Top 3 E-Commerce Tips for Uncertain Times
The only constant, as they say, is change. Anyone in the retail world knows this intuitively, especially after the past three years. But if you think the turmoil is behind us and things are heading back to what we once called normal, I’ve got news: there’s no going back. War in Ukraine, volatile oil prices, inflation, rising interest rates — all portend a challenging economic climate. Yet U.S. wages and consumer spending continue to grow.
Kinks in supply chains may have largely worked their way out, but these new uncertainties mean old rules of thumb are gone for good. Standbys like predictable seasonal promotions, regular pricing on new stock, and straightforward social media marketing are getting turned on their ear with everything from shifting buyer behavior to flux in social media platforms. Pick whatever prediction you want — anything from the ridiculous to the sublime seems to have an equal chance of coming true. What’s a retailer to do? Adjust for this new reality.
Today, it’s important to prioritize agility and flexibility. Rigid, brittle and fixed just won’t cut it. We must be more efficient with the dollars we spend and see evidence of success sooner. But how? There are no obvious answers — discovering the new rules of this current environment is happening in real time.
Here are three ways e-commerce businesses can navigate uncertain economic times:
1. Build for iteration and experimentation.
Staying ahead requires maximizing the ability to experiment, learn and iterate rapidly. Build a work environment — of systems, procedures and expectations — that encourages teams to expand their capabilities for experimentation.
Creativity is the name of the game. That means freeing teams across the business to build their best ideas and try them out. If they’re bogged down by protracted internal processes, they can’t. That’s why tools, as well as expectations, must support trial and error. When ideas work, the results speak for themselves.
2. Focus on shorter time to value.
Businesses don’t have time for gambling on big, novel approaches. Small wins will be valued much more than large efforts that require major resources and take a long time to show results. The only way an 18-month transformation plan will fly is if it’s based on short iterations that deliver tangible results. Teams need to show value quickly to confirm the validity of strategies and purchases alike.
Look for early wins — even small ones. Aim for the simplest version of what you can accomplish. Then scale those successful smaller projects up. These digestible projects are much easier to pull off than titanic efforts that require major resources and take a long time to show results. This will also help you focus on the goal of finding and engaging customers despite their shifting needs.
3. Think differently about risk.
Making major changes is typically viewed as high risk. However, in the current environment, not making these changes may prove the riskiest approach of all. You’re not just dealing with short-term incremental risk, which may impact sales now, but existential risk — i.e., whether your company will be around in the future. It's time to think differently about what happens if you don’t stay current and competitors do. Adopting the tooling and mindset for successful adaptation is a journey, but one that bears fruit all along the way.
E-commerce isn’t a game of win or lose. It’s about continual improvement. Everyone sees the need to change and uncertainty cannot justify inaction. Companies that keep pace with changing customer preferences, global demand, and evolving digital landscapes must adopt an agile approach to e-commerce that allows them to be responsive and iterative. For all of the challenges we have today, there’s no limit to the opportunity of tomorrow.
Nicole France is the director of content at Contentful, a composable content platform. Nick Switzer is a senior solution engineer at Contentful.
Nicole evangelizes new ways of thinking about content and the work of digital business. As head of Contentful’s content team, she works with customers, partners, industry experts and the Contentful crew to envision the art of the possible and identify the practices that make it reality.
Nick is a technical people-person who lives for solving business problems with technology. He is a solution engineer at Contentful with 14 years of experience in the CMS space and a background in enterprise web development.