Investing In Customer Experience In The Next Normal

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This unprecedented, digital-first holiday season is well underway. In response, retailers and brands shifted their marketing to accommodate a new holiday shopping reality, an entire “Black Fall,” an ongoing season of deals. Piling on to the challenges, a potentially disastrous “Shippagedon” looms, and retailers must address the impending shipping conflicts from the nonstop, heavy online shopping traffic.

Our co-founder, Allan Dick, sat down with David Bolotsky (CEO and Founder, Uncommon Goods), Rebecca Traverzo (VP Marketing, ThirdLove), Bill Bass (CMO, FULLBEAUTY Brands) and Meghan Stabler (VP Product Marketing, BigCommerce) in a recent webinar to discuss growth strategies for the post-holiday battle plan for 2021 and beyond.

The recurring theme throughout the webinar that all brands considered crucial to their holiday success was customer experience. Our panelists called out three key areas to invest in to improve overall customer experience:

  • Website
  • Logistics and supply chain
  • Marketing and advertising

Below is a full recap of the session. You can also watch the recording on BigMarker.

Ecommerce Trends with Staying Power

The COVID-19 pandemic led to what’s now seen as a permanent shift in consumer behavior, as more consumers opt for online shopping. Bolotsky of Uncommon Goods has seen firsthand how new customers, post-COVID, are “more productive” than pre-COVID customers, as data from Uncommon Goods shows they are more likely to buy again. Bass added his own data from FULLBEAUTY Brands, revealing that pre-COVID and post-COVID customers behaved identically, stemming his fear that post-COVID customers would be less valuable. New customers have proven their long-term value and businesses can expect many more new customers to follow suit. Although these new online customer behaviors may dissipate once stores open again without regulations, online shopping traffic will still remain high, meaning many facets of this “next normal” are here to stay.

In addition to investing in website, logistics and marketing to improve experiences in a post-COVID world, the panel outlined a few strategies for what Stabler of BigCommerce referenced as the “next normal:”

  • Implement the right prices and discounts for your target customer.
  • With the increasing convenience of shopping online, in-store and curbside pickup, the process from discovering the product to delivery and returns must be streamlined.
  • Capture the consumer where they are, on any platform. Utilize all online channels like Facebook Shops, Instagram checkout, marketplaces such as Amazon and Ebay and email

The Big Three

Results from Retail Dive’s Brand Studio 2020 survey, “Preparing for the Future of Ecommerce,” suggests three main areas of investments that retail and brand executives are considering in this new COVID climate:

  1. Website
    There are many touchpoints for consumers, but ultimately, the website is the most important. The experience should be hyper-personalized. The wrong implementation of your customer analytics could lower conversion rates. Blend content with commerce, offering examples of how to use an item or what the item could look like to better the customer experience. This can decrease the amount of returns if customers see the product in context and know exactly what they are getting. Allow user-generated content on the website to increase trust and credibility between the consumer and your brand.Consumers will likely believe and rely on other consumers’ reviews and photos. In addition to personalizing content, there are multiple ways retailers and brands can and should reduce friction in the checkout process. They can add different payment methods and convenient shipping options. They can ensure the format for entering credit card information automatically matches the information on the card (e.g. the expiration date is numerical, yet many checkout pages ask for the month name). Amazon One-touch is one option that vastly streamlines checkout processes—retailers should look to see what the competition is up to and make any necessary changes to improve their customer and user experiences. Stabler recommended B2B and B2C evaluate their current platforms in context of their COVID-19 ecommerce strategies and potentially look to re-platforming to survive the shift to online.
  2. Marketing and advertising
    Take advantage of opportunities to lower the cost of advertising with the diverse spread of channels now available. Use a mix of social media marketing, influencer marketing, TV, podcasts, radio, email and streaming services to gain new customers and retarget old ones. Traverzo of ThirdLove suggests looking at consumption behavior of consumers to increase the company’s visibility. If your target market spends a lot of time using streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu, increase visibility in these channels. Influencer marketing will continue to grow and retailers can redistribute influencer content to other outlets. In all facets of marketing and advertising, Stabler recommends over-communicating with customers in this increasing online shift. Consumers want to know every detail, from discovery to delivery.
  3. Logistics and supply chains
    The quick and massive shift to online shopping highlighted many companies’ operational challenges within the past several months. Test your fulfillment experience and look for opportunities to upgrade your supply chain, perhaps using a closer manufacturer or distributor for convenience. No matter what you decide, have a contingency plan in place and communicate the changes with your customers so their expectations are set.

Other Opportunities for Investment

The panel sees now as the perfect time to improve your business agility and lower operational costs. Ensure that your platform is built for growth and scalable across all channels. A great online customer experience requires great customer service. With the increasing influx of online traffic, all retailers and brands need to keep up with the current variety of ways to engage with customer service, including social media and chatbots. With the right technology, chatbots can be a good medium between FAQs and speaking with a customer service representative, saving everyone time and money.

Finally, our speakers believe augmented reality will come back into play in a big way, as store closures extend and consumers remain wary of in-store experiences. The easier it is for a customer to envision themselves using your product without going into a store, the better.

While the world awaits for COVID-free in-store shopping to return, now is the time for ecommerce retailers to establish a seamless customer experience online. Investments in website, marketing and advertising and logistics and supply chain can attract—and keep—more customers both now and post-pandemic.