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    Adapting to the next normal in retail and e-commerce

    Summary

    Corporate Partner Alex Egerton shares his insights into how retail businesses are likely to adapt and develop online strategies post COVID-19.

    The impact of the lockdown has drastically changed the behaviours of most of us, and it is likely these changes will continue for some time. People who, traditionally, would have only purchased an item if they could physically touch the product, or talk to a real person in-store, now realise the convenience of buying online. The internet’s shop window is everything, meaning that the new wave of online consumers are looking at retailers they have previously never heard of, and are now experiencing far greater choice. People locked down at home are using technology to keep in touch and fill time, and a large chunk of that time is spent online shopping. Those businesses who begin planning now will be more agile, and able to maximise these opportunities.

    For some, the only change is the amount of time they have to do this, with plans and strategies already being worked on to move to a digital market, but for others this is a completely new experience. With that in mind:

    • according to Facebook data, in many of the countries hit hardest by the virus, total messaging has increased more than 50% over the last month. Similarly, in places hit hardest, voice and video calling has more than doubled on Messenger and WhatsApp;
    • there may be a huge increase in digital ad spend over the next few months, as consumers will naturally be spending more time online. Research by Global Web Index found that we are seeing a huge increase in people checking social media across all age demographics; 27% among Gen Z (between 4-24 years old), 30% among Millennials (25-39 years old), 29% among Gen X (40-55 years old), and 15% among baby boomers (56-74 years old); and
    • there has been a massive influx of consumers shopping online. Amazon is hiring nearly 100,000 new employees to deal with the increase in business.

    Businesses have had to pivot just to get through the lockdown stage:

    • gyms have closed their doors in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but some are offering online workout classes;
    • dentists offer online consultations; and
    • in China, various fashion and cosmetic retailers have engaged their sales staff to become influencers, to attract traffic to their website.

    It is difficult to see how people will revert to old behaviours, and if they do it certainly won’t be overnight. The world has been forced to attend a long and intense interactive training session on how technology can be used. After the lockdown that genie is unlikely to return to the bottle.

    Businesses that did not communicate with their customers, or did so through bombarding their database with mailshots, will have to learn how to use technology and database management in a much more effective way. The businesses that survive will do so in part by being agile, and using technology to win business. They will then develop and enhance their online offering. In short, the distinction between e-businesses and non e-businesses may well disappear.

    Post-lockdown, businesses who have stayed quiet will have to reengage with a different marketplace than the one they left. On the one hand, many consumers have been supporting local businesses and those relationships will likely endure; on the other hand, people are used to buying online and having an abundance of choice, from various suppliers, in different countries, at different price points, as opposed to being restricted by the local high street or shopping centre.

    So, the local farm shop will want to create an online community of its new customers so in order to continue to engage with, and maintain, those relationships. Retailers will have to consider how their online offering can compete against their competitors, with geography becoming irrelevant.

    As businesses think forward, a few considerations need to be taking into account:

    Supply

    Will your online business have sufficient stock to meet consumer demands? Have you thought about your distribution channels?

    For the businesses just entering this space now, a short delay in shipping is not an issue, as most consumers understand that these are strange times and that any order placed is seen as a positive. However, when life gets back to normal they will probably be less forgiving if orders do not arrive promptly.

    Reaching Out

    There are a number of ways that an online business advertises its products online – search engine optimisation; paid ads; influencer marketing; affiliate program etc. Each business will have to put a bespoke plan in place after having done their homework.

    Many businesses will look at building their online community. This can be done by email, but most savvy consumers now come to expect more from businesses. The more ambitious will design an app that allows the business to communicate, and create multiple touchpoints, with their newly won customer base. There are CRM facilities that give businesses an in-depth analysis of visitors to a website, that allows the business to learn more about the preferences of those visitors. Active users are a valuable currency in the online world.

    Digital marketing is all about helping the consumer come to you, the online community is all about you going to the consumer, and in turn, the customers engaging with each other. We suspect the number of people who will welcome this will be a lot higher than two months ago…

    GDPR

    Any online platform will process more personal data than people buying in store. While this personal data is a resource that you can potentially monetise, you need to ensure that your practices do not infringe GDPR. The regulator is particularly unsympathetic to businesses that use this personal data for unsolicited marketing campaigns. Unfortunately, GDPR is a beast unto itself, and will need a follow-up article, alternatively, you can contact Alexander directly.

    So, to conclude, in the year 2000 Alexander began his career, and watched the internet take off – the days of the “dotcom boom”. He took the early decision to work in this space, with his first e-commerce client being someone with no experience of IT or property, trying to set up an online estate agency, which never got going. Since that first instruction he has had the privilege of working with pioneering companies in this space; a leading affiliate marketing company; a digital advertising agency, marketing agency, and various social networks and apps.

    Alexander has seen this technology and the ancillary businesses develop, and your competitors may well be considering how they can gain a competitive advantage during, and after, the current pandemic we are all facing.

    If you have any questions regarding the above information, or any general Corporate or Data Protection related inquiries, please get in touch with Alexander Egerton at alexander.egerton@seddons.co.uk, or 020 7725 8030.

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