By Malcolm Sullivan, Vice President of Marketing and Customer Experience for FedEx Asia Pacific Division. Malcolm oversees FedEx’s local market and customer experience development, marketing communications and customer service operations.
The holiday season is the busiest time of year for most retailers and it’s going to be a big one for online retailers in Malaysia and the Asia Pacific region in general.
More and more people around the world are shopping online, but the rise of e-commerce is accelerating rapidly in Asia driven by increased internet access – Asia Pacific has more internet users than any other part of the world and is also the fastest-growing digital region. In fact, more than 40 percent of global internet users are now based in Asia Pacific with an audience of 644 million (comScore, 2013). This means there is a growing amount of connected individuals shopping online which has resulted in an e-commerce growth spurt throughout 2013 in the region. This year Asia Pacific will actually surpass North America to become the world’s largest market for business-to-consumer e-commerce sales, with sales of nearly $1.3 trillion (eMarketer, 2013).
These factors create a perfect storm of opportunities and challenges this holiday season for local retailers. Large e-retailers have the flex in their operations to deal with extra demand but how do small medium enterprises cope and capitalize on their e-commerce businesses? While Asia Pacific is the fastest growing e-commerce market in the world, it is thought that SMEs still only generate around 30% of all exports. So there’s plenty of opportunity for them and the below actionable advice to ensure a profitable holiday season acts as a blueprint for success.
Sort your shop window out
Your website and other online properties are your shop window to the world. This holiday they need to be relevant and accessible at all times.
1. Your website cannot crash or have slow loading pages – people have short attention spans and they will shop elsewhere. You need to plan ahead and increase the capacity of your website hosting. The key dates to look out for is Monday December 16 which is predicted to be one of the busiest online shopping days this year.
2. People are changing how they shop. Shopping has moved from physical stores to online and now it’s moving mobile – it’s shifting from e-commerce to m-commerce. People in the Asia Pacific region are considerably more likely to shop with a mobile than other parts of the world (SAP, 2013). So your online presence needs to be accessible and easy to navigate on smartphones and tablets – it essentially needs to be mobile friendly. While mobile apps can be expensive to develop, keep updated and roll out across different platforms. You can look to mobile optimize your website to create app-like functionality relatively cheaply.
3. People are changing how they shop. Shopping has moved from physical stores to online and now it’s moving mobile – it’s shifting from e-commerce to m-commerce. People in the Asia Pacific region are considerably more likely to shop with a mobile than other parts of the world (SAP, 2013). So your online presence needs to be accessible and easy to navigate on smartphones and tablets – it essentially needs to be mobile friendly. While mobile apps can be expensive to develop, keep updated and roll out across different platforms. You can look to mobile optimize your website to create app-like functionality relatively cheaply.
Innovate with delivery costs
E-retailers offering free or low-cost shipping report increased sales (eBay, 2013) so you should consider how you can lower or scrap delivery costs this season. FedEx suggests the following tactics to protect your margins while still satisfying customer preferences for “free” or low-cost shipping.
4. Offer a flat rate for low-value orders. The majority of consumers view a shipping fee 10 percent or lower of the final cost as an acceptable price (Forrester, 2013).
5. Create a shipping club – customers are willing to pay a one-time fee to receive free shipping or speedier service.
6. Offer free shipping for minimum purchase which often encourages people to buy additional items.
7. Offer free shipping on selected products – this option is should be offered with products with higher profit margins or on specific lines you want to promote such as those that may be holiday specific.
8. Offer free shipping for a limited time – nearly 9 out of 10 online retailers offered some form of free shipping during the holiday season last year.
What gives many SMEs a unique advantage against larger rivals is the personal connection they can build between their customers.
9. If your operation supports it, provide options like specially designed holiday gift wrapping, customizable monograms or engravings, or handwritten notes.
10. Many of the biggest e-commerce players make it all but impossible to reach a helpful customer service representative. Small and emerging e-retailers should take advantage of this flaw by making themselves accessible. Display your contact information prominently and include a phone number that allows a customer to reach a live human who can help them.
11. Unearth and reward loyal customers. Use your customer mailing list to send out holiday cards or e-communications that not only thank them for their continual business, but also offer coupons to drive repeat business. By creating this customer advocacy you ensure positive word of mouth – there is nothing as powerful for a small business as a recommendation from friends or family.