The year 2020 can easily be crowned as the year of deliveries. The global lockdown forced many people out of stores and shopping malls, so some companies were completely pushed out of business and some had to fully move their operations online in order to survive. That is how e-commerce saw unprecedented success. Sure, the share of the digital retail was already steadily getting bigger, but in the year of home confinement it grew three times more.
Digitalization became one of the main themes in business media, and many sources claimed that the world has gone online and is not coming back. Yet, 2021 proves this to be an overestimation. As vaccines have been distributed and the world is reopening, consumers are going back to the old habits.
Let’s take the UK as an example, where 64% of the population is fully vaccinated, and the US, where this number is only 53%. If we look at the dynamic of offline and online shares in global retail sales, the correlation is clear. The number of offline shoppers in the UK is almost back to the pre-pandemic level (75.9% compared to 78.2%). In the States, however, 83% of the nation is hitting the store, which is 6% less than in the pre- COVID times. In other countries, the trend is pretty much the same. What does this mean for e-commerce? It is now time for online retailers to be flexible and creative again if they want to keep the customer base gained during the pandemic.
What’s Great About Offline Shopping and How It Applies to Online
During the past year, we were flooded with headlines dedicated to the advantages of buying online. Yet today people still prefer to visit brick-and-mortar stores. It looks like in order to stay ahead of the competitors, e-commerce businesses have to remind themselves what’s so good about in-person shopping and learn how they can cover those needs.
Social Interaction Everyone is starved for face-to-face interaction after many months of isolation. Even going out to get groceries feels like reconnecting with the community. Of course, online retailers can’t offer exactly the same experience, but they shouldn’t underestimate the power of social media.
Marketing campaigns that focus on gathering customers around some idea or cause make them feel like a part of a group they can be loyal to, which, in turn, cultivates loyalty to the brand. It’s not enough to just present an opportunity for people to get into a conversation, companies have to be actively involved in the community they are targeting. The more human a business looks, the more likely consumers are to engage with it.
Empathetic customer service representatives are a vital part of this. In the age of chatbots and AI, people want real interaction. A great way to make your customers feel known and heard is hyper-personalization, and online retailers have all the tools to use it properly. Today, retail software solutions allow companies to accumulate and process large amounts of data in order to understand their customers deeply and interact with them on a more personal, friendly level.
Try-ons and transparency Nobody likes to buy a pig in the poke. While shopping offline, customers get to try on the clothes, feel the texture of the product, and better estimate its quality. We are used to relying on our touch when picking something out. It is hard for online shopping sites to compete with brick-and-mortar stores in this regard. They try though.
Some have a convenient return policy that allows buyers to get the purchase, try it on and send it back or exchange if it doesn’t fit. This method sounds convenient, but in reality, most customers find it too bothersome, and eco-activists criticize its impact on the environment.
AR/VR experience can serve as an alternative. Users upload their photos or input body measurements into the app, and it generates a realistic image of their body with a selected outfit on. The technology is not perfect yet and needs to be tuned and developed further, but if an online store wants to future-proof itself, looking into immersive buying experiences would be an important first step.
Having the Best of Both Worlds
While offline stores are approaching the renaissance, e-companies might want to re-evaluate their strategies and consider going both ways. For example, many successful retailers are playing with the idea of micro-fulfilment centres, the store-within-store concept, and the innovative reimagining of the business.
The economy is still recovering, and almost every company has felt the effect of the 2020 crisis. It’s the perfect time for retailers to forge partnerships and give the customers an experience they have never had before. Especially as the technology is evolved enough to support it: a lot of collaborations that were impossible before are entirely feasible now.
E-commerce boomed all over the world, showing consumers new convenient and safe ways to buy anything, from evening outfits to vital medical supplies.
In countries with good vaccination rates, customers are eager to get back to the old habits. Physical stores haven’t lost their appeal to the public: people can use offline shopping as a recreational and social activity, clearly see what they are buying, make better purchasing choices and sometimes even reduce their carbon footprint. How can online retailers possibly compete?
With today’s software, they actually can. In addition to all of the advantages exclusive to operating online, like lower prices, more variety, convenience, and discreetness, they can now provide a lot of the perks offered by those operating offline. Omnichannel communication, hyper-personalization and enhanced customer service, AR/VR fittings — all of these tools are here to impress the customers and preserve their loyalty. Let’s not forget, however, that while the competition is a vital part of the market, so are partnerships. The retail industry still has many opportunities to bring forth innovative concepts that both online and offline businesses will benefit from.