5 Resolutions for Achieving Omnichannel Excellence in 2018
More than half of Americans now say they prefer to shop online, and e-commerce is increasing 23 percent year-over-year. The number soars to 67 percent when asking millennials, and 56 percent for Gen Xers. Forrester has forecast that U.S. online retail sales will reach more than $500 billion by 2020, up from $373 billion in 2016, driven by better blocking and tackling by web merchants, omnichannel efforts, an improved U.S. economy, and, of course, more growth from Amazon.com.
Simply put, it’s no longer an option for merchants to rely on store and catalog sales, offering only a basic online presence. To compete and grow profits amid razor-thin margins, retailers have to offer and fully leverage multiple digital storefronts, from a personalized mobile site to online marketplaces — channels where sales hinge on flawless operations and service.
Here are five trends that will drive e-commerce growth in 2018, and the top ways retailers must capitalize on the opportunities each presents.
Omnichannel Savvy Leads to Better CX
We recently surveyed 350 retailers and found that while the majority have an omnichannel strategy in place, less than 10 percent believe they're executing it well. This is a BIG issue; it’s no longer enough for retailers to have a presence across multiple channels. They must be integrated efficiently. Customers’ expectations are to be able to buy seamlessly and interact across multiple channels using different devices.
In 2018, expect more retailers to get a firmer grip on omnichannel, and use that understanding to integrate different online platforms so they're delivering a more consistent customer experience (CX).
Mobile Consumes the Consumer
Seventy-seven percent of U.S. adults own a smartphone, up from 35 percent in 2011, making the device one of the most quickly adopted consumer technologies in recent history. In turn, mobile commerce has skyrocketed in recent years. In 2016 alone, mobile sales grew 90 percent, with more than half of online purchases being made from smartphones.
2018 will see mobile browsing driving e-commerce, so businesses must truly ensure their websites are mobile-friendly across devices. Keep in mind, millennials are nearly three times as likely as baby boomers to have made an online purchase from bed, and over 50 percent of consumers grab their device right after waking up. Retailers must capitalize on usage habits with well-timed offers and content that’s optimized for mobile.
Social Sales Soar
Social commerce has found its way. A recent global survey of business owners revealed that 25 percent sell through Facebook, and 40 percent sell through social media as a whole. Platforms such as Instagram are increasingly becoming a shop window for retailers, with more than 30 percent of Instagram users admitting to buying items after seeing them in photos or videos on the app. More than 38 percent of 18-34 year olds would like to purchase items directly from Instagram. While the number falls to less than 10 percent for older age groups, online retailers should take this into account when considering the social shopping route to sales.
With the significant rise of smartphone and social media usage, online shopping is becoming more social. Instagram and Facebook, in particular, present a unique opportunity for brand storytelling and remaining top-of-mind for users who scroll through their feeds daily. We’ll see more retailers begin integrating social commerce software within their shopping platform and ensuring they have the technology in place that doesn’t punish customers for using social.
Retailers of all sizes STILL have disparate systems in place that do not support real-time e-commerce, tying their hands in meeting increasing customer demand for immediacy. This is particularly true for millennials, whose buying power and influence increases year-over-year.
This year will be a turning point for many retailers, which will need to re-imagine their customer journey, such as using technology to bring balance to their front and back office. 2018 will see more businesses adopting technology that support real-time commerce, enabling them to react to the challenges of "immediacy" that today’s consumers present.
Service Becomes the Killer App
Online businesses know that their customer service must meet consumers’ standards, and they must continue to advance delivery of efficient, transparent and personalized experiences. New technologies are stepping up to the plate. More retailers and wholesalers are automating back-office processes like order fulfillment, carrier integrations and integrated purchase ordering. Brightpearl found an average of 70 percent improvement in processing efficiency and negative service feedback after technology helped merchants reduce human errors 65 percent.
Meeting customer service standards will require embracing new technologies, including chatbots and voice search, to help consumers research shopping options, and even buy items online. Application of automation technology will also be a necessity for meeting rising customer expectations. Not robots taking over the workforce, but rather automated processes using clean data that drive back-office efficiencies, freeing retailers to instead focus on developing their e-commerce capabilities and improving CX.
Reaching Omnichannel Excellence
Retail is moving so fast that automation is now essential for survival. However, those online businesses that do adopt automation will be able to refine their customer experience in line with expectations and will see their business running more smoothly. That’s a great position to be in as we begin 2018.
Derek O’Carroll is CEO of Brightpearl, responsible for the overall company strategy and for delivering on Brightpearl’s mission to automate retail.
Related story: Total Retail's 2017 Top 100 Omnichannel Retailers