The events of recent months have turned the world upside down. With very few exceptions, life has been irrevocably altered and the phrase “business as usual” has been replaced by terms like “survival mode” and “the new abnormal”.
While none of us can turn back the clock and take things back to pre-pandemic norms, we have seen glimpses of light. Light that presents the potential to emerge from this dark moment with a renewed sense of purpose and a commitment to strengthen our businesses, where we’re able.
And then there are the opportunities. Areas of life and business that proved especially resilient during the roughest moments of the pandemic, which could be a catalyst for success as we all attempt to bounce back. Accelerated eCommerce is one of those opportunities, but not every business is well-positioned to make the most of it.
It’s that opportunity to lean into eCommerce that we’ll explore in this article.
Six Weeks of Accelerated eCommerce
As it became clear back in March that states had few options but to shut down and encourages citizens to shelter-in-place, people quickly realized that their regular retail habits would have to change. Aside from essentials like groceries and medicine, consumers were forced to find alternative channels if they wanted to buy clothes, cosmetics, electronics, or any of the other product categories we take for granted.
In most cases, the channels they turned to were online.
In the second half of March, an early spike in sales of electronics (learning or working from home), cleaning products (out of stock in stores), and beauty/personal care products (gotta look good for Zoom!) proved to be a sign of what was to come. In the first few weeks of April, eCommerce sales jumped by 49% compared to the same period in March.
While this sudden growth was primarily driven by online grocery purchases – which tells a story in itself, given that this sector has been something of an eCommerce holdout to date – businesses trading in everything from health, wellness, and personal care products to apparel, electronics, and even bidets are finding new buyers they would never have reached previously.
Tips to Turn the eCommerce Challenge Into an Opportunity
As the world attempts to return to an even keel – and consumers start to define what they need from retail in this new reality – brands who make the first move to help us make sense of all this will stand out.
However, there are some key considerations and learning points to take in before setting off down the path of recovery and reimagined retail.
These are some of the factors we believe it will be important to build into any strategy for accelerated eCommerce:
1 – Accept that the landscape is shifting beneath your feet: The potential of eCommerce has been steadily unveiling itself for years, albeit slowly. Pandemic conditions have catalyzed that evolution from physical retail in ways that we simply cannot foresee at this early stage. A completely new segment of buyers who may not ever have considered moving their purchases online are now reliant on these channels. It’s reasonable to assume that a lot of them won’t go right back to buying in stores, if they do at all. In addition to meeting new buyers online, brands must also be prepared to establish new ways to engage and serve these customers.
2 – Think beyond Amazon: As dominant as it has been and still is, Amazon is not the be-all and end-all of eCommerce. We have seen in recent months that the company can only handle a certain portion of online demand. Furthermore, we’ve covered in the past why becoming too reliant on Amazon is a bad idea. As Amazon’s delivery times for non-essential items have extended into weeks rather than days, nimble brands have stepped in to fill the void. Customers will remember the companies who came through for them when Amazon could not.
3 – Don’t stop at eCommerce: Although the realization that we can get almost anything online is new to some people, the concept of eCommerce has now been around for decades. For brands who were late to the online retail phenomenon, an opportunity presents itself to keep going and make the most of this momentum. Explore mobile commerce, social media shopping, location-based marketing, and other relatively nascent channel opportunities that even digitally native brands have not yet fully exploited.
4 – Look for emerging business models: The temptation to hunker down and maintain “business as usual” is especially dangerous at times like this. Even for those established retailers who are able to weather the storm, the alarm bells of the past decade ring louder than ever in the bankruptcy of major names like JC Penney and Neiman Marcus. Even iconic retailers like Macy’s are showing the strain. The impending fate of so many big names should make it clear that the only way to make the most of this opportunity is to identify the business models that have been catalyzed by our current situation. Retailers who dive in and try to ride the early stages of these waves will stay afloat, while those hesitantly dipping their toes in along the edges will inevitably sink.
For anyone interested in this topic of accelerated eCommerce and how businesses are adapting, the conversation below between Marco Montemagno and Shopify COO Harley Finkelstein is illuminating.
Among the key takeaways, Harley’s observation that eCommerce, physical stores, and other retail options must not be considered mutually exclusive speaks to a trend that the pandemic has unleashed.
He sees the great retailers of the future becoming “channel-agnostic,” which means following their customers anywhere they’d like to buy and being able to quickly move between these channels when situations like those we’re currently experiencing arise.
Across the globe and in almost every sector, we see examples of creative retailers turning the unwanted restrictions of life in a pandemic into the opportunity of accelerated eCommerce. While that doesn’t have to mean leaving behind every aspect of retail that we’ve known, it does require the ability to pivot quickly and a willingness to search out new service partners to make a success of new channels.
If you could use some help figuring out the future of retail fulfillment, visit our contact page and let us know more about your business.