The brand ramifications of rapid ecommerce take-up

Funtastic, Accent Group and Comestri executives share the ecommerce tech and business investments that have dominated their priority list plus the consumer trends they're expecting to stick to shopping post-COVID

Acceleration of ecommerce was one of the key digital trends witnessed over the past year as the COVID-19 global pandemic forced retailers and their suppliers online.  

With many expecting the trend to now dominate 2021 and beyond, CMO reached out to several Australian retailers and industry providers to find out what specific technology, business and operational investments they have made during this time to lift their ecommerce capability.  

We also asked each to share the top trend, behaviour or capability they expect to stick around in the retail sphere beyond the immediate market conditions, as well as those that won’t.  

Funtastic CEO, Louis Mittoni (Toys R Us parent company)  

As the leader of marketing within any organisation, whether functionally as CMO or as part of the role of a CEO, understanding the accelerated adoption, acceptance and preference for shopping online is the key change brought on by our latest global pandemic. Our latest. Not our first, nor our last.  

This is now the second age of online. The first brought us Amazon, eBay and Netflix. It was a period when not only commercial organisations but government, charities, sporting codes, educators, entertainers and artists embraced the demand from the world’s population to engage and transact online.  

In the physical world of retail, those that didn’t lay the foundation of online shopping for their ‘loyal customers’ have now almost all gone - though their brands and shopper databases are being bought and phoenixed by pure online players around the globe. Pure online players know how much it costs, how hard it is and how long it takes to build brand trust with online shoppers. They see in real time the first-time visitors abandon their carts at checkout, or hover over the input fields when asked for PayPal or credit card information.  

Re-introducing a trusted, physical, retail brand into an online category has proven successful for us, converting first-time online visitors into repeat online shoppers.  

In 2021 and 2022, products, services, money, art, music, ideas, meetings and news will all cross borders. But people won’t. Not in any meaningful commercial way. The world’s largest TV viewership event, the Olympic Games, will effectively have no physical audience. But the world will consume via broadcast quality online viewing and buy the merchandise. All online.  

The ‘open then closed’ nature of city, state and national lockdowns have seen physical retailers’ sales slump for one quarter and then boom the next. However, in the long run, physical retail, excluding convenience retailing, is still in decline, and will likely remain so until the end of this decade.

Promotionally driven, binge buying and pantry stocking in physical grocery will become less prevalent. Even the share of our food purchased via physical grocery will remain in decline with the accelerated uptake of online food ordering and delivery (Uber Eats and Menulog) and meal kit/meal delivery services (Marley Spoon and Hello Fresh).

Through to the end of this decade, within online and physical retail the basis for the majority of technology investment is around automation in all things. AI, machine learning and autonomous mobile robots for the pure online shopping players. The focus of technology investment for physical retailers is in electronic price labels, frictionless payment and in store experience over in store inventory.  

Read more: Toys R Us and Babies R Us return to Australia and partners with eBay

Accent Group GM digital, Kasie Heathcote

Accent Group embarked on its digital transformation journey and saw enormous growth of up to double sales conversions as a result of adapting digital solutions to enhance customer experiences for Australians. We were very fortunate to have been ahead of the curve on this to reap the rewards from investing into digital solutions early.

I firmly believe the virtual sales and live shopping trend we have witnessed in the last 12 months will continue to gain momentum. You only need to look at how this is playing out in China to see how quickly a service like this can become widely used and popular. While we are starting to see more businesses implement this service in Australia, customers are still not familiar with the experience; this is likely to change in the next 12 months. 

Regarding trends we will see less of, I think businesses will again start to focus on long-term strategy instead of the tactical ‘here and now’ strategies we have seen a lot of recently.

Through this, the ecommerce platform is the most critical asset in the digital ecosystem. It is the linkage point across all digital assets and channels and is the place that consumers get their immersive brand and product experience in the digital ecosystem.

After several years of trading extremely well off our existing ecommerce platforms, it is now time for them to be re-based utilising best-in-class technology and experiences. At Accent Group, we are currently working with eWave, Adobe and Mulesoft to develop our Magento GRA platform with PWA technology. We are also partnering with several other providers to enhance the user experience, primarily focusing on size and fit functionality and search and merchandising capability. We are estimating significant performance lifts from this re-platforming project once we relaunch our sites later this year.

Read more: What COVID has done for Accent Group's CX strategy and approach

Retail chiefs: Move from being customer-focused to customer-obsessed

Comestri GM business development and marketing, Ben Cook  

Although a challenging year for retail, 2020 will go down in history as a pivotal moment in time. The digital revolution was thrust upon us as retailers scrambled to pivot their offerings to accommodate the new normal. Consumers were forced out of their comfort zone as they embraced shopping differently. Years of digital transformation happened in a matter of months, as ecommerce surpassed levels not expected until 2025.    

Omnichannel retail is no longer a buzzword, but the key to retail survival. Companies with the strongest omnichannel customer engagement strategies retain an average of 89 per cent of their customers.  

We know consumers have changed the way they shop. They expect more. In a recent survey, 83 per cent of shoppers said convenience while shopping is more important compared to five years ago - and that was pre-COVID.

Retailers need to deliver more for their customers; they need to adapt to their needs by having a deep understanding of them. Every customer touchpoint needs to be optimised, designed to surprise and delight and made ‘shoppable’.  

I’m having daily conversations with retailers about bridging the gap between online and offline worlds and what retail technologies, such as PIM (product information manager) and OMS (order management systems), can be used to empower customers to engage with a brand in a way that’s convenient to them. The challenge for most is their data.  

Centralised, enriched and synchronised data, from product to inventory order and customer information, is key to getting products found and sold, wherever the consumer chooses to shop. A consumer might start their journey with a simple Google search, visit a website or marketplace, be remarketed to and finally visit a store to make the purchase, as well as make a return via the channel that’s convenient to them. Each of these touchpoints must be consistent and optimised, allowing the shopper journey to flow seamlessly.   

Centralised data powers omnichannel features, such as viewing instore inventory online, ship from store, order instore, click and collect, returns via post or instore and much more. - if retailers want to succeed, they need to embrace it. 

Omnichannel is not a term used by consumers, but nine out of 10 customers prefer the experience that a true omnichannel strategy provides. This means retailers must closely examine their technology stack to ensure it provides the capability needed to succeed in 2021.  

Don’t miss out on the wealth of insight and content provided by CMO A/NZ and sign up to our weekly CMO Digest newsletters and information services here. 

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