E-Commerce Upgrades in a Post-Pandemic World
Over the last 15 months, we cozied up to e-commerce in categories we struggled to shop virtually, such as apparel, furniture and grocery. We adapted our daily and weekly shopping routines to more patient, planned cadences.
We adjusted our comfort level by buying clothing sans try-on, and we accepted that our living room upgrades would occur without having sat on them first. Our new purchase normal became swapping certainty for convenience and safety, but will this be a lasting preference?
Consumers’ reliance on e-commerce will depend on retailers’ ability to optimally combine convenience and experience. With stores reopening to full capacity, mask mandates lifting, and an eventual return to pre-pandemic schedules, reintroducing brick-and-mortar shopping into our lifestyles will be like riding a bike. However, key digital transformations have allowed a variety of retailers to capitalize on consumers’ enhanced openness to online, forever sealing the deal on certain preferences for virtual over physical.
A lot has happened during this evolutionary era for retail. The closing of so many brick-and-mortar environments, from both big and small brands, combined with the cultural moment for an independent maker, plus the Google-Shopify partnership has inevitably democratized our consideration set.
Simultaneously, more and more brands are allowing themselves an Amazon.com presence or are establishing their own marketplace set up. This push and pull of indie vs. “the man” ultimately means retailers must get extremely creative and strategic in the ways they build relationships with consumers. Keeping it as tailored and experiential as possible, while also ensuring autopilot repeat purchase patterns is what all facets of omnichannel must embody.
There's a superior level of service and expertise baked into the winning strategies of direct-to-consumer brick-and-mortar shops — sales associates are attentive, informative, and extremely helpful.
While consumers have become well-versed in DIY research via Amazon and search engines, the tailored recommendations brand educators can make in real time, in physical stores, is hard to replicate. This aspect is a key layer to the in-store experience, but it can be simulated virtually via machine learning-powered smart suggestions.
Smart suggestions have remained relatively one dimensional, mostly rooted in the in-the-moment search history. Enhancing smart search requires thinking through all of the conversational components of a productive dialogue with a sales associate. A smart suggestion model that leverages not just current search considerations, but also past searches, past purchases and returns, variances in sizing across different types of items, and price sensitivity due to purchase occasion will be far more customized and nuanced. Demonstrating consumer understanding in a way that mimics having an actual conversation with the shopper is how recommendation technology can be both experiential and convenient.
Subscription services have come in and out of relevance over the years, but there are masterful ways to ensure they provide value while keeping the brand top of mind. Too many retailers are quick to rope consumers into hard-to-break subscriptions for products that were intended as one-time purchases.
Establishing a subscription model-based relationship with consumers in the right way requires specificity and careful data use. Though a consumer might purchase your product on a semi-regular basis, that ongoing pattern isn’t a license to subscribe on a traditional basis (e.g., weekly/monthly).
Pack sizing and needs-based context are key determinants as to whether a subscription will make or break your consumer relationship. Currently, too many brands are failing to provide enough of a reason to continue subscribing vs. repeat purchasing.
When a consumer feels forced into a subscription and then decides to break the tie, it’s extremely difficult to win them back. Offer reliability at the foundation of subscription models (e.g., consistent and timely delivery, stable pricing, available stock) without the entrapment. Build more reactive, flexible memberships that ebb and flow with consumers’ behaviors.
Technology that checks in regularly to see how much product has been used/is remaining and adapts product allotment and pack sizing to the consumer demonstrates a learned, dynamic relationship between shopper and brand.
Pre-pandemic, consumers were bringing their online shopping-informed behaviors to brick-and-mortar. Coming out of the pandemic, consumers have figured out what the digital retail landscape is missing, and now that physical stores are more of an option once again, e-commerce will need to step even further ahead than it had been.
Ironically, this will mean bringing the best of the offline world to online capabilities.
Melissa Minkow recently joined CI&T as retail industry lead after two years in merchandising strategy at Target, six years covering omnichannel, e-commerce, and social commerce at Gartner, a short tenure in pharmaceutical market research, and the completion of a Kellogg MBA.
Melissa recently joined CI&T as Retail Industry Lead after two years in merchandising strategy at Target, six years covering omni-channel, e-commerce, and social commerce at Gartner, a short tenure in pharmaceutical market research, and the completion of a Kellogg MBA. She is a retail futurist whose methodology is rooted in cross-industry consumer insights and innovation. She measures her success by how far out of the box she can inspire a client’s customer-centric solutions.