- Market conditions have shifted; they’re on a volatility roller coaster ride with an indeterminate amount of track of opportunity.
- US ecommerce sales in July rose 55% year-over-year (YoY) reaching a record $66.3 billion.
- 73% of consumers who are shopping online more since the pandemic plan to continue doing so in future.
- Ready or not, retailers need be planning new ways to deal with demand fluctuations across ecommerce categories now and plan for the holidays.
In the face of dramatic shifts in consumer behavior, social distancing recommendations, and no end in sight to the uncertainty and changes in consumer behavior caused by the coronavirus, retailers are finding ecommerce and the mobile shopping experience more important than ever before.
In fact, according to new data released from the Adobe Digital Index US ecommerce sales in July rose 55% year-over-year (YoY) reaching a record $66.3 billion.
Strategies and technologies in the early stages of implementation or still on the horizon have been rapidly deployed. Entire operating models are being re-evaluated.
Market conditions have shifted; they’re on a volatitiy roller coaster ride with an indeterminate amount of track. Retail costs, consumer spending, public health recommendations, and labor availability are all in flux.
As Daphne Howland, senior reporter for Retail Dive, wrote recently, “Shoppers will return. But they’re living through a pandemic that will change them, maybe forever.”
According to Software Advice 73% of consumers who are shopping online more since the pandemic plan to continue doing so in future.
As consumers preferences change at literally the blink on an eye, the pressure is on retailers to make shopping experiences as seamless and pain-free as possible.
Optimizing to online and mobile shoppers’ needs must be top of mind and central to any business shift being made as companies move forward.
How COVID changed ecommerce for in-the-moment consumers
Today, over 81% of Americans own smartphones and 49.8 million—close to a sixth of the country’s population—are mobile-only Internet users.
As the Coronavirus took hold and shutdown orders took effect across the US, consumers went online to find answers to their immediate needs. At the height of the lockdown, between March 23rd and 30th, ecommerce marketplaces saw a 14% increase in volume.
Ecommerce initially posed challenges, though. During a pandemic, supply chain interruptions are a very real concern.
On March 17th, Amazon notified sellers it would only accept shipments of household staples and medical supplies to its warehouses, a restriction that stayed in place until mid-April. And although the postal service is considered an essential service, its continued operation doesn’t prevent shipping delays.
Consumers began looking closer to home for their in-the-moment needs. After an initial wave of panic buying and stockpiling essential groceries, other needs became apparent.
How will we stay occupied at home? How will we incorporate workspace into existing living spaces when the kids are home from school, too? How will we stay active and healthy—both mentally and physically—when our regular activities and routines are unavailable? How will we get what we need while limiting contact with others as much as possible?
For example at BrightEdge we see similar results for retail and apparel research.
Beginning in March 2020, “mens suits” saw a drop in search, presumably because companies have slowed hiring, there is less reason to dress up for work, and weddings are being postponed making suits an unnecessary purchase.
On the other hand, March 2020 saw a huge jump in searches for “loungewear set” as more people sought comfort in their homes.
Shopping closer to home drove meteoric increases in (and indeed necessitated the provision of) alternative service models: buy online pickup in-store (BOPIS), contactless payment and delivery, ordering by phone, and curbside pickup.
Brands may need to rethink the entire ecommerce transaction start to finish—how will your brand deliver in case of future supply chain interruptions?
You can’t deliver an exceptional experience for an in-the-moment need with a few weeks’ delay in getting the product to your customer’s door.
Optimizing the mobile experience goes beyond the transaction
Optimizing the local consumer’s experience requires that each customer can easily order from a mobile-friendly interface—bonus points for personalization and other features customers had become accustomed to pre-COVID.
But moreover, retailers will need to account for consumers’ health concerns, hygiene practices, and the possibility of backsliding into stricter lockdown conditions as outbreaks dictate.
Yet even as the shopping environment has changed so dramatically and new behaviors are introduced, longstanding consumer behaviors remain.
Shopping for essential needs has become an exercise in patience; gone are the days of the leisurely stroll through the grocery store, smelling and feeling the produce for ripeness.
But people still have concerns about the freshness of their food. Shoppers still want to be able to identify a sale item and take advantage of a promotion. Customers still want to feel as though the brand knows their preferences and cares about the relationship.
Where stores used to rely on a smiling customer service clerk or in-store signage to convey that important information and relationship-strengthening interaction, it must now be part of the mobile shopping experience.
We still want shopping to be an enjoyable experience, whether it’s for essential groceries or luxury items to treat ourselves. At the very least, it shouldn’t be a chore.
Yet that’s exactly what shopping in-store has become for many as floors are marked with lanes and directional arrows, clothing store changerooms are shuttered, masks are mandatory in many areas, and the combination of limited store capacity and enhanced hygiene practices may result in lineups and wait times.
As consumers seek to avoid the less savory aspects of shopping during COVID, brands enabling exceptional mobile and online experiences are best positioned to win their business. Consider these optimization tips as you strategize going forward:
- By 2021, mobile ecommerce sales are expected to account for 54% of total ecommerce sales. Enable mobile commerce—that is, the completion of monetary transactions using a mobile device—to facilitate contactless payment. This could mean offering in-app payment, launching an ecommerce offering, accepting Apple Pay/Android Pay, etc.
- Review your supply chain through a critical lens, with an eye to reducing costs and facilitating last-mile delivery in case of lockdown. You may not need a massive showroom right now, but smaller warehouse operations that get you closer to your major markets may be beneficial.
- Focus on UX and mobile speed above all else. Consumers have no patience for slow-loading pages and lagging mobile apps. Consider investing in progressive web app (PWA) technology to support your navigability, functionality, and site speed goals. A PWA will look and feel like a native app for customers regardless of the type of mobile device they use. Chinese marketplace Aliexpress, for example, saw 84% more conversions on iOS and attracted 104% more new users after switching from its mobile app to a PWA.
- Offer BOPIS, curbside pickup, contactless delivery and other service delivery and payment methods. Banks that had drive-thru ATMs on the horizon may find that now is the time to prioritize it. Healthcare providers, spas and estheticians, and other service providers need to ensure that online appointment booking is available.
- Remove friction from the returns and exchanges process. Make the policies clear and easy to locate on your mobile site or app.
- Prepare now for every eventuality this holiday season. Dynamic pricing will help retailers respond in near real-time to competitor prices and seasonal trends—whatever the season may bring.
- Get your AI strategy together for personalizing and automating the shopping experience. AI is set to drive nearly 45% of global revenue by 2030 through affordability gains, increased product variety, and hyper-personalization.
Ready or not, retailers need be planning new ways to deal with demand fluctuations across eCommerce categories now. Keeping a daily eye on trends whilst one on the future holiday season takes a lot of work.
Leverage market insights identify and act on opportunities in real-time will give winners the competitive advantage. That goes for traditional brick-and-mortar as much as ecommerce businesses—and every type of hybrid in between.
Jim Yu is the founder and CEO of BrightEdge, the leading enterprise SEO and content performance platform.