The past year has seen a massive acceleration in the already increasing trend towards online shopping. In a survey of British shoppers carried out by Mintel, 42% of those surveyed said they had done more online shopping since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a story that’s familiar all around the world.

Whilst retailers are eagerly looking forward to the rush of ‘revenge shopping’ back in the stores, for many people online shopping is here to stay and consumers won’t be abandoning their screens anytime soon.

Digital commerce grew out of fear of infection and because it was often the only option.  It will remain popular because it has become more sophisticated, with faster deliveries, subscription models and simply because shoppers are now so familiar with it.

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Five imperatives for online shopping

Retailers have long recognised that they need to offer online shopping as well as an offline presence, a fact starkly highlighted by the lockdown. Now, as we consider what retail will look like in a post-pandemic era, retailers are planning their long-term future online shopping strategy.

We’ve taken a look at the trends and changes faced by retailers, and see five key imperatives for those who want to ensure a successful digital commerce operation.

Changing demographic

One of the biggest shifts in digital commerce over the last year has been who uses it, with the most growth in shoppers aged over 65. Mintel’s research  found that whilst prior to the pandemic they were the most reluctant online shoppers (just 16% of them shopped online at least once a week), by early 2021, they were in the same bracket as all other shoppers when it came to increasing their online transactions.

This shift is driven by the over 65s having the greatest fear of infection, coupled with less financial impact than their younger counterparts and less hassle in being home for deliveries.

Design and navigation

The more familiar consumers get with online shopping, the more demanding they become. They want to find things quickly, make comparisons, get clear information and checkout easily.  Accessibility becomes more important too, as the older demographic grows.

But at the same time, retailers need to be positioning for new ways of interacting, such as voice command (the popularity of which has been driven by digital assistants Hey Google and Alexa) and image search.

Security

Retailers who rely on digital retail have the challenge of balancing a smooth process for shoppers with protection for themselves. They certainly want to make the checkout easy as possible, in the face of statistics that show that a staggering 87% of online shoppers will abandon their cart if the process is too long or complicated or time-consuming. And 55% would never return to the site again.

But retailers do need to ensure that whilst making life easy for legitimate shoppers, they also have robust security processes for online shopping to identify and stop visitors who are there for fraudulent purposes.

Integration

The lines between offline and online shopping have long been blurring – for example hybrid transactions such as BOPIS/Click and Collect and Curbside pickup. Or the way that ‘digital native’ retailers are moving into the traditional bricks and mortar space. As Retail Touchpoints reported, Westfield malls are offering space for ‘pop-up or full store concepts for digitally native vertical brands’. Increasingly we’re seeing online stores in offline spaces.

This means that customers don’t differentiate like they may once have done. To them, shopping in the world of omnichannel, offline is online, online is offline, and they expect same brand experience whatever the platform.

Infrastructure for scale

Online shopping still relies on physical infrastructure for fulfilment and retailers have to ensure that their online store has the supporting systems to get the goods to clients (and back again if required). That means having the warehouse space and systems to efficiently store, pick and pack goods; an efficient BOPIS or curbside pickup process; a well-managed and rapid delivery process – whether that is managed in-house, or outsourced; and a strategy for returns, whether they are accepted in store or sent directly back to the warehouse.

This infrastructure has to be able to do the job now, and to scale as digital commerce continue to grow. On a busy day in a bricks and mortar store, people crowd in, or queue around the block. An online retail store, under the same customer pressure, must have the capacity to handle an increased number of transactions without batting a digital eyelid.  Delivery too, has to be able to scale, and contactless technologies including drones and driverless vehicles are becoming a reality.

A positive shopping experience

The growth in online shopping has changed the retail landscape and it will play an increased role in retail strategy in the future. By considering the five imperatives above, retailers can enhance their digital offering, integrate it with their store presence and offer customers a truly positive offline and online shopping experience.

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