3 Lessons Ecommerce Retailers Can Learn from the Pandemic

The social and economic implications of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic have given ecommerce retailers a crash course in the importance of being agile.Here are three key lessons online sellers can learn from the pandemic, however long it lasts, and carry well into the future.

Customers’ Relationship to Online Shopping Has Changed

Many retailers have seen their sales in flux one way or another. For some, the general uncertainty of the economy has slowed sales for the time being. But many merchants have seen an influx of online orders pouring in as a result of stay-at-home orders.

Things are unlikely to snap back to business as usual, even after those orders are lifted. As CIO cites, although 59 percent of consumers globally report they had “high levels of interaction” with brick-and-mortar retailers, less than one-fourth of those respondents (24 percent) believe they’ll return to that level after the pandemic.

The percentage of people who consider themselves likely to interact with online retailers at a high level has risen from 30- to 37 percent. It’s safe to say many customers’ fundamental relationships to online shopping have evolved.

While there’ll still be a balance between physical shopping and online shopping, it seems the pandemic has motivated many people to embrace ecommerce more quickly than they might have otherwise.

It’s Smart to Diversify Supply Chains Before Disaster Strikes

Customers find few things more off-putting than learning the products they want are sold out or back ordered. In fact, it’s often enough to drive them into the arms of a competitor. Many retailers have experienced the ill effects of shortages firsthand in the wake of the pandemic — although there are any number of reasons a supply chain can become interrupted, from natural disasters to regulatory changes.

Now more than ever before, the risks of “putting all your eggs in one basket” are glaringly apparent. Forward-thinking ecommerce sellers should do what they can to insulate supply chains against risk, including diversifying suppliers and creating a contingency plan complete with backup sources wherever possible.

Going forward, ecommerce analytics will be even more integral to proactive decision-making surrounding supply chains, inventory and sales.

Brands Need to Find New, Digital Ways to Connect

Yes, ecommerce has swelled during the pandemic due in part to consumers needing to obtain certain items online. But these interactions in no way take the place of meaningful relationships between buyers and sellers. Brands need to find new, digital ways to connect deeply with their audience — with the twin goals of acquiring new customers and retaining existing ones.

We’ll likely see more of a premium placed on digital experiences, which means it’s time for ecommerce companies to get creative.

Here are just a few examples of this digital relationship building outlined in RetailDive:

  • A skincare consultant has started offering personal, virtual consulting assessments as well as virtual lessons on how to get the most out of their product line.
  • Many beauty and apparel brands are hosting virtual meals, happy hours and product try-on sessions with experts/influencers.
  • Wellness brands have started livestreaming free sessions for yoga, meditation, exercise, working from home and childcare.
  • Nike canceled subscription fees on its premium content services for the duration of the pandemic, offering users access to experts and programs.
  • An athleisure brand filled its home page with clothes meant to wear “at home” after seeing an uptick in organic searches, anticipating customers’ needs and making it easier for them to shop in one convenient collection.

Pandemic or no, finding new ways to connect with shoppers online — outside of regular sales — will be increasingly crucial to building loyalty and optimizing customer lifetime value. And, as always, engaging customers more deeply online gives companies more marketing data with which to personalize interactions and improve their offerings.

It’s hard to know what the future holds, but what the online retail industry can focus on is taking these lessons — connecting in meaningful way with customers across digital channels, diversifying supply chains and anticipating growing demand — and applying them.

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