Due to Covid-19, which resulted in the global lockdown, consumers retail habits have undeniably changed. Retailers have not seen such a drastic shift in customer behavior in decades!
A lot of companies all over the world decided to blend their physical and online sales channels with prime focus on online sales or even completely turn to e-commerce and close their physical stores. Scientists predict that it is unlikely to return back to physical stores in the same scale as it was before lockdown once restrictions relaxed.
Why haven’t we seen such a big e-commerce movement before? Let’s see what were the main doubts for companies to switch to online sales before the lockdown.
Customer Experience and Customer Service
The question #1: Do we need physical stores? After lockdown was introduced, people, who were more than skeptical about online shopping, have no other choice than buying online. It makes sense, because majority of the customers want to see and feel the things they are buying.
What about blending physical shops experience with the online shopping experience? Nowadays it has become more and more popular opening showrooms instead of physical stores. Showroom could fulfill this necessity of touch and feel for things we are buying. In comparison with a full functional store, a showroom requires less space and fewer staff for product presentation and standard customer support.
Most of us know that IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad started his furniture business in 1958 from opening a showroom where customers checked displays and placed orders. This process has not changed very much from that time and proved itself as very efficient, flexible and scalable. Maybe Ingvar has predicted the future and aligned the business model to satisfy the sales process for future needs, who knows.
Due to the fact that there is a lack of sales staff to support online visitors, improving online customer experiences in e-commerce stores becomes far more critical than in physical stores. Nowadays e-commerce platforms are able to offer a great online customer experience.
Planning the switch to online commerce should take into consideration not only an impact on the existing physical store. Customer experience and customer service processes should be improved in all sales channels. The good example is using a virtual cart on your smartphone in a physical store with future conversion of this cart into your online order. It may provide a completely new customer experience and open new ways to sell goods.
What about returns and refunds? Currently a lot of people use physical stores just to return items they have bought online. Simply because sending items back to the seller takes too much time and in majority of cases clients need to print also the return label, not to mention that the refund process is extremely slow. Services like click & collect, order from or return to store are only the first steps in this long journey.
Why not to automate this process and organize special Return Service machines or extend showrooms mentioned above with that kind of service? Optimizing business processes for e-commerce implementation and providing unique customer experiences are main ingredients and key factors for future success of e-commerce stores and the whole business.
Cost-Savings and Cost-Efficiency
The cost of an e-commerce platform is not exhausted once the platform is up and running. That’s true. In a physical store business owners need to plan variety of expenses related to store personal, rent, security, renovation of the store, etc. Providers of an e-commerce platform, need to update, maintain, extend it as well. It can all add up a lot of cost to e-commerce platform owners.
At the same time, there are some completely new possibilities in cost-savings and cost-efficiency. For example, it is much easier to change products and marketing strategy for online commerce solutions than for physical stores. With help of online marketing, social media, and analytic tools, it’s possible to test different marketing approaches, monitor how well customers respond to offerings, and create campaigns directed to specific target groups that increase customer engagement. It may help to save thousands on ideas that may not succeed.
Instead of presenting an average offer to an average target group, e-commerce solutions have access to the consumer in the very moment of decision taking. Introducing Artificial Intelligence, Data Mining, Machine Learning and Predictive Analytics in the sales process may generate insights to create and transmit personalized and customized offers for target customers.
On the other side, there is a possibility to automate most of the back-office processes with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, resulting in reducing number of storekeepers to only a few on a region or country level. The additional benefit of e-commerce stores is extending business to the new markets. It is much easier to open up e-commerce for new countries or even the whole region than opening physical stores.
Online sales is a dynamically growing slice of the pie. It is noticeable that blending features from both business models and sales channels offers strong advantages. So if it’s not necessary to visit the physical stores, let’s save the gasoline on commuting to stores, spend time with our families near a lake or in a forest, invest additional time for self education and buy online.
And if it’s necessary – showrooms with integrated e-commerce customer experience are a great alternative and substitution to a regular physical store.