As we begin a new year, it’s essential to reflect and learn from our experiences. In 2020, COVID-19 caused retailers and shoppers alike to adapt to new shopping experiences, including curbside pickup and drop-ship. In 2021, we’ll see a continued transformation of omnichannel buying behavior.
With e-commerce revenue up more than 20% in 2020, consumers are expected to continue purchasing online more frequently compared with pre-pandemic times. Retailers must be prepared for these new buying habits, and embrace new technologies and initiatives for future business success.
Following are three benefits to retailers prioritizing an omnichannel strategy in their 2021 business models.
Ongoing business continuity. It’s imperative that companies recognize that disruptions to the supply chain may continue in 2021. Implementing omnichannel strategies such as temporary or pop-up fulfillment locations can help ensure business continuity. With this strategy in place, retailers can re-route orders if certain locations are impacted or unable to re-open due to COVID-19 precautions. Prioritizing in this manner allows consumers to purchase items when they want, without disruption, and with limited human exposure, even during sudden outbreaks.
Brands and retailers may also want to invest in omni-commerce technologies such as inventory-planning and order-management systems as part of their 2021 strategies. The technology allows retailers to forecast and predict which specific products are most successful in certain regions. Using these insights allows retailers to ensure that each location is prepared for consumer shopping habits that are specific to that region, creating a sense of ongoing consumer loyalty. Successful retailers make decisions based on data using omnichannel technology, which leads to happy customers and steady sales (even during unprecedented times).
Increased sales through multiple buying options. With an omnichannel strategy, retailers are able to provide a seamless shopping experience across a variety of platforms. By investing in multiple buying platforms, they can reach a wider consumer audience and, in turn, increase product sales. According to one recent report, social media drove one out of 10 visits to retail websites during the peak holiday season of 2020, a 17% increase year over year. If retailers decide not to pursue holistic e-commerce opportunities and engage only with customers through social platforms, they will miss out on the opportunity to drive sales outside of brick-and-mortar stores.
Additionally, meeting the potential customer through the buying platform they’re most comfortable with using increases the likelihood of a sale. It’s important that retailers recognize this and provide multiple opportunities for consumers to purchase their items.
Curbside initiatives through online orders such buy online, pick up at curbside (BOPAC) and buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) have also gained popularity, as both consumers and retailers seek to minimize health risks among their communities. Recent data culled from some of the world’s favorite brands reveals that only 4% had curbside pickup prior to the pandemic, but once it hit, 40% added this feature to accommodate customer needs and expectations. Implementing a BOPAC or BOPIS strategy in 2021 is essential for success this year and beyond.
Drop-shipping has gained substantial momentum since the pandemic started, and will continue to gain in popularity throughout 2021. This method doesn’t require retailers to keep products in stock; instead the retailer sells the product and directs the sales to a third-party supplier who handles shipping the order to the customer. Drop-ship has been a strategy more widely used before the pandemic, with 37% of retailers saying they used it prior, but its impact for retailers has been clearly positive, with 29% indicating they plan to implement the technique to aid consumers in the next three months. Drop-ship provides retailers with the warehouse and fulfillment support they need during times of crisis and beyond, allowing business leaders to focus on retail strategy and the customer experience.
Amplified customer loyalty. COVID-19 has driven a need for exceptional customer experience that’s accessible across various platforms. Utilizing new omnichannel tools and technologies allow retailers to better communicate with customers both online and in store. Consumers want personalized care now more than ever, and retailers need to be prepared to provide excellent service to gain and maintain customer loyalty.
Outside of customer service in brick-and-mortar stores, retailers should embrace technology in their customer care strategy, through utilize tools such as SMS, chatbots, virtual assistants and Facebook Messenger. Using these tools and platforms to notify shoppers of delays, delivery dates and other purchase information enhances and personalizes the post-purchase experience, while limiting confusion or frustration from the buyer during turbulent times. As with all customer experiences, timeliness, accuracy and consistency are vital elements of the customer experience, helping retailers to sustain and grow customer loyalty and market share.
Adaptability and flexibility are the name of the game in 2021 and moving forward. It’s essential that retailers prioritize customers’ needs and expectations first and foremost. Approaches like curbside pickup and drop-ship have permanently changed the retail experience, and are essential for retailer preparedness as consumers’ buying habits change.
To succeed, retailers must adapt to ever-evolving consumer expectations. Embracing new omnichannel technology streamlines the shopping experience and sets retailers up for long-term success. It’s vital as we move into 2021 that business leaders prioritize the consumer and develop a strong omnichannel strategy. Integrating these initiatives into this year’s business model enables business continuity, increased sales and ongoing customer loyalty.
Ilias Simpson is CEO at Radial.