Click to grow: 7 lessons in e-commerce
It’s not new – but the constantly changing nature of the way we live our lives online means that e-commerce is a truly powerful weapon in the strategic toolkit of many small or medium-sized businesses. A good platform and online presence should be intrinsic to the ecosystem of your company, whatever you sell. Let’s look at seven key lessons to take on board when adopting e-commerce for business growth.
Once just a novel way of demonstrating the luxury of shopping from your armchair, e-commerce has grown to form the basis of retailers’ merchant activity worldwide in 2020 to the tune of US$4.28trn – projected to hit US$5.4trn by 2022 . A large part of this can be put down to the unique circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen a remarkable surge in online activity – but e-commerce has in fact been steadily rising in popularity and significance for well over a decade.
For small and medium-sized businesses, this is a strategic opportunity that you probably can-not afford to ignore.
If you thought e-commerce was just another route to making that sale, think again. The whole ecosystem that exists behind online retail is actually a real-time, always-on shop window that showcases your brand and tells the story of what you do in a way unlike any traditional marketing activity. This has significant implications for how you can pivot your product or service to suit new channels of growth that were previously untapped due to cost or time constraints.
Fiona Lau, the COO and Co-founder of Shopline, one of Asia’s biggest omni-channel retailers, says: “This sector has seen a big change over the past five years. And I think that this trend has accelerated in the past year, with some merchants reaching more than three-digit percentage growth.
“The whole experience is not just about online purchases, it's creating a whole new customer journey for the merchant and for the customer. The newer ‘theme’ right now is omni-channel, because it concerns all the different ways for you to reach your customers and communicate with them.”
Thanks to the dominance of players such as Amazon and Alibaba, customers now expect to get their hands on every possible product in the same way. Over 10 years, shopping for books or flight tickets has been the trigger for expansion into electronics, fashion and food. For the customer, shopping on desktop or laptop computers has long since given way to tablets and smartphones, carried out in quick time, sometimes in two simple taps/clicks using digital mobile payments. If you are a retailer selling any goods, whether B2B or B2C, customers will expect the ability to buy your product online or at least find out more detailed information.
Large corporates have an infrastructure of support and cash that can help them finance a huge online presence for e-commerce purposes. But their size means they need to commit to certain approaches, and they can take time to respond in an environment where platform functionality and ease of use is constantly improving. SMEs are, however, generally much more agile, and therefore able to capitalise on innovations that can give them vital first-mover advantage in what is a fiercely competitive space.
Fiona Lau echoes this sentiment, arguing that: “SMEs are very resilient and welcoming of change. I think that in the past year, what has really changed is that previously, merchants could still have their offline stores and reach out to consumers. But right now, everyone has embraced social commerce, conversational commerce; it's basically interacting with your customers in another way, to try to find a way to talk to them that recreates a face to face experience. I think that also pushes e-commerce to the next level.”
While the back-end technology of e-commerce platforms is improving at an exponential rate, this shouldn’t scare you off making the change for the benefit of your business. A professional-ly presented shopping platform that is either hosted by a big online provider or part of your own website infrastructure will need the necessary technical attention – but there are agencies and service providers who can help support you.
As an SME, your time is better spent on marketing your presence and differentiating your brand from the competition. At least 80% of the success you will have online depends on your strategy.
Chaitanya Adapa, Head of the cashflow management company udaanCapital, says: “The single largest focus for me is to figure out what my niche is. How am I differentiating myself from the innumerable number of suppliers and sellers out there on the internet? There are a num-ber of tools now being built out around platforms like ours, to make it easier for a supplier to sell online. So this whole ecosystem that's getting built around e-commerce platforms should ease the life of the seller.”
The beauty of e-commerce functionality is that you have access to a back-end database and analytics that will allow you to assess customer preferences, and where the bulk of them congregate. It may be social media rather than retail or auction platforms that will determine how you communicate.
High quality data will let you know your customers’ viewing and social media preferences, so use it to inform your strategy. For example, if you sell food and drink, think about how a series of recipe videos on social media might drive interest and pull traffic to your platform. Where are they clicking on your platform, at what point are you losing visitors, how often are visitors abandoning their baskets? The all-important customer reviews can provide invaluable insight from your customers.
This type of data can help inform small decisions in how you deliver your strategy, improve your product design and the customer service you provide, which could make all the difference.
E-commerce is not just a labour-saving device for home shoppers. It is a living, strategic marketing tool, which will evolve over time, and can help increase your reach and brand value, as well as give you the chance to engage with customers in very nuanced ways – from social media to digital payment platforms.
Are you too late to join? As long as you have a healthy obsession with your customer, it’s never too late to build a successful e-commerce strategy that can take your business from good to great.