Consumer behavior and the way people shop are changing. Over the last several years, e-commerce has risen and there’s no longer a clear-cut distinction between bricks (store) and clicks (online shopping). It’s all just shopping. There’s increasingly an omni-channel approach to purchasing. More and more, consumers are opting for “click and get”, especially around the holidays. There’s even movement within the online category of shopping. According to Google, 85 percent of online shoppers start their purchase process on one device and finish it on another.
Consumers are looking for a seamless shopping experience whether it’s online or in-store, as well as reliable and speedy delivery to locations around the world. In fact, social media platforms like Facebook have become useful sources of product endorsements. We are now almost as likely to buy a product because of an online review or recommendation from someone within our social media circles as we are after seeing a TV ad.
Of course, it’s not just big companies with large teams of experts that prosper in this new world. Small- to medium-size enterprises (SMEs) are increasingly successful because they’re nimble, quick to adapt and generally speak to customers in a more personal voice. They’re also more open to taking risks and to trying new things – all must-have attributes for any company that wants to harness the power of the new consumer environment and grow its business.
E-commerce is expected to continue to grow aggressively in the years ahead – but in ways that may surprise many retailers, especially SMEs. Here are three megatrends that all businesses should be aware of, as well as some tips that will help them better engage with customers and grow their businesses globally.
- Mobile Commerce (m-commerce): Advancements in device technologies and mobile networks are sparking the use of mobile devices by shoppers at every point on the path to purchase. As the mobile shopping experience improves, retail industry observers expect its use – searching for merchandise, making price comparisons, ordering, and paying – to continue to dramatically rise.
Globally, m-commerce accounts for 35 percent of all retail e-commerce transactions, and is projected to rise to 47 percent by 2018. The projection for 2016 is that m-commerce will contribute to 18.5% of the total e-commerce sales.
- Social Commerce: More than 2 billion people use social networks, such as Facebook and Instagram. Their popularity has prompted some social networking “stars” – including bloggers and YouTube favorites – to cash in by accepting advertising on their channels or selling their own products online.
In addition, many social platforms are developing “buy buttons” and similar technologies to enable consumers to purchase products without exiting their favorite social channels. Facebook, for instance, continues to upgrade its Shopping tab, a service designed primarily for SMEs, who can extend a robust social media presence with easy-to-buy functionality.
- Omni-Channel Retailing: Customers expect a consistent and high-quality experience across all shopping channels – in-store, in-app or online. Often, a mix of all three channels plays a role in a single shopping experience – buying online and pick-up in-store for example. While companies focused on an omni-channel strategy retain 89 percent of their customers, only 45 percent of retailers are making omni-channel a top priority. Honing omni-channel can be a competitively differentiating factor for SMEs, requiring them to integrate their systems and supply chain to ensure a pristine experience for every customer engagement.
Top Tips for SMEs
Shoppers engage with retailers in multiple ways. SMEs must optimize marketing, sales and delivery strategies to meet the needs of consumers – no matter when, where or how they choose to shop.
To grow sales, in-region and globally, SMEs must invest wisely to improve their e-commerce capabilities. Following are a few tips for taking e-commerce to the next level in the months leading up to the critical 2016 holiday shopping season.
- Offer More Payment Options: Online and mobile payment solutions are keeping pace with the e-commerce evolution, thanks to Apple Pay, Google Wallet, “buy buttons”, and other technologies that make anytime/ any device payments simple and more secure. SMEs who add payment options – and integrate them with their loyalty program – can capture more shoppers who might otherwise delay or forego their mobile purchases.
- Simplify Checkout: Don’t bombard customers with promotional messaging or ads that may distract them when finalizing their purchases. Keep the checkout process simple and secure to provide a quick and problem-free checkout; otherwise, potential purchases could be abandoned.
- Market to Fit Each Channel: SMEs need to create target-right, customized marketing and merchandising programs relevant for omni-channel retailing. Some solutions enable SMEs to link with established mobile marketing platforms, a simpler way of advertising and offering coupons than developing an app that could be overlooked among competitors.
- Optimizing Order Fulfillment: One of the most important functions SMEs must get right is order fulfillment, a critical touch-point for nurturing satisfied and loyal customers. Key considerations include:
- Avoid one-size-fits-all fulfillment: Diverse customers – in age, income, geographies and expectations – demand varied shipping and fulfillment choices. Choose a logistics provider offering a wide range of solutions and the flexibility to handle all facets of domestic, regional and international deliveries.
- Consolidate: Inventory and warehouse costs can skyrocket during seasonal slumps, and inadequate fulfillment services can delay deliveries during busy times. Using a scalable logistics provider can help reduce overhead costs by consolidating operations and ensuring the ability to respond to dynamic market changes.
- Streamline returns: A complicated process could prompt poor online reviews and customer dissatisfaction. Some logistics providers offer sophisticated, easy-to-use returns processes that reduce hassles, save time, and very importantly, preserve reputations.
Retailers that cater to the needs and whims of consumers can attain competitive advantages. Taking the online shopping experience and bringing it to life through a reliable order fulfilment process may spell the difference between business growth and failure for SMEs looking to expand their business globally.
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 “E-Commerce Sites Are Set to Hit a Major Milestone This Holiday Season”, FORTUNE, September 27, 2016.
 “New Research Shows How Digital Connects Shoppers to Local Stores”, October, 2014.
 “Mobile Commerce will be Nearly Half of E-commerce by 2018”, InternetRetailer, March 10, 2014
 “18.5% of E-commerce Sales in Brazil in 2016 Will Be through Mobile Devices”, Mobile Time, February 24, 2016.
 “Influencer Marketing Is Rapidly Gaining Popularity Among Brand Marketers”, eMarketer, February 9, 2016.
 “Buy Buttons”, eMarketer, November 2015