If predictions around Christmas and New Year spending trends hold good, 2020 would end on a high note despite the pandemic. However, with an exodus of shoppers from in-store to digital eCommerce, traditional brick-and-mortar retailers who were earlier toying with technologies such as virtual assistants, augmented reality (AR), and virtual connect (over FaceTime) even before the pandemic , must work towards bolstering their online presence. The efforts made by many of them this year would be put to the test during the Christmas and New Year shopping season.
With online sales pegged at close to $200 billion mark, retailers with a robust digital commerce strategy will secure the lion’s share of the pie. A few strategy pivots are anticipated, such as shifting focus from stores to fulfillment and distribution centers or strengthening last-mile logistics. In other words, the game-play now moves toward converting an online lead into a hard sale.
Your Five-Point Checklist to Acing Digital Commerce
The usual promotional discounts and offers would only get you so far. To make a wandering online customer hit checkout would depend on how retailers engage with the customer at every step of the journey – from product discovery to the final sale. This is where a digital commerce strategy comes into play, and here’s how retailers can outline one for the Christmas and New Year.
- Let Data be Your North Star: Born-digital e-tailers, such as Amazon, believe in the sanctity of data . It is the one true path to knowing the customer, strategically driving-up sales, and accelerating crucial decision-making processes. Data helps deliver a seamless customer experience, across touchpoints, with a higher level of personalization and enhanced fulfillment. For retailers going online this season, data would be key to unlocking the potential for digital eCommerce – helping them carve out customer personas, taking stock of in-demand products, defining advertising spends, and driving targeted marketing campaigns for higher revenues and sales.
- Deliver a Unified Digital Experience: Customers interact with retailers through channels such as web and mobile, and across platforms such as social media, online stores, or third-party eCommerce and payment players. In this diversified interactive landscape, a seamless digital experience becomes instrumental in converting customers’ inclination into a purchase decision. For example, a customer could come across a promoted social media ad by an apparel store, from where he/she gets redirected to an online store and pays digitally for the purchase made. Retailers need to focus on an omnichannel strategy that ensures information consistency, platform performance, and fail-safe third-party integrations.
- Ensure True and Consistent Data Across Channels: Online shopping depends on tacit trust. Customers expect transparency in shipping timelines, inventory, and product cataloging. Any slippage here impacts customer experience, leading to repercussions beyond financial loss to reputational damage for the retailer. An unflinching focus on high quality and up-to-date product data will avoid downstream complications in the customer journey. A robust content management strategy can drive consistency across channels, ensuring uniformity in price points and product specifications accuracy.
- Ensure Back-End & Front-End Communication: To handle sale volumes as anticipated this season, retailers cannot hope to succeed by operating in silos. It will ultimately backfire if the front-end digital store shows a product as available while in the warehouse it is out of stock. Or if the estimated time of delivery is pegged to be three days, while logistically, it would take a week for the delivery. This is the operational nightmare that retailers need to watch out for. Retailers must aim for data interoperability between front-end channels and back-end systems/applications. Leveraging application programming interfaces or APIs makes it easier to integrate and operate across an architecturally diverse IT ecosystem.
- Hyper-Contextualization Seals the Deals: Contextualizing a product to suit a customer’s preferences or inclinations is a sure-shot way to clinch a purchase. Contextualization depends greatly on observing customers’ interests and behavior over time. It happens when businesses start to actually know their customers and care about them. For instance, retailers can offer ‘just-for-you’ discounts on products or subscriptions via one-to-one e-mails based on historical purchases and individual spending trends. An in-depth analysis of customer data and intelligent use of customer personas is crucial here.
Let the Festivities Begin
Despite a roll-back in stimulus checks and payment moratoriums, customer sentiment remains bullish. Trends suggest customers are more likely to go on a year-end splurge, given the diminished opportunities for travel and dining-out presented by this year; known in a retail jargon as ‘revenge spending’. Cash registers are expected to keep ringing as a select group of customers, who are lesser negatively impacted by economic changes, indulge in retail therapy online.
This bodes well for brick-and-mortar retailers who have had to face months of uncertainty, albeit only if they can channelize this sentiment. A strategic approach to digital commerce will help traditional retailers stay buoyant through post-festivity lull as they nurture and engage with customer profiles during this season.
Could it mean retailers can prolong the Christmas and New Year cheer well beyond into the next year? We’ll let the shopping carts speak.