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Sustaining Digital Commerce Growth in 2021

2020 has seen double-digit digital commerce growth. Stay-at-home orders have accelerated online shopping across sectors. In fact, Gartner’s Consumer Pandemic Attitudes and Behaviors Survey found nearly half of consumers have increased their frequency of online shopping in 2020.

Source: Sustaining Digital Commerce Growth in 2021

How will you keep online buyers coming back?

Will a vaccine trigger a retraction in digital commerce? As markets respond to vaccine news with hopefulness, brands and retailers must rethink their digital strategies. It was one thing to offer online options to augment lost sales in your stores. But what will keep customers coming back to your site or app post-pandemic? While none of us knows exactly when “post-pandemic” will be, its best to start scenario planning now for new behavioral norms. When customers have a choice again, will they still choose to shop online and will they choose to do it with you?

Figure out what’s working and what’s not working

Countless businesses had launched fledgling e-commerce sites pre-pandemic. Many have experienced growth during the coronavirus pandemic, when customers had few other options.  Others, particularly in B2B or sectors that still supported traditional sales channels, have still struggled to drive digital commerce adoption. Your e-commerce site or mobile commerce app may seem easy to use and effective to internal teams. But, if it was built without the benefit of customer insight, testing or a feedback loop, it is likely falling short of buyers’ expectations in one or more areas.

For instance, as online sales have grown, so have returns. This presents a problem for brands and retailers without brick-and-mortar locations. E-commerce giant, Amazon, solved this problem by partnering with Kohl’s. Other digital commerce sites accept returns at Fed-Ex locations. New solution providers like Happy Returns have emerged to accept online order returns on retailers’ behalf. This is a prime example of identifying and mending a break in the digital experience.

Now, while customers are somewhat still limited to digital engagement, is the time to learn how you can improve that engagement. Hopefully, you leaned into customer insight as the basis for building or enhancing digital commerce at the start of the pandemic. If you did not, it’s not too late. Even if you did, this work is never done. Web and mobile analytics, marketing and digital commerce performance and direct qualitative and quantitative customer feedback are essential to refinement.


Fine tune digital commerce operations to remove obstacles to growth

Use customer feedback, coupled with digital commerce performance diagnostics, to identify and prioritize operational issues to address in 2021. These issues may not be standing in the way of revenue generation or ROI today. But, if they linger on, they’ll serve as an albatross to growth. Blind spots in customer data may not stop you from selling online. But they hinder your ability to retarget cart abandoners, re-engage lapse customers or reconnect with shoppers post purchase.

Issues that limit the impact of marketing on customer acquisition and retention, as well as digital commerce growth, should be a marketing priority in the early part of 2021. Other issues like bugs in your mobile app or site speed are evident in mobile or Web analytics, app reviews or declining cart to conversion and should be prioritized immediately, though in partnership with your e-commerce applications or dev ops teams. Still other issues like shipping delays or low sell through in a key category will require cross-functional collaboration and may take longer to solve.

For example, web scraping has long been a manual way of collecting and comparing pricing and other digital commerce data. As companies-even those that have experienced digital commerce growth-look to optimize costs, outsourcing or automation could be the key to accessing competitive intelligence faster, more efficiently and more cost effectively. But accessing the data isn’t enough. As you look for operational improvements and advantages, consider how data integration can help optimize decision making and accelerate digital commerce growth.

Focus on innovation, not just improving digital commerce

When you’re in growth mode, it’s hard to find time to innovate. You’re busy trying to keep pace with demand. Yet, this year has taught us that today’s innovation sets the pace for tomorrow’s customer expectation. Last year, omnichannel offerings like curbside pickup were innovative for many retailers. Now, retail e-commerce couldn’t survive without curbside pickup. In order to deliver digital commerce that sustains growth, brands and retailers have to tap into what will keep current customers and attract new ones.

chipotle digital kitchen

It may have attracted customers, but the convenience of e-commerce will not be enough to retain them. As everyone catches up to digital commerce trends like omnichannel and subscription  offerings, you’ll need to innovate to distinguish your brand. Innovation can take you down a myriad of paths, some of which will be dead ends. Don’t just use voice of the customer to learn how to improve your current offering. Use it to learn what you’re not doing–what no one is doing–that customers really need done. Find the next problem digital commerce can solve for your customers.

For example, travel and hospitality brands, hard hit during the pandemic, are addressing new customer needs.  While travel and hospitality has been hit hard this year, brands like Marriott are innovating by offering flexible booking options.  Restaurants, like Chipotle, seeing demand for take-out for families, have innovated by investing in their own mobile ordering, third party delivery partnerships and expanded menus including family meal packages and cook at home options, and now locations without in-restaurant dining options.


Forge new paths to digital commerce growth

As you try to spot customer problems and ownable solutions that deliver growth, look beyond just your capabilities. Pay attention to the other brands getting share of mind, heart and wallet from your customers. If you’re a consumer brand, consider how you sustain digital commerce growth, not just through your brand’s digital presence (which should be a high priority in 2021), but also through an expanded set of partners who can bring your products to market. Consider, not only, retail and trade partners, but also alliances with brands in your sector and across sectors.

Sephora, for example, having sold through a store-within-a-store format in JCPenney, is now doing the same with Kohl’s. This has the potential to increase Kohl’s store traffic and improve its in-store experience, while opening new doors for Sephora with lower overhead. But the two retailers are also partnering to offer an integrated, omnichannel and e-commerce experience. This includes extending Sephora’s loyalty program and Kohl’s curbside pickup to shared customers.

What begins as an innovation partnership can eventually grow into a new line of business that enhances your e-commerce offering. This can add to digital commerce growth and, eventually, spin-off into a new business model. There are multiple paths to digital commerce growth. Finding those paths requires continued understanding of customer needs. It also involves ongoing dedication to finding and fixing marketing, data, technological and operational issues that can impede growth. Most importantly, digital commerce growth demands equal attention to forward innovation.