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Scalable e-commerce: Why businesses must still take a gradual approach to online migration

Great service spans more than one touchpoint

The need for businesses to get their products online quickly during the pandemic is completely understandable, but as we emerge from the pandemic customers are going to be utilizing more touchpoints than ever before. Those that preferred to shop on the high street have now been exposed to the convenience of web stores, apps and other digital touchpoints, but they’re unlikely to move immediately and exclusively to e-commerce. That means retailers need to work much harder to satisfy new “hybrid” customers that want to enjoy a unified and consistent experience across online and offline channels. 

Not only do retailers need to be present for customers across various touchpoints, they need to provide value at each individual interaction. That means everything from websites and mobile apps, right through to live chat, email, SMS updates, social media and, of course, brick-and-mortar stores. This bridging of offline and online is crucial as e-commerce continues to outpace physical retail, and it’s why physical stores still need to be considered a core part of a brand’s e-commerce journey. So the objective is not just to ‘get online’, but to build a digital commerce solution that is flexible and agile enough to cater for all possible customer needs across all channels. Retailers looking to build a seamless online / offline experience must first ensure that they have the best foundations in place for a digital commerce strategy that can be scaled effectively. We’ve known for some time that growth in online sales has been outpacing that of physical sales by a considerable margin, while the COVID-19 pandemic has worked to widen that gap even further. While in-store retail sales are still expected to grow by 2.5% year-on-year as we emerge from the pandemic, many have also predicted that the sector’s online sales will enjoy more than 11% year-on-year growth, which will account for more than half of all retail growth.

There’s little doubt that the pandemic has been a watershed moment for e-commerce, profoundly accelerating its adoption, but are businesses running the risk of doing too much too soon when it comes to setting up their digital commerce? Have they really found a perfectly tailored, scalable e-commerce solution that’s going to stand the test of time, or have they cut several corners to get their products online as quickly as possible just to survive the past eighteen months? 

A report published toward the end of 2020, when the pandemic was arguably at its peak, said the crisis had accelerated the shift to e-commerce by roughly five years. While it may be tempting to put this in the “quick win” column, it actually represents five lost years of careful planning and strategizing that could have benefited businesses long-term as part of a gradual shift not just to e-commerce but to omnichannel. So while COVID-19 may have temporarily re-written the rules, what’s next? 

The rise of the “convenience customer”

We hear a lot about the technological challenges faced over the course of the pandemic, one of the most profound and long-lasting changes across commerce is to do with customer behavior and expectations. The pandemic has created a new customer persona; one that values convenience as a crucial part of their brand experience, but without any negative impact on the quality of the goods or services they’re receiving. Perhaps unsurprisingly, nearly 80% of customers say they value convenience more today than they did before the pandemic. That’s because they’ve been exposed to things like home delivery for their groceries, virtual at-home gym sessions, streaming live events and, of course, getting their goods shipped to (or collected from) their doorstep. All of this, combined with swathes of the population working from home, has given consumers a new appreciation of their time, how they spend it, and the importance of good quality service. 

However, while four in ten shoppers may have purchased from a new online brand during the pandemic, and six in ten say they’re likely to do more of their shopping online one year from now, the “convenience” they’re interested in extends well beyond an online store. Retailers that have rushed to cater to online demand and simply fulfill orders due to the pandemic might suddenly find themselves behind the curve when it comes to meeting the expectations of this new convenience-focused customer persona. 

Don't look to get it all operational at once. This could mean first creating a digital storefront to display all of the products, provide store information and promote special offers even before online sales and delivery services are fully introduced. This type of gradual approach will provide a stepping stone that familiarizes customers with the online channel, complements in-store activity and allows room to continue to grow in line with developing customer needs.

The importance of scalable e-commerce

The new “hybrid” customer outlined above demands a consistent and unified journey across both offline and online touchpoints. That means retailers who rushed to open an online storefront during the pandemic might find their customers abandoning them if due attention isn’t paid to other touchpoints that may have been neglected or ignored in the scramble to secure online sales. A perfect example of this is the countless pop-up “gig economy” delivery services that have appeared such as Deliveroo, InstaCart, or in the case of general retailers, even Amazon. 

These companies offer an order fulfillment service which, on the surface, would appear to solve retailers’ e-commerce and distribution problems. However, this quick win comes with several large drawbacks, chief among which is the loss of control over the customer experience. As the pandemic and the necessity to buy online begins to subside, these businesses are going to find themselves back at square one with no ownership over their e-commerce solution, and no ability to control or enhance vital customer touchpoints. 

A fully scalable e-commerce solution will allow businesses to fully embrace a multi-channel, multi-touchpoint approach to their operations, scaling up or scaling back individual functions as they come in and out of demand. Instead of giving control and ownership to a third-party as a makeshift e-commerce solution, retailers should instead focus on their own in-house efforts, partnering with a long-term technology specialist to build their own scalable capabilities. 

To learn more about Emporix and our range of e-commerce solutions and expertise, get in touch today.

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