Nikoletta Bika, a senior content specialist at Aquire, explains why retailers should give changes to the digital e-shop a test drive as the improvements made to the online store now will pay off in the short and the long run.
Have you noticed a surge in online purchases lately? Or perhaps a decline in in-person customers? These are two sides of the same coin — and a direct result of the pandemic raging across the globe.
Approaching the end of 2020, there’s no doubt that online experiences are more important than ever. In customer service particularly, online shopping went from a convenient option to the only way for businesses to engage safely with customers.
Online orders brought big money
This trend toward digital purchasing has translated into increased revenue for e-commerce initiatives. Take Walmart, for example, a company most people think of as a chain of huge, physical stores.
Yet, in Q2 2020, Walmart reported a 97% increase in e-commerce sales compared to a mere 9.3% in same-store sales. This online growth represents the biggest earnings increase for the company in 31 years.
It’s clear that demand for online shopping has been a blessing for retail companies like Walmart and Amazon, since it allowed them to see their revenue increase, even during quarantine.
The trend of online shopping isn’t new
The pandemic has surely had a unique impact on retail operations. For example, in the first half of 2020, there was a large increase in buying groceries online, which led companies like Instacart to both embark on a hiring spree to meet delivery demands, while simultaneously cutting the number of in-store workers.
While Instacart may have a particular business model, the increased support for online shopping is a logical reaction to physical distancing restrictions.
But, purchasing habits have been shifting toward the digital world for some time now. In the U.S., online sales surpassed general merchandise stores (including department stores, warehouse clubs, and supercenters) for the first time in February 2019 — a full year before the pandemic struck.
This means one thing: even when we’re done with the coronavirus restrictions, and free to roam physical stores, there will still be an increase in people buying online. In fact, based on a McKinsey executive survey: “Stores will see traffic return to previous levels several months after reopening, and […] executives predict a 6 to 13 percentage-point increase in online penetration compared with pre-pandemic levels.”
Online shopping growth may decelerate, at least for COVID-impacted purchases such as non-perishable food, sanitizers, and toilet paper, not to mention due to stimulus checks being spent. But, e-commerce will probably keep growing for the foreseeable future.
So, as preparations for the holiday season start to ramp up amidst the pandemic, you can give changes to your digital e-shop a test drive. The improvements you make to your online store now will pay off in the short and the long run.
Selling online should be part of your business plan
Usually, once retail stores hit a certain revenue or headcount, creating an online presence via a website is a given. Not only does that broaden your customer base, but it also facilitates future in-store sales by helping consumers research products.
But, what happens if the pandemic hit before you had an online presence? Well, that’s a tough one — you probably need to get a website of your own sorted or create a partnership with another service. For example, some supermarkets or other retailers forge partnerships with delivery apps (e.g. Wish, Wolt) or take advantage of e-commerce services of sites like Shopify, Amazon, and Facebook.
Consider what’s best (and quicker) for you and set up a plan to start selling online. Comparison resources may help you in this process.
Moving your in-store experience online
Even if a retailer has an online store, there’s still a very real challenge: how to recreate the in-store experience in the — largely faceless — digital world. Your online customers will miss the benefit of seeing products in-person, a smile from the sales associate, and the personalized service that it brings.
So, how do you make sure you engage customers remotely as well as you do on location?
Some companies have found a workaround by integrating in-store experiences with online communication platforms. An example we love for its effectiveness is what Canadian company Dufresne did.
Retail sales over chat? Sure
As a home furnishing retailer, it was difficult to imagine Dufresne selling predominantly online — after all, who doesn’t want to try furniture before they buy or ask salespeople questions to help them make the right choice? During coronavirus, this presented a huge challenge, but also a great opportunity.
First, Dufresne decided to implement live chat and chatbots on their website, so customers could get immediate assistance from the team. With Acquire’s cobrowsing capabilities Dufresne employees were also able to help customers having any difficulty while shopping online.
Of course, video chat was the star of Dufresne’s efforts since it’s the closest to an actual in-person meeting you can get. Showcasing furniture via video allowed Dufresne’s customers to shop from the comfort of their home without worrying about how the furniture will look like in real life.
This use case can be reproduced in other types of retail stores (for example, car dealership Dilawri uses video to do remote vehicle walkarounds).
You can provide your customers with the choice to browse products over video and ask questions to your sales associates via chat. For 24/7 sales assistance, a chatbot is perfect for the job. With a chatbot, you can also let customers instantly book in-store appointments where available, staggering their arrival times to preserve physical distancing rules.
A complete platform gives you all these tools (and more) in one.
Your digital shopping cart needs love
So, your customers have filled their shopping cart with items. But will they buy?
Only if you don’t make it hard for them. Most of us have gone through a bad online checkout experience — you know, having to give everything short of (and sometimes including) your mother’s favorite pet’s name to sign up for an account, then go through multiple steps to pay and so on.
So, take a bit of time to look over the checkout process and make any necessary optimizations. Some solutions might be technical, others operational.
Here are some things to consider:
• Account creation. For example, do you force customers to create accounts or do you offer the buy-as-a-guest option? On the flip side, do you make the benefits of creating an account clear? Giving customers the ability to save billing and shipping information will let them buy faster next time; a win-win.
• Summary page. A clear summary before buying is good for customer experience. Customers are able to see their items and make any last minute changes they would otherwise have to contact you about. Standard practices include adding an image of each item, its attributes (e.g. size color, price), and cost-related factors like coupons, fees, gift cards, and taxes.
• Shipping costs. Have you ever bought something that cost just as much as its delivery fee? Or found yourself scouring through FAQs to find out how much you’d pay for shipping in your region? Shipping costs are a pain for consumers that you can often alleviate. At the very least, make these costs clear by adding them to the summary or even better, add a shipping fee calculation field right from the product pages.
• Mobile-friendliness. Mobile purchases need to be seamless, and they require some extra attention due to the smaller screens and possibility of slower connections (e.g. mobile data vs. Wi-Fi). If you can, consider developing an actual mobile app instead of just optimizing your mobile site.
• Payment process. Well-designed payment processes are a must these days; nobody wants to enter long credit or debit card numbers and details multiple times, but they do require complete security. Some sites are taking advantage of payment options like PayPal, Google Pay, or Apple Pay to make this process easy and safe.
Check your supply chain
A peek back to the Walmart story: CNBC reported that the business had trouble keeping many of the products customers purchased online in stock, and that they’ll be working to fix that.
Walmart’s sales volume may be a lot higher than most other retailers’, causing inventory to deplete quickly, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure your own supply chains are working properly, too.
Talk to your suppliers about availability and look for alternative sources if possible.
Most importantly, your website needs to be integrated with inventory control (most usually via an ERP system), so it can remove or flag items that aren’t available. It’s frustrating for customers to order something they may be excited about, only to discover it’s actually not in stock and that they have to wait weeks to get it. And while people may be more willing to look the other way during the pandemic, these occurrences may hurt your business later on.
Level up your customer support
You probably always had to deal with customers calling in or dropping by the store to complain, ask questions, request refunds or demand changes. But, how could you handle this volume completely online?
Luckily, digital customer support has made great strides and many companies already take advantage of effective tech to support their customers online. We mentioned some good options earlier — for example, you can use:
• Live chat. Customers who shop online can immediately get assistance or ask questions without leaving their product browsing page or shopping cart (just like in-store).
• Cobrowsing. This high-power alternative to screen sharing allows you to interact with your customer’s screens to help them navigate your site, proceed to checkout, or understand terms and conditions or shipping details.
• Video chat. Just like Dufresne cleverly used video for sales, they also used it for support. For example, with video, your customers can show you the problems they’re having with the product they bought, what actions they’re taking, and more, making it easier for you to solve their problems.
• Audio calls. Sometimes, it’s better to just talk about it. Customers can hear your voice and you can hear theirs, allowing for greater engagement than live chat. It also helps cut down on any potential misunderstandings and long-winded explanations.
Set your e-store up for success
Online sales are going nowhere — and a good thing, too. Even in times when people stay home (pandemics, natural disasters, or just those lazy Sunday evenings), you can still boost your revenue.
So, aim to recreate in-store experiences online, engage your customers, and make sure it’s easy, and pleasant, for them to buy from you and keep coming back. Don’t forget to go omnichannel: all your customer touchpoints, including social media, live chat, email, need to be connected (and this is easy with the right software).
And, if you find you need a website redesign, go ahead and do it — your customers will thank you for the improved aesthetic and operational quality.