Ecommerce has been making headlines throughout the pandemic, and the retail industry has been forced to take notice. In the US alone, the customer spending on online sales grew 44% in 2020 – a massive jump from the previous year by any standard. In fact, this was the sharpest spike in volume for the e-commerce industry in 2 decades. But, here’s the kicker: online sales accounted for all the gains in the retail sector last year. This means that brick-and-mortar stores will need to borrow a leaf from the e-commerce playbook to survive.
The reasons are many: e-commerce businesses remained largely untouched by the lockdowns and other restrictions that played havoc with retail business cycles. Logistical problems faced by the e-commerce industry have also been mostly resolved since the start of the pandemic. While retail stores are still waiting for customers, business is booming for their e-commerce counterparts, except those partnering with online aggregators. They have been doing much better!
This underscores that the customer always has the final say in who wins and who loses in an open market. Remember: customer loyalty cannot be taken for granted. Why? The market has been evolving since 2020. For example, online shopping has become the preferred mode of shopping for a growing number of customers. By 2023, that number is expected is to grow to 300 million.
As a result, the window for retail stores to invest in their own online platforms is getting smaller with each passing day. The good news is that they can leverage their existing infrastructure to support online sales. So, the cost of adding e-commerce channels will be more than manageable in the short term. They could do it almost for free!
Proven Strategies to Manage the Shift from Brick and Mortar to Ecommerce
Here are a few proven strategies you can use to transition to a diversified multi-channel e-commerce business model successfully:
1. Shipping and Delivery:
Customers flock to e-commerce sites mainly because of the convenience they offer. Brands like Amazon have been promoting benefits like 2-day delivery to the hilt, and the response from customers has been phenomenal. Brick-and-mortar stores launching their e-commerce channels will need to provide shipping for the first time. The cost depends on whether you opt to do it in-house or leverage a third-party provider.
If you are looking for a cost-effective option, consider retail pooling. This delivery model allows you to club orders based on location and ship them as a single batch.
As you switch to an e-commerce model, don’t forget to prioritize in-store pickup and home delivery. Research shows that 79% of US customers value in-store pickups. You can extend in-store pickup to online customers while delivering in-store orders to the customers’ doorstep.
Also, don’t forget to update your returns policy and remove any minimum spend restrictions you may currently have! This is an additional expense that all e-commerce brands endure, but the payoff in terms of customer experience and future sales is worth it.
2. Focus on customer experience:
After months of supply chain disruptions, there has been a radical shift in customer behavior, and responsive customer service may be the only way to stem the tide. In this scenario, it is more important than ever for brands in general to provide a seamless experience. For retail stores, this means developing a ‘whole of business’ approach that integrates marketing, sales, and customer service across online and offline channels.
This will give your customer service agents seamless access to customer information, improving response time, average handle time, and first contact resolution. The transition phase is likely to be full of learning for the first few months. However, it should be smooth sailing once you have the e-commerce specific processes and systems in place.
3. Protect your margins while offering low prices:
Once your e-commerce store is up and running, avoid cutting prices as a knee-jerk reaction to what your competition is doing. Rather, it should be based on hard data and a thorough analysis of customer behavior. Research shows that 94% of shoppers compare prices online before making a purchase. So, leverage tools like Google Analytics and social listening to learn more about customer preferences before cutting prices.
Based on the CSAT/market survey data you may already have access to, try to deduce trends such as order patterns and price sensitivity and develop targeted marketing campaigns. The key is to engage with customers in a meaningful way.
Educate them about the value you bring to the table. That means investing in mobile-friendly e-commerce website design, content marketing, and social media. While the online channel can increase your brand’s reach, you need to have a strategy to segment your audience, benchmark your prices against that of the competition, and find a price point that is both competitive and provides sufficient ROI.
4. Leverage referral marketing:
If you already have an active referral program, extend it to online orders too. This will help get the traffic flowing to your e-commerce site almost immediately. Promote it to in-store customers at checkout, while online customers can be engaged through post-purchase confirmation emails. Synergizing your online and offline referral marketing efforts will bring down program costs and allow you to offer a wide range of rewards.
For example, you can organize exclusive in-store events for referral contest winners just like you’d do for your VIP customers. By cultivating the feeling of community among customers, you can boost customer lifetime value over a period of time.
Any transition is likely to take time and cost money – be it migrating to a new workflow or adding a new online sales channel. However, focussing on the fundamentals can help your business emerge stronger and take growth to the next level. One of those fundamentals is a strong customer service team. If you are unable to keep up with your SLAs, outsourcing to a strategic partner like Helplama can be an optimal solution.
Our plans are flexible and designed with your needs in mind. For example, we’ve done away with long-term contracts so that you have one less thing to worry about. What’s more, our Zero-Risk Guarantee gives you your money back in case you’re not satisfied for any reason. Contact us today for more information!