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What will the impact be on e-commerce when we go back to normal?

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Space & Time on why an omnichannel strategy works best with e-commerce

E-commerce has seen a myriad of changes over the past year caused by the global pandemic and worldwide lockdowns. Although overall sales have risen dramatically, the cost to acquire customers has also grown due to increased competition. Larger, offline-focused brands such as Heinz have been forced to digitally revolutionize their offering and are quickly realizing the incredible data and financial benefits to e-commerce.

We have seen brands rise and fall during lockdown. Most notably, former high street giant Topshop have found themselves absorbed by ecommerce powerhouse Asos. Moreover, this isn’t a unique situation as we have also seen another online-only brand, Boohoo, buy the rights to reputable high street name Debenhams.

It’s easy for us to attribute the success or failure of these companies to the pandemic, but the truth is that all the pandemic did was accelerate the inevitable. Brands such as Topshop and Debenhams were struggling pre-pandemic and although Covid-19 may be written on their death certificate, it was merely the final nail in the coffin.

The pandemic has shown that taking advantage of technological innovation to provide a seamless customer experience is now a necessity. With the increase in competition and solid proof that even a brand such as Debenhams (with over 200 years of brand loyalty) can’t keep up with e-commerce trailblazers, it is now imperative that brands start taking ‘omnichannel’ seriously, make serious improvements to their customer experience and begin to place a focus on rewarding and monetizing existing customers.

What is an omnichannel strategy?

You’ve no doubt heard the term ‘omnichannel’ thrown out during a meeting and the actual definition can be easily lost due to its varying use. Put simply, an omnichannel strategy is a focus on user experience to create a cohesive journey for your customers no matter what channel they are on.

73% of all customers will use multiple channels during their purchase journey. With most online shoppers multitasking and distractions aplenty in both the online and offline world, channel-hopping is now the new normal. Using an omnichannel strategy, we can deliver a personalized experience on each channel and empower the consumer to buy from anywhere.

What does an omnichannel strategy look like?

The above image is an example of an omnichannel strategy in action. Each of the channels worked together with fluidity to offer a great experience for the user. The display remarketing advertisements added an element of personalization by reminding the user they had a 20% discount that came from signing up to the newsletter – this is then reinforced with the live chat agent later on, which could be replaced by a chatbot.

Although this was a quick five-step purchase process, there were still a total of six touchpoints:

  • Social media – trigger
  • Website
  • Email
  • Display
  • Live Chat – purchase
  • SMS

The social media advertisement provided the trigger and the live chat interaction eventually concluded the purchase. This ‘messy middle’ between the trigger and the purchase is somewhere e-commerce marketers will look to conquer to ensure success post-pandemic.

At Space & Time, it is a key role of our digital strategists to help identify the most successful channels and offer clear insight into how each channel works in tandem with one another.

Asos and the power of omnichannel social media

A key factor for Asos’ recent success is its focus on an omnichannel strategy. Asos knows that their target audience are crazy for social media. They constantly interact with their audience through multiple social channels with different content on each, but with the same consistent messaging. They know their customers are hopping between each platform and their goal is to keep them engaged, no matter what platform they are on.

Asos have racked up over 11.3 million followers on Instagram and over 550,000 on TikTok. With both platforms pushing e-commerce and offering brands more and more options to sell their products, Asos’ hard work on these channels is going to pay dividends. TikTok’s recent announcement to aggressively expand into e-commerce in the US, with the UK likely to follow suit, shows that commerce stores that aren’t currently taking advantage of TikTok need to be.

Asos’ social media presence is not the only highlight of their omnichannel strategy. Their complete fluidity between desktop, mobile and their app allows users to pick up where they left off with their basket being held across each platform. On top of this, they also offer multiple delivery options for their customers and, despite being an online-only brand, they also offer ‘Click & Collect’ delivery options for consumers who would prefer to pick up in-store.

How you can apply omnichannel: An omnichannel strategy can seem daunting but it does not require a complete overhaul of your online marketing. There are a few key areas you can look to improve to move your brand forward into the omnichannel world.

Make customer experience your priority: The heart of an omnichannel strategy is in your customer’s experience. Shift your focus from sales to your consumers and you will begin to see parts of your marketing strategy that can be greatly improved.

Segment and personalize your audience: segmenting your audience is very powerful, especially to the modern consumer – with 80% of shoppers more likely to buy from a company that offers personalized experiences. Email and SMS tools such as Klaviyo provide the ability to do this with your audiences and allows you to target specific customers with personalized offers. This can then be combined with Facebook advertising.

Tools like Klaviyo allow you to integrate seamlessly with Facebook, where you can create custom audiences based on segments and lists. This allows you to automatically run ads to segments simultaneously whilst also sending them down an email automation flow. The true power of omnichannel then allows you to use different messaging on both platforms to connect the two together.

Keep it simple: “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” – Confucius.

The key to a successful customer experience is to keep it simple for consumers. Everything your customer must do when interacting with your brand should be as easy as it can be. From searching for an item and switching between devices to making a purchase; the process must be smooth and efficient. As consumers are surrounded by distractions, the easier and faster your processes are, then the more likely they are to be satisfied and make a purchase.

Amazon is a prime example of simplicity. From landing on their homepage, I can make a purchase within three clicks. It showed my recent history, offered a ‘buy now’ button and it has my details saved so there is no need to waste time with card details. Better yet, this experience is echoed on mobile. Not only will it carry my basket over to mobile if I don’t make the purchase, but the purchase process is exactly the same. It’s simple.

Customer retention

Due to the increase in competition caused by the pandemic, we have seen many e-commerce brands shift focus to customer retention. The below data from Global Web Index shows the top motivators globally for brand advocacy:

GWI Q3 2020 Commerce Flagship Report

And the top actions consumers want brands to do:

GWI Q3 2020 Commerce Flagship Report

This data is great and can give you an idea for what consumers are looking for. However, it’s about understanding exactly what your customers want and giving it to them.

Ask your customers for feedback: what do your customers think about the overall experience with your brand? What are their favorite social media channels? What other brands are they loyal customers of? The answers to these questions can greatly improve your overall marketing strategy by allowing you to truly understand your customer – all you have to do is ask them.

The data above shows that 44% of online users want brands to listen to customer feedback. Don’t just ask for their feedback, show them that you’ve listened and implemented said feedback. If you’re a little hesitant, begin with your most loyal customers – it’s a great place to start!

Provide channel-fluid customer service: increasing the fluidity of your customer support between channels can go a long way to increasing customer retention. Firstly, make sure consumers can contact you on their desired platform and that they get a swift, personalized response. Then look to see how you can incorporate these together. If a customer chose to call for support and they need to be called back but you can’t get in touch – send them a text or an email to let them know. Although this is a good idea and can help improve customer experience, make sure you ask the user for permission to contact them on these platforms before you dive right into it.

WhatsApp has seen a 40% increase in usage during the pandemic and has been gaining popularity every year. This, along with the announcement that they will begin offering in-app purchases, makes it an exceptional customer service tool for e-commerce businesses and we will definitely see this slowly become the norm.

The above data from Global Web Index showed that 35% of internet users worldwide said great customer service would motivate them to promote their favorite brand online. Whether that’s via Facebook, Instagram, email, Whatsapp or phone; providing a fluid customer service offering across multiple channels is key to building brand advocacy.

Subscribe and save: we have seen a massive increase in subscription-based e-commerce and it's easy to understand why. Subscriptions allow for a steady stream of income and have shown a higher increase in lifetime value from customers. Further data from Global Web Index shows the categories that consumers are interested in paying subscriptions for:

GWI Q3 2020 Commerce Flagship Report

Heinz adapted magnificently to the pandemic by straying away from its usual retail-only strategy with a DTC solution in Heinz To Home. Heinz have stated that the service will continue to run alongside its retail offerings and has already provided customer insights to help drive future fluidity across channels.

Conclusion

As we return to normality and e-commerce begins to move back from a necessity to a convenience, it is more imperative than ever that e-commerce brands begin to stand out amongst the increased levels of competition caused by the pandemic.

An overall focus on customer experience and retention must be emphasized by e-commerce brands because simple brand loyalty is no longer enough to retain a valued customer. Brands must look at ways to implement an omnichannel strategy if they are to succeed post-pandemic.

There’s no doubt that an omnichannel strategy is a behemoth. However, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel and start again. There are multiple tactics you can begin to implement which can help grow and sustain your brand as normality returns.

Jason Cotterill is a digital strategist at Space & Time.