A new normal has emerged that businesses all over the world must face as a result of the current stay at home economy.
More people are shopping online than ever before. In Italy, one of the first countries to enact a stay at home order, ecommerce transactions have increased over 80% since the end of February. Brick-and-mortar stores have either had to close their doors entirely or drastically reduce in-store capacity. And many consumers are uncomfortable with doing their shopping in crowded environments. This is pushing even more sales online.
This retail disruption around the world is impacting ecommerce in ways that are likely to change the future of the industry forever.
We partnered up with global commerce and payments enabler, Digital River, to identify how the stay at home economy is changing ecommerce and design as we know it.
The Best Way to Future-Proof Your Brand
Consumers are shifting the way they think about buying online and are moving more towards buying directly from the brands they know and love. Now, more than ever before, it’s crucial to have a strong direct to consumer channel and offer your customers diverse buying options to build brand loyalty.
Owning the customer relationship and having complete control over the buyer journey allows brands to avoid business disruptions in times of uncertainty. It also enables you to reach consumers in new markets and provide them superior buying experiences, no matter where they are in the world.
Simply put: a strong direct to consumer ecommerce channel is your best defense against retail disruption.
The best way to strengthen that channel is to minimize friction for your customers wherever possible. That is, minimize the number of steps between when they first hit your homepage and when they click “confirm payment” in their cart. If someone has to close out a pop-up to sign up for your newsletter, minimize a chatbot window, and accept cookies before they can even look at your products, that’s already three steps of potential friction in their buying experience.
Another place that friction is noticeable, particularly right now, is in the cart experience itself. Let’s take online grocery shopping for example. If a customer spends the time picking out everything they want and adding it to their cart, they expect that those things are all available to order. If they go to checkout and half their cart is gone because things aren’t in stock, that’s a huge negative.
Minimizing friction at the beginning and end of your customer’s shopping experience goes a long way towards making the overall experience better.
How Fulfillment Fits In
Need another reason why it’s so important to own the relationship with your customers? Fulfillment.
With the influx of ecommerce orders and changes to fulfillment processes to ensure the health and safety of workers around the world, many brands are dealing with fulfillment delays. While these changes are necessary and important, it can be concerning to many consumers who expect to receive their products on time. A strong communication loop with frequent updates can alleviate this frustration. It’s crucial for brands to be as transparent as possible with their customers if there will be delays out of their control.
Right now — and all the time, really — honesty is key. If you’re having trouble fulfilling orders or are experiencing long delays, tell your customers. Upfront. Don’t wait until they already have your products in a cart or have completed their order.
The second customers hit your website, they should see a transparent, sincere message explaining that their order will be delayed by X number of days or weeks. Tell them that you’re doing everything you can to get them their order and that they will get it. Give them a timeline and let them know as soon as that timeline changes. Thank them for their continued support right now. (And don’t forget to design that message so that it’s unobtrusive. We’re trying to minimize friction, remember!)
People will understand a delay to your order as long as you’re honest. If you’re not upfront and your customers expect to receive their order as quickly as normal, they’ll be much less understanding. And they may even hesitate to support your brand in the future.
One last note on fulfillment: provide a tracking link via email as soon as an order ships. Make it obvious, easy to find, and link directly to the carrier’s tracking site. This is best practice all the time but it’s especially important right now as it provides one more layer of order fulfillment transparency
The Rise of Alternative Payment Methods
Along with the recent upsurge in ecommerce transactions comes an increase in digital payments, as more customers are moving away from cash and physical cards towards contactless options. These alternative payment methods provide consumers with a safe and secure way to pay in the current environment.
The rise of these payment methods can be seen all over the world. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia saw mobile payment usage grow almost 20% annually in March and spending via mobile wallets hit a record high. Similarly, digital payment providers in Hong Kong are seeing an increase in usage. Annual mobile wallet transaction volumes are up 20% and some digital cards saw a 60% uptick in monthly average transaction amounts.
Card networks are raising contactless payment value limits and working with issuers to send out more contactless cards. This alternative payment method had already been rising in popularity, and as governments around the world urge people to minimize interactions with others and common surfaces like PIN pads to stay healthy, it’s likely to see an increased adoption beyond the current pandemic.
Additionally, as consumers become uncertain about spending, many have turned to “buy now, pay later” options like Afterpay that offer the ability to offset more transactions and delay payments. There has been a widespread shift in the way consumers are buying, and how these shoppers are choosing to interact with brands.
How the Subscription Landscape is Shifting
In recent years, countless brands have embraced subscription-based business models to appeal to consumers wanting access to new, exciting experiences and the latest and greatest products available. And as the economy changes drastically and more people are forced to stay at home, many subscription services are becoming more essential.
Online and app-based workout subscriptions are keeping people active while they can’t go to the gym. Apps like Calm are helping people meditate and relieve stress during these uncertain times. And online education services are helping to keep kids busy while they’re at home from school with working parents.
Some subscription-based companies are finding themselves in a better place than others. Netflix has added 16 million subscribers worldwide as more people are staying at home and needing new forms of entertainment. On the other hand, things like movie theater rewards are coming to a halt.
Many brands are actually offering their subscription services for free or at a discounted rate to both attract new customers and help people get through these uncertain times. For example, Scribd, an ebook and audiobook subscription service, is offering a free 30-day free trial for new customers.
Creatively Engage With Your Customers
The way that you manage contact with your customers right now is critical. Not only will it make or break getting through this pandemic, but it will also determine what, if any, relationship your customers maintain with you in the future. This is something that a lot of companies are misplaying right now by inundating shoppers with irrelevant emails about their COVID-19 response or by pushing big opportunistic sales.
That being said, there are some brands out there who’ve found creative ways to stay in touch with their customers through this time.
One example is a surf-inspired apparel company owned by professional surfer Kelly Slater called Outerknown. The company places a distinct emphasis on sustainability and has a laid back, relaxed feel to its branding. While Outerknown is still shipping orders during this time, it’s also taken to reaching its customer base beyond your standard email promoting a new product or sale.
Instead, Outerknown emails right now include book recommendations, what albums its staff is listening to while social distancing, etc. These little nuggets of content allow customers to connect with the brand on a more personal level and offer a sense of we’re-all-in-this-together mentality.
Now, obviously these creative means of connecting with your user base must be appropriate for your brand. Things like the above example are right in line with Outerknown’s brand aesthetic and personality. If a health insurance company starts sending music recommendations or Netflix streaming lists right now, it would just come off as confusing and insincere.
Be Mindful of Discounts and Sales
As noted above, some brands out there are using the current circumstances to offer discounts and sales. While there are some merits to a sale or offering discounts right now, there’s a delicate balance between adding value to your consumers and capitalizing on a pandemic.
For instance, many brands are offering discounts to healthcare workers and other essential employees. This is great. It provides added value and shows appreciation to people who are putting themselves at risk every day. It also paints the brand in a positive light.
Another example is car insurance companies. With the sudden decrease in cars on the road, there have been fewer incident claims. Since insurance companies aren’t paying out on as many claims, many of them have opted to either refund or credit customers or offer discounts on future policies. This puts some money back in people’s pockets at a time when every penny counts and again, positions the companies in a positive way.
On the other side of the sale spectrum, there are brands that are simply offering deep discounts. Some are even playing off COVID-19 in how they market the sale. This is just plain opportunistic and should be avoided entirely. Not only is it wildly disrespectful but it also cheapens a brand’s image and all but guarantees fewer customers in the future.
As the stay at home economy continues to grow, many of the trends noted above will outlast the social distancing guidelines. The return to “normal” life will likely be a slow transition with many additional guidelines in place for the foreseeable future. As such, people will only continue to do as much of their shopping online as possible. Adapting to these trends and changes in the marketplace is critical to the success of any retail-based business.
This blog was written in collaboration with the team at Digital River.