How eCommerce Is Changing in the face of Covid-19

Published 14 September 2020 by MaryLou Costa

The continuing pandemic has seen homebound consumers drive an overwhelming demand for online purchasing - as former Unilever chief marketer Keith Weed has noted, over 15 years’ worth of people came online in just 15 days. 

Retailers have had to pivot at lightning speed, with shoppers now expecting eCommerce platforms to be seamless and intuitive, and to have anything and everything delivered to their doors, without having to wait weeks for a slot.

Led by the social and economic effects of the coronavirus, consumer behaviour has transformed, truly and swiftly ushering in the era of digital transformation – like it or not.

It’s clear that businesses with eCommerce operations need to accelerate not just the technology they work with, but to upskill their teams efficiently and en masse to keep pace with demand.

 

Becoming genuinely customer-centric

According to omnichannel advisor, PhD researcher and author of the latest Circus Street omnichannel modules, this means adopting a genuinely customer-centric mindset – which is easier said than done.

“A lot of businesses say, yes, we are customer centric, but then when you ask them, so what does that mean, the answer is missing. When they start talking about it, it's all what I refer to as an ‘inside out’ approach,” Blumenstein explains.

“So they are more product, brand, store or channel focused. And whereas, if you're truly customer centric, you need to analyse who is your real customer, not just who is your target group. You need to have a clear vision and strategy of what being customer centric means and how you're going to meet those expectations.

“It’s about listening to voice of the customer, seeing how they are truly behaving and analysing that. You need to develop some insights, and then you need to act on those - and that's a continuous process.”

It’s a complete mindset shift for the long-term, Blumenstein points out, not just a stop-gap solution to a pandemic-shaped blip. There is no such thing as going back to business as usual, she warns, and retailers must avoid temptation to switch back to the old way of doing things – or risk being outperformed.

“Changing the mindset needs to happen from top down. That's number one. Then it's about educating people about the importance of a seamless customer journey. It's not about you and the channel, because again, that’s an ‘inside out’ perspective. It’s about understanding what is your role in in that whole customer journey – and how can you impact the whole journey? It's a cross functional mindset,” she explains.

 

Using digital tools to understand the world of the customer – and be part of it

Estée Lauder is an example of a house of brands that has upped the ante on tuning into customer needs, understanding how the purchase journey has changed, and deploying online tools to support that. 

“Our online and brand teams have been actively engaged in finding new ways to address consumers’ needs during lockdown, as we have all seen these evolve. More than ever, being relevant, digital first and personal is paramount. For example, we are using tools like virtual try-ons and leveraging live social platforms so our consumers can connect, see our experts in real time and talk to us anytime from home through live chat capability across all our brands,” says Lesley Crowther, vice president consumer engagement, The Estée Lauder Companies UK and Ireland. 

“Our social channels across platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and on our own brand websites are vital to keeping connected with consumers to share beauty recommendations and tutorials in response to continued and even increased demand for beauty products. More than ever we are using these channels to hear from consumers about what they want, and tailoring our content and advice. These platforms give us a way to instantly talk to consumers, and our teams tailor content daily based on what we see and hear.” 

“We are also using sophisticated social media listening tools, machine learning and other qualitative and quantitative research techniques to better understand what consumers’ needs are. We are continuously assessing consumer demand, from self-care and wellness, to understanding their at-home needs and routines and adapting our content to these.”

Becoming so connected to the customer base, affirms Crowther, means she feels confident that the group will be in a stronger position to further unlock the potential of eCommerce and omnichannel, as they navigate a post-lockdown return to physical retail.

Indeed, Circus Street chief executive Richard Townsend agrees that social media monitoring and management has become an increasingly crucial part of the customer journey, with digital platforms overall – and digital transformation – an integral part of the customer centricity Blumenstein talks about.

“It’s about people understanding that the ultimate conclusion of digital transformation is customer centricity – improving customer service and understanding what the technologies are made of to do that and how they impact on your job and the people around you. Then that is what enables people to communicate much more effectively,” he rationalises.

 

Breaking down those siloes

Upskilling in the key elements of eCommerce via Circus Street modules has been an eye opener for the likes of Adidas, giving team members greater perspective over their role and its relevance to the whole customer journey. 

“The more training people do, the more they understand the broader structure of how digitalisation and eCommerce works,” states Phillip Kubitschek, Adidas’ B2B digital wholesale manager. 

“Before the training, a sales rep who was looking after a pure player digital partner would always be focused on how to ‘ramp up sales’. Now, they realise that ‘ramping up sales’ is not an activity you can do without considering other contributing factors.” 

“Sales reps are realising that eCommerce, analytics and marketing are all playing a specific, important role. This new broader appreciation has really changed the way some departments look at challenges so, instead of focusing on lack of sales, they might look at, for example, the product naming and the related search terms, to help improve sales.” 

The training, Kubitschek believes, has made colleagues aware that they needed to look at the whole strategy of launching products to market – taking on that all important customer perspective from Blumenstein’s earlier points.

“Customer purchase behaviour has changed and their expectations have changed. Retailers need to develop capabilities for the long term and update their skills and capabilities so that to be competitive and survive in the long run,” she advises.

 

To equip your teams with the knowledge and skills needed for success they need training in all areas of eCommerce. Our extensive eCommerce lesson library covers everything from best practice and strategy, to omnichannel and AI.

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