Altered consumption patterns aside, the winds of change in the retail industry blow relentlessly. Be it new technological innovations (bots, voice-searches, contactless payments, AR/VR, progressive web apps) or keeping up with the increased click-to-customer cycle time, web retailers have a lot to navigate this holiday season. More so when the competition (and innovation) can come from virtually anywhere.
And what better time than the holiday season?
Supply chain struggles, increased inflation, and safety restrictions notwithstanding, this holiday season brings with it multiple opportunities. Now is the time to stitch past retailing gaps, present new experiences, personalize customer interactions, introduce contextualized offers, reduce cart abandonment, boost customer loyalty, and improve revenue growth.
After all, isn’t it that time of the year when going an extra mile or two in tailoring the best experiences for users comes with a clear and tangible reward? Especially when US holiday retail spending is expected to go – from $777 Billion (in 2020) to $843 Billion (in 2021).
The preparation for purchase begins far before a customer clicks ‘add to cart.’ So, as web retailers rethink, revise, and reinvent offerings, operations, pricing, sales, and everything in between, it is an opportune time to ask the most important question: what creates winning customer experiences?
To put it simply, the content presented to customers is what makes experiences more shoppable. Furthermore, well-integrated processes and streamlined navigation become the bedrock that supports new customer behaviors and preferences.
Here’s stacking up the top five tips that web retailers can consider to navigate the holiday season and emerge as clear winners:
- Integrate existing systems and technologies
With average household spending increasing by 5% Y-o-Y and 62% of that spend expected to occur online, the world of contactless commerce is blurring physical stores and online experiences. Consumers today use mobile, voice, online, and store-based technologies to make choices and purchases. Ergo, the entire customer journey with its interactive elements calls for integration. Be it re-optimizing websites for better product experiences or digging deep into data and analytics to fill each shopping journey with adventure and discovery, new-age e-retailers have their work cut out. In fact, given the demand for hyper-specialization today, several retail giants are combating the ‘abandoned cart’ problem by overhauling their existing systems to fire up their product pages. When Ikea, a company that stuck with physical stores for 80 years, was forced to shut down 75% of them in the pandemic. It was digital transformation powered by integrating systems and technologies that helped the iconic brand triple its eCommerce levels in three years.
- Focus on customer retention, not just acquisition
Studies reveal that buying habits of more than 75% of consumers have changed in the last year and a half. As a result, this holiday season, customer retention is emerging as a bigger challenge for retailers who find it harder to hold on to their existing customers than acquire new ones. In addition, this season presents another unique trend – being fearful of shipping delays, customers are spending earlier. As a McKinsey study predicts, this can pre-empt higher loyalty switching behaviors. So said, brands with suboptimal customer experience will find it tough to retain customers. The solution? A robust customer loyalty program. Backed with a strong data analytics practice, web retailers can boost revenues through loyalty programs via higher purchase frequency or larger basket size. Strengthening customer retention circles back to the same lever: technology. Think rapid response virtual agents and AR-enabled personalization, which brings up the crucial element of omnichannel.
- Focus on omnichannel but also on ‘omnichannel-delivery.’
Most consumers today, especially Gen Z, think in channel-agnostic, boundary-less terms, opening the floodgates for omnichannel shopping. This holiday season alone, 60-70% of consumers prefer omnichannel shopping. But there is a catch. Before retailers see omnichannel as a cure-all phenomenon, they must remember they’ll be better served by linking ‘omnichannel to omnichannel delivery.’ First, chart out approaches for tailored and targeted cross-channel engagements. Once a clear alignment between customers’ omnichannel preferences is understood, a proper plan can be implemented to engage them with products’ realistic last-mile delivery. Avoiding this preparation may cause unforeseen harm, loss of brand value, and cost customer loyalty. An industry report shows when delivery times are too long, almost half of the omnichannel consumers shop elsewhere. And the optimal delivery threshold? Nine out of ten US shoppers expect free, two-day to maximum three-day shipping.
- Build robust scalability
‘Scale’ in web retail can mean different things to different people. For example, if Amazon’s logistics unit were a separate company, it could well be the fifth-largest third-party logistics company in the world. While catching up to that is beyond most e-retailers, adopting sound principles of scale such as on-demand convenience and always-on customer connect. So it should be a given that web retailers will ensure their websites scale to meet demand spikes during the holiday season. Also expected are comprehensive performance tests that ensure websites’ load times support optimal customer experiences.
Furthermore, web retailers should increasingly use chatbots and AI-enabled support mechanisms to augment the scale and omnichannel personalization. Recent surveys have shown that 91% of shoppers leave an eCommerce site if web pages are too slow to load. What is then the solution? Rely on cloud-based infrastructure and solutions for tackling demand peaks during the holiday season.
- Turn Product content into your secret weapon.
Having ticked the boxes of systems integration, customer retention, omnichannel delivery, and scalability, it can be surprising when web retailers miss out on the fundamental prerequisite – rich product content. It cannot be overemphasized that text, imagery, or any other information that furthers a customer’s discovery, excitement, and decision-making process is paramount in driving sales and increasing the number of brand loyalists. The future of contactless commerce, in part, rests on how web retailers evolve on the continuum of crafting rich, accurate, and relevant product content. The difference is counted off in tiny degrees. So, attention to detail becomes the game-changer. When great product content replaces a bland copy, it helps the buyer imagine the product and what it would be like to own it. Simple, easy-to-understand information, detailed usage instructions, 360-degree images, engaging product videos with motion graphics are all non-negotiable content elements for an authentic brand experience.
The season, it appears, is truly gearing up.
Into the second year of the new normal, web retailers have emerged wiser from their experiences. With near-term and immediate decisions, the emphasis is clearly on making swift transitions that accommodate shifting consumer behavior, supply chain fluctuations, and increased reliance on omnichannel delivery. Moreover, now that shopping has become a 24X7 activity, leading retailers are increasingly bullish on the impact of ‘digital’ on total sales figures.
The message is loud and clear. Delivering a fast, flawless, and always-on shopping experience demands a top spot in a website’s to-do list. Anything less, especially during the holiday season, will not cut and lead to disastrous results.
Holiday seasons are opportunities that retailers shouldn’t miss; in fact, it’s the time to do whatever it takes to put your best foot forward.
Vandana Singal is Director, Solution Consulting at Pimcore Global Services (A Happiest Minds Company). Pimcore is an open-source platform for product information management (PIM/MDM), digital asset management (DAM), content management system (CMS), and eCommerce. She has extensive experience managing presales, product development, and multifunctional teams.