Empathy and flexibility: the future of e-commerce

The learning curve of e-commerce is expected to continue into 2022. New customers, new competition and new technologies abound, with pandemic uncertainty always on the mind.

The key for retailers will be to manage supply chain issues and overcome the impact of any further Covid restrictions by forging strong customer relationships across digital channels. Ultimately, the task is arguably to foster consumer confidence in a hybrid form of long-term commerce.

Eve Sleep CEO Cheryl Calverley put it succinctly at the end of 2020: “The savvy consumer is going to have very different expectations of this e-commerce space,” she told Econsultancy. “The kind of expectations they have for John Lewis, Debenhams and M&S – and they will now expect them [from] electronic trade marks.

Baby boomers, to take a demographic example, spend more money online and they need to be confident that: their package will arrive on time, their personal data is being used responsibly and, as noted, the products are portrayed accurately, payment is secure and customer service is readily available.

All online shoppers experience e-commerce in light of their changing lifestyle. So what are the ongoing trends that will focus business minds over the next 12 months?

Flexible, creative and empathetic experiences

In an article for Forbes, Maria Morais of SAP talks about “a call for flexible, creative and empathetic experiences.” It highlights the DIY trend for example – this was pronounced at the start of the pandemic and resulted in people doing more activities themselves, such as crafts or recipe boxes, without talk about home renovation.

For e-commerce experiences in particular – flexibility, creativity, and empathy can prove to be a powerful rule of three. Flexibility is going to be a valuable trait, both in terms of how customers can self-serve and also in how businesses can quickly adapt to supply chain issues or physical disruption. From online merchandising and ad creation to fulfillment options, having the backend and frontend work together seamlessly will reduce waste and, just as important, customer frustration.

Creativity in general is increasingly important as the online competition continues to grow. It’s not enough to have a usable website with a great product, your e-commerce branding and online advertising is downstream of branding. The content must carry across the brand.

And finally, empathy. This could refer to the customer-centric culture that has long been advocated by some digital-focused retailers. After-sales service in particular could become the crux of customer loyalty. But there’s also an interesting recalibration of what a personalized service or experience looks like. With the phasing out of third-party cookies, hyper-targeting has lost its appeal and brands are expected to take a more measured and human approach to personalization, focusing on what customers really value. In a recent podcast, for example, Morais of SAP said, “Real time is a design decision, not a requirement for customization.” While speed can of course be an advantage, the point is that brands shouldn’t let the possibilities of technology dictate their strategy.

The evolution of D2C

Major brands from FMCG to consumer electronics saw their D2C e-commerce revenues skyrocket in 2020 and continued to invest in customer relationships in 2021. And while there are complexities at D2C – the vice -Funko EMEA Marketing and Business Development President Eva Verhaak, for example, recently told Econsultancy: “We had to be smart to reach our fans without significantly impacting our business partners.” – this does not mean that direct selling will not be an ongoing trend.

Brands will strive to get closer to loyal customers, develop their first party data and equip themselves to market in an environment where media and commerce are getting closer and closer. The rise of social commerce means that brands need to hone their skills or work more closely with agencies in areas such as performance marketing.

Investing in reliable execution will also open up new business opportunities.

… and the omnichannel imperative

Unified Commerce – a modular platform that serves all sales channels – has a long history of helping tech-savvy retailers optimize fulfillment, overstock and inventory levels, sales inventory, and in-store distribution. It also has obvious benefits if CRM can combine in-store and online activities to paint an accurate picture of loyalty.

Sustainable practices enable great customer experiences

Maria Morais of SAP is also the co-founder and president of Circklo, helping to develop digital businesses that are both lucrative and useful in the circular economy. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, she devotes a report by SAP and Oxford Economics which found, in a survey of more than 2,000 small and medium-sized businesses, that 73% of respondents “top performers” named the top performers. “Sustainable practices” as a way to measure quality of the customer experience. It was fourth on a list, behind high quality products and services (88%), competitive prices (82%), and fast, convenient delivery (80%).

As Morais writes, “Individually, these elements of the customer experience are essential. But when combined, they can fuel powerful customer engagement… in today’s uncertain environment.

Resilience enabled by technology and data

Partly because of continued rising acquisition costs, merchants have redoubled their efforts to retain customers. Morais argues that “naturally, data unification and personalization becomes a priority” for marketers who focus on longer-term customer relationships. This turned out to be the case at a recent SAP roundtable where retailers discussed their investment plans for 2022. When asked about their top two considerations for the digital commerce strategy in 2022, 43% of participants said affected personalization, which was at the top of the pile, followed by “automating interactions with customers using technology and data” (29%).

There is no doubt that there will be some exciting trends in online shopping in 2022, including new developments in immersive and mixed reality experiences, q-commerce, retail media and AI. , to name a few. But brands that develop an infrastructure to support flexibility and deepen customer relationships will be well positioned despite the continuing turmoil in the retail industry as a whole.

Roll on 2022.


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Anne G. Cash