eCommerce as a phrase encompasses an enormous variety of businesses, from creative startups to global behemoths. One of the plus points of such diversity is that there is great scope for eCommerce businesses to learn from one another, in spite (and because) of their differences.
In this exclusive panel blog, we’ve invited eCommerce experts from highly diverse businesses to share their thoughts on the future of digital commerce, the risks and opportunities ahead, and the strategies to consider as Black Friday 2019 approaches.
"With the highly targeted nature of social media, it really can be as simple as if you show people something they're likely to want, they'll sometimes just buy it."
Machine learning and automation are the obvious ones. Then there's social selling - even Pinterest is doing it now.
With the highly targeted nature of social media, it really can be as simple as if you show people something they're likely to want, they'll sometimes just buy it.
Quite often they won't even mind being targeted for it, if it's something that's really tailored to them and their life. Plus the instant nature of purchasing via social media helps to take advantage of snap purchase decisions.
"The holy grail for multi channel businesses is still to achieve a true picture of single customer view, and ensure we can deliver an ''experience first'' journey for every customer."
The holy grail for multi channel businesses is still to achieve a true picture of single customer view, and to ensure we can deliver an ''experience first'' journey for every customer.
Specifically, that includes good solid integration & measurability of online and offline platforms to truly understand customer behaviour across every single touchpoint digitally & physically and what influenced. Delivering a seamless customer experience across device and customer channel choice.
Artificial intelligence and predictive analytics are becoming more prevalent, using data intelligence to generate predictive patterns & also using that tracking to impress & delight customers to generate loyalty, adding real value to their lives & providing actual solutions and make everything super convenient & easy. Subscription based business models can play a part and are gaining importance and an opportunity to build on more traditional retention models.
"In 2020 we will really see brands taking AI more seriously to help them grow and drive greater efficiencies."
4 key trends really standout for me:
1. Subscription services: 2019 has been the year where subscription-based models have really grown, and this won’t be stopping anytime soon. Consumers are looking for a more emotional and consistent connection with brands vs. one off experiences. Subscriptions have almost become the new loyalty schemes of the online world.
2. Payment methods will also continue to evolve. We’ve seen several buy now, pay later platforms, such as Klarna, see continued success this year and not a huge volume of brands have fully implemented Google or Apple Pay, which can have hugely positive impacts on conversion rates.
3. Shoppable social media is on the up and only a few brands have truly embraced it. As brands become more comfortable, we will see more and more customers purchasing via social platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. Who knows; one day it could even be more dominant vs. purchasing directly through a brands own website.
4. Artificial Intelligence: a term used increasingly over the past few years. Google has started implementing AI through its analytics software and chatbots are starting to become the next big priority. In 2020 we will really see brands taking AI more seriously to help them grow and drive greater efficiencies.
"For brick and mortar companies, improving instore shopping experiences to drive sales will be a key challenge."
Delivering to ever- more-demanding customers and their expectations - not just in terms of UX, speed and consistency across devices and shopping channels, but also payment options and logistics, starting with voice search and the ability to support same day deliveries!
For brick and mortar ecommerce companies, improving instore shopping experiences and linking these wiuth digital advancements to drive sales will be a key challenge & focus.
"Brands will need to think on their feet and find innovative ways to be more honest."
In the UK, I think the ever-looming Brexit will have a significant impact on how a number of brands operate online however, it is difficult to say exactly what the implications will be.
Rules and regulations around advertising have certainly seen increased media attention over the past few months, especially on Facebook and Instagram. Brands will need to think on their feet and find innovative ways to be more honest and open with their marketing/acquisition.
"Automation and customer insight matters in eCommerce."
Competing against automation and insight, especially for companies who do not invest in technology.
"Some eCommerce brands are falling behind in data protection"
Despite data protection laws being enforced through GDPR, there are still several ecommerce brands who are not conducting best practice. I also see a number of brands who do not implement any sort of customer retention or remarketing strategy, which is almost criminal given how much time/effort is spent in growing brand awareness/driving website traffic."I'm always excited about new technology. Marketing automation used to the preserve of those with deep pockets but it's available to those “less fortunate” to experiment with.
"eCommerce brands need to live their values"
Not including customers in their social media. I'm all for having aspirational brands but if all you focus on is sponsored athletes, models and reality TV stars, you're not making your brand as accessible as it could be.
Obviously that's fine if you're going for Burberry style exclusivity but otherwise, a couple of customer shots can really go a long way in terms of engagement and having customers tag your products.
Secondly, not having any real values. Look at vegan products or eco-friendly products to see how far a real value/message goes.
"Some eCommerce brands are not moving quickly enough."
Not realising the importance or expectation of customer experience. Not utilising their data. Being slow off the mark.
Not staying ahead of the curve and moving quickly enough.Not joining the dots between all of their touchpoints and services appropriately.
Thinking one size fits all and not delivering tailored and specific appropriate content for specific audience or shopping channel or device. It needs to be adapted for appropriate customer segment and also optimised according to where it is.
"GymShark is doing a fantastic job"
Working in the sports and fitness industry I have to say GymShark is doing a fantastic job. They appear to have learnt a lot over the past few years.
Their popularity has almost been their worst enemy at times with sales and promotions resulting in disappointed customers, lengthy delivery times and cancelled orders.
However, I was really impressed with the way they launched their recent 2019 sale. They revealed the launch date in advance and provided customers with guidance on how to not be disappointed when shopping.
Despite longer SLAs being advertised for delivery, customers received goods well before the quoted timeframe and their various integrations and partnerships for product returns really makes their shopping experience standout.
"Some major retailers have been behind the curve"
For me, pure plays - ASOS, Amazon, ao.com, wayfair and Bloom & Wild . They are in the main customer focussed and deliver to the customer vision.
From multi-channel players - M&S, were behind the curve but really got their act together now, have impressed me as a customer recently. Also Next, John Lewis, & Oasis.
"Gymshark are doing an amazing job"
Gymshark are doing an amazing job of being aspirational, true to their values and being seen to invest in all the right areas.
"SEO and PPC should work together"
Focusing on paid acquisition without organic SEO is like buying a hybrid car but turning off the electric capability and just inputting fuel.
It's still going to perform really well but why not use the option that saves you money and even has a positive impact on the cost of fuel when used as a hybrid?
Plus if you ran out of fuel (money) if you had the electric capability turned on and performing well, you wouldn't get stuck going nowhere or drop out of the race entirely.
"SEO provides credibility"
Don’t get me wrong – organic SEO still plays a massive role in customer acquisition. Despite SERPs being dominated by well disguised paid ads, not everyone is easily fooled. SEO provides credibility and organic traffic is often amongst the highest converting.
With more and more customers using voice search and conducting question related searches, SEO is vital if you’re going to be featured towards the top of the page.
"SEO is more important than ever"
Organic is still very important versus paid. When Google came out with the change everyone thought organic would take a back seat - I think it’s almost more important than ever and is ignored at its peril.Content is still king, and building targeted relevant appropriate content for your customers will build your organic rankings in the right way. It’s takes time and diligence but ultimately will serve your customers better.
"Always be measuring and benchmarking to identify growth opportunities"
Shopping cart abandonment rate, conversion rate, cost of customer acquisition and average order value. This comes back to focus on the customer journey and understanding what is happening at every touch point and how to target improvement to drive growth .Retention and lifetime value are also key. Marketers have to develop an understanding of the levers to pull for every customer segment to optimise, and always be measuring and benchmarking to identify growth opportunities.
"Small tweaks and reviews of the checkout process can make the world of difference"
Basket abandonment rate has always been a stand out KPI for me. If you’re getting quality traffic that backs out at the last hurdle, you’re losing a likely customer. Small tweaks and reviews of the checkout process can make the world of difference, turning abandonment into acquisition. You rarely see a customer leave as they are waiting in line to pay, so why does it happen so frequently online?
"Loyalty is low in eCommerce because there's so much choice"
Social engagement - as this channel is only going to grow in importance. Secondly, brand awareness.
Loyalty is low in ecommerce because there's so much choice that's easily accessible at the touch of a button, so having a brand that stands for something or stands out, helps with being at the top of mind when people are looking for something they want to buy.
"The Google suite has a wide range of tools to support eCommerce marketers."
From a marketing perspective the Google suite! Google Analytics, Google Data Studio, Google Keyword Planner, Google Trends and Google Search Console are the basic minimum.
"Wow customers so they feel treasured and valued."
I use GA & Big query & data studio to analyse & optimise journey by customer segment. Have good agency partners - good website merchandising tools, to control and deliver personalised experiences.
Have a strong Development team, delivering functionality to create urgency (for retailer) but wow customers so they feel treasured and valued.
Customer insight through Surveys, user testing, A/B testing & learning.
"Always put your customer first."
Brands nowadays are constantly looking forward and sometimes forget to review and look back. I’m still a big believer in campaign analysis – what worked well, what didn’t and implementing learnings for the future. We typically use GA but have an in-house analyst who goes much deeper.
Outside of regular data analysis, market research is also a big one. Whether this is conducted externally or internally, asking for feedback and what customers really want can make a significant difference to how you shape you ecommerce strategy. Always put your customer first.
"SEO professionals contribute across a wide range of eCommerce operations."
Of course I want to say SEO - it can help inform so much of what goes onsite, where it goes onsite and when it goes onsite; based on how well a product can perform if it's merchandised well, linked to internally, supported by content and promoted at the right time of year according to seasonal demand.
"Generating brand awareness and deliver key content to your Audience cannot be undervalued."
Content creator - need to create unique appealing very relevant content to support all products and services, should also be reactive to trends.
CRM manager - need to have talent here to develop multiple programmes tailored to all of your different customer needs across all marketing channels and verticals.
Customer Insights/Data analyst - this is crucial. understanding the data and getting in to the granularity is key. Acting on insights as quickly as possible from every angle. To improve UX, to optimise, to deliver growth, to identify improvements for profitability etc.
Good developer to deliver agile change reactively to capitalise on ever changing and evolving customer needs and expectations.
Paid Manager - whether in-house or via agency this role is again imperative to driving the business at a dedicated campaign level and all in the Detail to get optimisation right and delivering the best possible ROI.
Onsite trading & merchandising - the core of your site has to be right and is always evolving and demanding more.
"Understanding purchasing behaviour is key to driving lifetime value."
If I had to choose one, an analyst would certainly be towards the top of the list. It gets to a point when you can only get so much insight from analytical software (although this may change as we see AI in analytics continue to develop).
Understanding more about purchasing behaviour, browsing behaviour, repeat purchase rate, frequency and cross selling is key to driving lifetime value. Decisions online need to be data driven and on-going testing is vital to drive improvements.
"Keep an eye on trends and apply social listening."
Social listening and creating your own new keywords. For example is a product being called something different to what you and the rest of your marketplace are calling it? Or is a new trend developing that's actually already relevant to your key product offering?
For example if tassled shorts were prolific at a recent festival, are people now searching for festival shorts or shorts to wear at a festival?
Or if your brand starts calling the tassled shorts on your website festival shorts, can you start something new that will really take off in search and in social?
"Seek out new ways of thinking and share with others in the digital space."
Networking and attending the occasional roundtable/expo is an ideal way to keep up with the latest trends.
These days you can easily be trapped inside the box and never look out. Sharing and learning from others in the digital space can reassert strategy or even challenge and provide new ways of thinking.
"Add value to your proposition, and speak with your eCommerce peers."
Keep reading - whether it’s certified publications or digital blogs or through social - in particular LinkedIn. Keeping abreast of what’s changing and what’s coming next is vital.
If you are up to date with the latest and evolving technologies, you can consider and understand how these can be leveraged to Improve the business (or not), if it can then it’s about how quickly you can adopt or deliver it in the way which can add most value to your proposition.
Attend good digital events - it's massively useful to speak with peers who are in the same position and many have similar challenges.
"When using an agency, brands almost want that agency to act as an additional 'head' in house."
Having an agency that has resource readily available is a massive factor. You sometimes see agencies almost take on too many clients which can have a negative impact on deadlines and quality of work.
When using an agency, brands almost want that agency to act as an additional 'head' in house. Find a digital partner that can submerse themselves in the brand, get involved in the number and really feel passionate about driving success and meeting objectives.
"Agencies must add something new."
In an ideal world they need to be able to add something you can't do yourself.
Whether it's a link building partner that has great contacts and big ideas or an SEO agency that has invested in all of the latest technology to save time on audits, insights and reporting.
"Select an agency you know will deliver to your goals."
Their results, their technology. What have they delivered, what’s their speciality, how are they keeping ahead of the market, are they using their own customers to share learnings within agency proactively. Retailers must know their goals and where are there gaps?
Select an agency you know will deliver to your goals - for me it’s about the agency fit with the business, can they dedicate the necessary time to become an extension of our team, truly taking time to understand the strategy & add concrete value to deliver from day one?
When deciding on the right marketing mix for what remains of 2019 and onwards into 2020, eCommerce marketers have a lot to consider. With potential for increased competition, rivals moving ahead more rapidly and the dreaded ‘B’ word, it’s important to understand and evaluate the marketing channels, methodologies and technologies that will be of most importance to them.
Our expert panellists have an enormous amount of experience in diverse sectors, and an array of channels. If there’s one conclusion to draw from their insights, it’s that eCommerce brands can’t be passive when looking ahead to a year of growth in 2020.
For eCommerce brands with brick and mortar locations, it’s particularly important to develop business models that can evolve and grow in the future – the customer expects a joined-up experience regardless of touchpoint and the brands that will have the best chances of succeeding in a choppy retail marketplace are those with an integrated plan with eCommerce at its heart.
That means factoring in conversion rate optimisation, voice search, predictive analytics and the interplay between physical and virtual stores via VR, mobile payments, enhanced click-to-collect and more sophisticated strategies to handle returns and ‘show-rooming’.
For online-only eCommerce brands, one of the major challenges we see at Blueclaw is the need for retailers to develop tangible brands. To avoid commoditisation and a race to the bottom in price, online-only eCommerce retailers must develop brands that add value, have worth and allow for a competitive approach that attracts customers who are happy to pay a healthy margin.
If you’d like to explore the trends, tools and strategies raised in this post further, our experts always love to talk about eCommerce optimisation – contact the team.