Global electronic commerce (e-commerce) has tripled from a decade ago. Over the last years, in addition to business-to-consumer (B2C) companies more and more of business-to-business (B2B) companies – whether in search of new business opportunities or as a response to competitive forces – have begun to increase their online presence, their use of digital tools and the adoption of practices typically employed by B2C e-commerce players. For example, large industrials trying to transact with suppliers and customers exclusively via digital platforms, and small, niche manufacturers of engineering components receiving ad hoc orders from private hobbyists who have found them online. In all cases, companies are being forced to adapt their supply chains to respond faster and more flexibly to the opportunities that are arising.
E-commerce has brought new standards of customer service, convenience and choice for the consumer. Yet its share of total trade last year, at below 10% worldwide, was still modest. Fast growth plus relatively low market share means that there is still enormous opportunity for growth in this sector.
What’s dangerous is not to evolve.
If your company is staring down that gigantic e-commerce market funnel and wondering, “What do we do?” rest assured, you’re not alone. Running an online commerce channel is inherently complex. It’s not as easy as translating your bricks and mortar strategy to an online platform. Nor can you simply upgrade your existing business model with a bit of ‘digital dust’ here and there. No, global e-commerce is highly complex because market conditions vary hugely between countries due to differences in internet penetration, smart phone usage, demographics, regulatory climate, logistics and transport infrastructure.
E-commerce is not a luxury. It’s not just for multinational conglomerates. And it’s not just one among many growth strategies. Global ecommerce is a necessity. Long gone are the times when simply having an online presence in a niche market was your competitive advantage. Instead businesses razor sharp focus on flawless customer experience and scalable revenue-generating activities requires automated e-commerce to build and sustain success. It’s the disruptive force that allows entrepreneurs to save time, save money, and sell more. Ultimately, it provides the unprecedented opportunity for businesses to scale exponentially.
Specifically, we see massive, digital-driven breakthroughs happening across three fronts:
1. Excellent product-related content
Great content is educational, helpful, and entertaining. Product content is the most important factor following price and delivery time. The customer journey starts with the content featured on the product pages, as it forms the basis for the look & feel of your online presence. Issues such as price or delivery appear in the final conversion stages.
Consumer attention spans are spread thin, and audiences have high-quality standards for what they’re reading, watching, and interacting with. Therefore, thousands of pieces of content between your sales channels need to be carefully crafted and synchronized, both online and when exported to printed catalogs. In addition, the product catalog needs to address keywords customers’ search for and keywords competitors are aiming to be found for first online. Poor, scarce, and unattractive product content, on the other hand, can have a negative impact on other areas of your business, such as returned product due to a mistake or lack of content and weakened confidence in your brand due to insufficient or confusing information.
2. Personalization and targeting
E-commerce personalization and targeting has been a hot trend in customer engagement for a while now. Many consumers can hardly remember what it was like to visit a website that didn’t use at least some degree of personalization to better engage with them. Personalized online experiences based on demographics, previous buying behavior and browsing history are just the start. For example, customers have a diverse range of preferences—not just limited to their differing needs for products and features, but also in terms of pricing. As a result, many e-commerce sites are offering personalized pricing and deals to suit the demands of each customer. E-commerce sites are not only getting better at analyzing their customers’ purchase behavior and price sensitivity but also at understanding their propensity to buy. They then use this data to create customized promotions and attractive incentive offers suited to each customer in an effort to improve their chances of driving conversions. With the growth in such targeting solutions, e-commerce sites employ precision re-targeting their audiences with smart product recommendations based on customers’ previous interactions with brands.
Delivering the most personalized online experiences possible is key because the more direct and focused the experience is to the individual buyer, the better the chance to earn trust, make a sale, and position your brand for repeat sales. To automate and scale this practice is the objective for visionary brands and those looking to transform digitally.
3. Melding bricks & mortar with online
Companies increasingly are melding digital and physical experiences to gain an edge over the competition. The retail industry leads the way through combining offline and online data in real time to build comprehensive customer profiles that deliver better, more personalized experiences across all touch points. This helps ensure that customer experiences and relationships remain consistent regardless of where and how consumers interact with the brand. The most innovative companies in this space go one step further and defy traditional industry categories. For instance, Amazon does not just sell goods: it leases cargo planes, produces films and offers a voice assistant, Alexa. Its cloud-computing business, Amazon Web Services (AWS), powers its own operations along with those of many other firms and is a vital source of profits. Alibaba’s business is even broader than Amazon’s, including not just shopping, entertainment and cloud computing but payments and social media as well. Both companies’ activities generate cash and rich streams of data which can be used to improve their existing services and add more.
How Businesses Can Evolve
When the internet made e-commerce a phenomenon, companies like Amazon and Google quickly turned customers’ digital data into their biggest competitive advantage. In the process, they became the world’s biggest data powerhouses. What do these industry giants all have in common? They, and many other companies, have built or expanded on their success by capitalizing on emerging technologies. They assessed technology’s implications for their companies, customers, and industries and then adapted their business models accordingly. What they didn’t do was grasp blindly at the newest shiny thing and hope for the best – and neither should you. Not every new technology is meant to help your company grow, and even ones that can aren’t guaranteed to succeed.
To satisfy the scaling online demand, companies should consider one or more of these three functional areas to a successful e-commerce journey:
1. Digital Platform
The development of an e-commerce platform must take into account the typical customer journey and incorporate functionality and technologies that enhance customer experience. Successful e-commerce encompasses integrated end-to-end business processes. For instance, a digitalization of the product catalog and the inclusion of a fine-tuned search engine are necessary. Additional features such as; mobile/tablet-enabled connectivity, good data protection and secure online payments have become standard expectations for e-commerce platforms. To facilitate better visibility and alignment across the supply chain, the e-commerce platform needs to seamlessly integrate with the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and other operational systems such as Product lifecycle management (PLM) system and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. As a result of this connectivity, it can become easier for companies to exploit new business opportunities.
The most sophisticated e-commerce sites also drive real value for their businesses and customers by incorporating technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning algorithms, big data analytics and business intelligence insights. These technologies allow the streamlining of internal and external business processes and improve the accuracy of demand planning and forecasting.
2. Automation Anywhere
Modern customers want to buy anywhere, get anywhere, and return anywhere using any channel they want. That is why companies should build presence offline, online, on mobile apps, social platforms, and marketplaces to meet the high expectations. The right mix of tools in e-commerce is needed to deliver a seamless integration making omnipresence possible. This integration is mostly done through omni-channel commerce which is a multi-channel sales approach i.e. combining online, bricks and mortar store, tablet and/or smartphone options. This seamless integration increases customer engagement and helps companies to amplify their business goals and targets by reaching customers globally.
To ensure a truly seamless end-to-end process, companies have to improve the integration of business processes as well as the delivery and collection options for their customers. Based on the experience of the B2C sector, there is also clear recognition that the customer experience can be damaged by poor management of the last-mile delivery process. Companies are therefore investing to ensure that the final touch point with the customer is a positive one. For instance, in the food industry, companies set up ‘Click & Collect’ solutions.
3. Supply Chain
Logistics plays a critical role in any e-commerce offering. This is not just about last-mile delivery –getting orders to customers – but about the overall fulfillment strategy. Customers want speed, reliability, traceability and convenience in delivery, supported by an effective returns and exchange policy for damaged products. To increase their competitiveness and address different customer requirements, e-commerce site can emulate the strategy of online retail platforms by providing multiple transport and delivery options, dependent on respective cost, transit time or service requirements. Thanks to integration with the systems of transport providers, customers can select their preferred solution with full visibility of the costs involved.
Successful e-commerce depends on adopting new logistics models and utilizing distribution properties that may include mega e-fulfillment centers, parcel hubs and delivery centers for rapid order fulfillment, and returns processing centers. In these models, e-commerce firms are taking increasing control over their e-commerce supply chains – either to cross-dock items shipped from larger e-fulfillment centers or to ship certain ‘fast moving’ products directly to the customers. For example, in the U.S. Amazon has started to open smaller scale distribution centers to offer same-day delivery services. By contrast, in France Amazon’s demand remains focused on very large units, with the last mile delivery being operated by third party providers. The importance of this function is highlighted by the very high rates of return in certain sectors, such as fashion retail.
We are still early in the e-commerce era. Availability and scale of data is enabling e-commerce to move from simply offering “massive product selection + 24/7 shopping moments” to “curated product discovery and 24×7 recommendations.” Data as a currency is going to drive a need for even more granular and comprehensive views of individual customers. One of the key levers of e-commerce sales growth are now offerings that enable even the smallest merchants to set up a best-in-class e-commerce experience. To have an extremely successful e-commerce offering, you don’t need to be an expert in every facet of technology; you just need to be an expert in your core offering.
Is your industry being disrupted by e-commerce sites? Do your online visitors get the right customer experience to become loyal, long-term customers? Is it time for your company to get off the sideline and transform digitally? Contact Upside Digital to learn how we can help your organization to succeed in the digital era.
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