automation series. For example, a customer may visit your website, add products to their shopping cart but leave before they make a purchase. With an ‘abandoned cart’ automation series, you can schedule communications across SMS and email to bring the customer back. The same goes for engagement with your business in-store, on social media or at events. Once you have collected the data you need, you can easily develop a sophisticated automation series that supports your customer’s journey across multiple touchpoints.
Traversing the ‘Last Mile’ becomes shorter and cheaper
When it comes to delivery, customers are demanding more speed and convenience than ever before. Amazon have taken it further than anyone else this year by filing a patent for lifetime anticipatory shipping.
It’s a process that relies on an algorithm that traces your search history and cookies to determine what you are likely to purchase in the future – and even adjusts as you age. Once an item has been deemed relevant, the cost is taken from the customer’s nominated bank account and the item is delivered without an order placed by the customer themselves. Some have called it intrusive at best and blatant theft at worst – Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, calls it the “peak of efficiency.”
While Amazon boldly goes where no retailer has gone before, the majority of online retailers focus on less controversial approaches. The multichannel experience that customers have come to expect continues into delivery this year with click-and-collect options.
In 2017, 42% of Australian retailers are offering click-and-collect – almost double what it was 2 years ago. Thirty-eight percent of Australian retailers this year also accepted returns in-store that were purchased online. Australia’s adoption of click-and-collect has been more widespread than in Europe and the USA. This is potentially due to the slow delivery times in Australia compared to the rest of the world.
Customers can lock in their purchase immediately and collect it at their convenience. Mitigating delivery wait times, or worse, missed parcel cards in their letterbox and having to collect from the post office. Retailers save costs on delivery and enjoy the benefits of their customer’s impulse purchases.
Startups are capitalising on the crowdsourcing model with the goal to provide quicker and cheaper delivery for retailers and customers. In an Uber-esque fashion, crowdsourced delivery matches everyday drivers with delivery jobs as they arise. This method is perfect for smaller retailers concerned with the dominance of larger retailers. Australian startup courier service, Go Shift, developed their routing algorithm this year to a point where 10-20 deliveries can be made within a 3-hour shift.
Marshall Hughes, another Australian entrepreneur, brought Passel to the table in late 2016, fine-tuned it in 2017 and hopes to expand nationally in 2018. With a background in freight and logistics, Hughes is determined to disrupt ‘the last mile’. By avoiding fixed infrastructure and contract drivers, Passel utilises existing resources to help retailers and customers alike.
I spoke earlier about standing out from your competitors with exceptional service throughout the customer journey. That journey includes when the purchase finally arrives in your customer’s hands. It’s an opportunity to carry your brand identity consistently through the entire experience. An aspect that’s particularly important for online-only retailers, as it’s an opportunity to provide a tactile brand connection.
A stand-out for packaging from an online-only retailer is Net-a-Porter. With their sophisticated monochrome colour palette, all purchases are wrapped in tissue paper and ribbon. They arrive with a branded measuring tape in a pouch, to assist customers with their next clothing purchase. While this particular aesthetic won’t work for all retailers, it’s important to find your own brand personality. Not only that, but apply it to everything that you do to provide a consistent and enjoyable experience.
This year, the little guys fought with a vengeance, focusing on their strengths to future-proof their businesses. With the support of powerful software, innovative processes and uncompromising customer service, retailers have a lot to look forward to.