Maximising Online Commerce In The Competitive Retail Industry

It is a great time to be a shopper, and it is getting better all the time. Never before has it been this easy to find and buy the retail products consumers want to have. Thanks to the growth of digital, and in particular mcommerce, consumers can check and compare product details and prices in just a few clicks, wherever they are. And, when they have found the item they want, it is just a few keystrokes more to buy and arrange convenient delivery.

Yet, with increased comfort, comes increased expectations. Customers want to shop everywhere, anytime – whether that be in a brick and mortar shop, on a laptop, desktop, mobile, or tablet, 24/7.

In this new world of omnichannel commerce, the rulebook on running a retail business is always changing , with new horizons coming into play every few years. Merchants must adapt to survive.

Businesses of all sizes now need to create an ‘always on’ omnichannel presence or mobile app to attract new and repeat customers. This can be challenging, for smaller businesses in particular. Nonetheless, this challenge should be tackled as an opportunity for them to level the playing field, because the demand is growing, and those who take the lead will win a competitive edge.

SMEs are more aware of the need but, if we analyse their adoption rate in recent years there is still too big of a missed sales rate, due, primarily, to poor implementation and observation of their customers’ habits.

A study performed in 2013, found out that British SMEs were moving online in order to be more competitive. The number of enterprises that created an ecommerce site increased by 19% in the first three months of that year – and we are talking about 2013…

In 2014, MasterCard’s MerchantScope study found that while 90% of small companies around the world have an online presence of some sort (though not necessarily a website), only one in five offered ecommerce capabilities. In other words, only 20% of small and mid-sized firms let customers buy their products and services online. Small businesses are avoiding implementing ecommerce for two main reasons: cost (46%) and lack of know-how (31%).

Today, despite the UK taking top place globally for ecommerce and ranking fifth for the availability of technology, it is only fourteenth in the world for company-level adoption of digital technology. Many of these companies are struggling to digitise their businesses at the same rate as their peers in other countries.

But, the truth is that now the underpinning technology that powers ecommerce is mature, scalable and cheap, and also easier to understand and to implement. As a result, more and more businesses should seize the opportunity of becoming digital. The scale of change can be breath-taking, and the learning curve steep, but necessary. With this in mind, here are a few simple steps to guarantee success:

1.  Have An Online Presence

An ecommerce website today can be relatively cheap and is an effective way to reach a wider audience. Although there may be a lack of technical expertise and understanding, there are off-the-shelf solutions that make adoption easier for merchants of all sizes.

2.  Go Mobile

Customers are no longer merely browsing via their mobile devices, they are buying. The smartphone is now coming of age in the UK market, where it’s proving the prime, if not the only, driver of retail sales growth. In June 2016, according to IMRG figures, smartphone sales rose by 69% compared to the previous year. That contributed to 17% growth in overall online sales. Individual retailers are seeing dramatic results for mobile. Having adaptable platforms in mind from the beginning will make the investment less costly but much more effective when seizing this growing audience. Provide a clear purchase path via smartphone and tablet, and test them thoroughly.

3.  Enhance The Online Customer Experience And Journey

It is important to focus on the customer and understand what your customer base wants. Whether on a website, mobile or tablet app, customers want to easily search for products, compare and buy them without hassle.

4.  Have Solid Operations And Logistics Systems

When orders start to take off, it’s important that solid logistics underpin the operations. Getting delivery right means traders win more sales, while those who don’t, miss out. Returns or cancellation policies should be built efficiently while ensuring customer satisfaction and providing return on investment.

5.  Develop And Strengthen Your Digital Sales And Marketing Plan

Building a successful multichannel sales and marketing strategy is the key to ecommerce sales growth and success. Make sure messages are consistent across all channels, are tailored to specific audiences and remember to measure, test and learn.

6.  Be Approachable Through Social Media

Social media can be key to digital strategy. Not only is it a very powerful engagement tool, social media also allows brands to have conversations with their customers. It is true; there are many social media networks out there, and it is time-consuming to use them all. But being selective of the ones the business has a presence on and using them effectively to respond to customers, can make a big difference on how approachable the business is to them.

7.  Expand Customer Base Through Marketplaces

Marketplaces are now especially important for brands and retailers alike as they move into new markets. In the search for potential new shoppers, brands are now following them onto third-party platforms. For many, they are an increasingly important point of contact to reach beyond those loyal customers who already frequent their websites.

8.  Know Your Customers

Personalisation is a very established key trend in ecommerce, and for a good reason. Successful personalisation means filtering products or services to display items related to the customer’s previous purchases, buying habits or preferences. It is valuable to provide customers with relevant, personalised information which engages them and keeps them coming back.

9.  Transform Buyers Into Regulars

Keep an eye on customers’ satisfaction and perceived value of the experience they have when shopping from you. Work on ways to add value to your goods or services and think of benefits to offer in exchange for their loyalty.

10.  Give Them A Reason To Come In-Store

When speaking to customers, online and on social media, give them a reason to come into the shop. Whether this is a percentage discount or complimentary treat, it will drive footfall.

11.  Learn From The Leaders

Online commerce is transforming the global business landscape at an unprecedented speed, and successful ecommerce requires the ability to embrace change.  People are going to be shopping faster and smarter, but the opportunities for SMEs are huge. Looking into what the big players in the industry are doing and adopting transferable strategies to the SMEs own business model can help retailers stay ahead of the curve.