The past year has been a hectic year for e-commerce businesses, with COVID-19 forcing the industry to act quickly — and, yes, sometimes break things — to overcome challenges, make the most of unprecedented growth opportunities and to serve customers.
As we enter 2022, it’s tempting to assume that most of the chaos is behind us. Unfortunately, this prospect seems premature. Things are always on the move, and in the new normal, the only real certainty is that digital commerce will have to continue to evolve and adapt to stay ahead.
This is especially true given that customer expectations have only increased during the pandemic. Consumers may miss in-person shopping, but they also appreciate the convenience of clicking through online catalogs, placing effortless orders, and receiving deliveries while still in their pajamas. As shoppers return to real-world stores, sellers will need to embed these benefits across their entire value chain.
Here are five essential ideas to keep in mind as you prepare for the year ahead:
1. SHOPPING IS A MORALE BOOSTER
Over the past year, shoppers have turned to e-commerce to escape the painful reality of the pandemic, clicking to buy everything from luxury items to leisurewear to comforting snacks in a bid to boost morale. People probably won’t stop thinking of shopping as a pick-me-up in the months to come, so be sure to help your customers relax.
That doesn’t just mean selling goodies like cocktail kits and luxury bedding. Any online seller can make shoppers smile if they deliver a high-quality, hassle-free shopping experience: you can delight customers by using automated recommendations to suggest the perfect product for their needs, for example, or by offering simplified shipping. and easy to manage returns. Even something as simple as a compelling product experience, with accurate information and accurate photos or videos, can dramatically enrich the customer journey. In the current climate, consumers want shopping to be easy, experience-driven, and fun, and merchants that offer these things will be well positioned to do better in 2022.
2. RETAILERS OFFER OTHER PAYMENT OPTIONS IN ADDITION TO CREDIT CARDS
A smart way to reduce consumer anxiety is to reduce the impact of purchase. Customers want to buy the products they want without worrying about whether they have the money available in their accounts, but not everyone has access to a credit card or wants to pay interest on purchases.
To solve this problem, many merchants offer buy now, pay later (BNPL) options; in fact, IDC estimates (paywall) that four-fifths of the top 2,000 retailers will offer BNPL by 2023. These installment plans are still a form of credit, but they can usually be set up with a click, and often aren’t does not bear interest. Thus, they can build brand loyalty and encourage larger purchases. BNPL options also give merchants end-to-end control of the customer experience, eliminating the risk that a rejected credit card will lead to abandoned carts or substandard customer experiences.
3. A SALE IS JUST THE BEGINNING
The brand experience doesn’t end when a customer clicks to buy; it encompasses their entire relationship with your brand, including after-sales support. During the pandemic, shoppers have seen this more clearly: According to Forrester (paywall), more than a third of U.S. online consumers have been discouraged from making purchases due to fears about return processes, forcing sellers to e-commerce to think more carefully about post-purchase. interactions.
This year, I think we’ll see more merchants take an omnichannel approach to customer service and offer hassle-free policies that include online shopping and in-store return options. Smart warranty and post-purchase support will likely become more important, helping consumers buy with confidence and enabling merchants to build deeper and longer lasting relationships with customers, a win-win situation for sellers and customers. .
4. IT’S GOOD TO BE GREEN
In the same way that sellers look at the entire product lifecycle when dealing with customers, buyers look at the big picture when it comes to buying decisions. Sustainability, for example, is increasingly top of mind, with IDC finding that around 70% of consumers now consider a brand’s sustainability efforts when deciding whether or not to buy from it.
To leverage sustainability, look beyond your marketing messages and find concrete, meaningful ways to showcase environmental stewardship. Decarbonizing your supply chain, products, and delivery network can be a very effective approach, provided you also find ways to credibly communicate these benefits to your customers.
5. ANALYZES ARE NOT OPTIONAL
Delivering on all these different fronts requires a connected and data-driven approach. It’s all very well to say that you’re going to deliver a better end-to-end customer experience, but to achieve that, you need end-to-end visibility to help you optimize your performance. Consolidating operational data from marketing, sales, service and fulfillment into a single unified analytics suite will prove more important than ever in 2022 as merchants seek the tools they need to drive continuous improvement.
More and more merchants can use artificial intelligence tools to interpret data from across their organizations in real time. Machine learning tools can detect anomalies or new trends in one operational area and then use that information to inform strategic decision-making in others. Marketing data can inform inventory management, for example, while customer service metrics can be used to address fulfillment issues.
CONTINUE TO EVOLVE
The world of e-commerce has changed dramatically during the era of COVID-19, and it will likely continue to do so in 2022. Fortunately, the pandemic has made the world of e-commerce more resilient and has given merchants the tools they need. need to adapt and thrive. By learning to overcome recent challenges, sellers have found new ways to gain efficiencies, integrate disparate aspects of their operations, and create lasting value for customers.
The imperative for online sellers in 2022 will be to address this process. Our industry continues to evolve, and brands will also need to evolve in order to anticipate changing customer needs and find creative responses to unexpected challenges. Merchants who streamline their operations, improve their strategic planning, and create seamless, compelling experiences for consumers will be better positioned to roll with the punches, capitalize on opportunities, and drive major growth this year.
Omair Tariq is the CEO and co-founder of Cart.com, the first e-commerce company as a service.