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The Year eCommerce Changed Forever

eCommerce

In a very controversial year, from politics to how COVID was handled, one thing we can all agree on and that is that 2020 changed eCommerce forever. Everyone depended on Amazon, Walmart and even Chewy for their day to day, week to week, and even month to month needs. Beginning in March of 2020, these companies had their challenges, but rose to the occasion.

In face, the chart below shows the percentage of online shoppers making at least one online purchase every two months since the outbreak.

They were made for such a challenge. They had their ducks in a row a long time ago. I can remember back 10 years ago when many retailers were still less than optimistic of creating an eCommerce site for their business. “People like to have the in store shopping experience”, many would say. Many retailers felt that eCommerce was a nice to have, but not necessarily a must have.

Late to the Game in eCommerce

Prior to COVID many retailers did try to develop an online presence. Retail stores like Pier1 come to mind. They are a good case study because when they launched online, they semi-launched. I am certain this had to do with many supply chain issues and operation logistics that were out of their control. However, I have to wonder if they jumped on the bandwagon at the very beginning and worked through it over the years, would they have been in a better place in 2020?

Back in 2015, The Wall Street Journal said this about Pier1:

The downward trend coincided with the launch of Pier 1’s e-commerce initiative in July 2012. The company’s heavy investment in that area showed results with 16% of sales coming from e-commerce in the third quarter, up from 12% a year ago. What Pier 1 failed to anticipate was that growth in e-commerce business wouldn’t simply be additive to its overall sales. It also meant less traffic to its bricks-and-mortar stores where costs are fixed. That left Pier 1 with too much inventory. It plans to close 20 to 25 stores this fiscal year.

“Years ago, Pier 1 was a great place to get these unique products, and they would source all this cool stuff, but once Amazon and Etsy came on the scene, you didn’t need them anymore,” said digital marketing consultant Judge Graham, who said he has previously done consulting work for Pier 1. “Target really broke out and reinvented itself years ago, and Walmart did that by becoming more niche.”

What the Consumer Experienced

As a consumer, one always views things retailers do from a different angle. That is why market research so important. You can never learn enough from your customers.

When a consumer would visit the Pier1 website, it was everything you thought it would be. It was colorful, inviting, full of great products and it loaded quickly. All great, until you focused on an item of interest. When attempting to place the items in your cart, you would first have to provide a zip code. At this point, it was hit or miss if the item would be available to ship to your address. To make things even worse, it might not have been available at your nearest retail store either. How many times will a customer return to browse a site knowing ahead of time they may not be able to get their item?

Let’s say that the item was available in your zip code and you purchase it. The next part of the process is important as well. How long did it take? What condition was it in when it arrived?

If you think the above image is an exaggeration, it is not. It is a good representation of several boxes I personally received during the holiday season.

2021 Prediction

I predict the winners in retail down the road, post COVID, will be the ones who are serious about eCommerce. They will be the ones who are listening to their customers in every touchpoint possible. Data will become even more important than it ever was. It will be needed to not only evaluate the customer experience, but to do some predictive analysis on what consumers are looking for in a provider of goods and services.

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Choosing a new vendor? Three Tips to Consider

Selecting a Vendor

Selecting a vendor for your business can be time consuming and stressful. You are making an important choice that will not just impact you, but an entire department or business. The goal should be to create a partnership with your vendor. Price is important, but it should not be the only thing to consider. Here are three tips that are worth noting.

Communication

Communication is my number one tip. How they respond during the sales process is important. Do you feel as though they are interviewing you? While it is perfectly understandable for a sales exec to pre-qualify a lead, it is also important to treat the person with respect. The tone of a person’s voice, their demeanor, level of patience when answering questions are all important. This sets the tone for how the relationship plays out over time.

Ask yourself, “Will I want to turn to this person with a problem or issue down the road?” How well they communicate & how quickly they respond will tell you a lot. Pay close attention to their genuine willingness to solve your problem or provide a solution that will benefit your business. How well do they listen?

Social Media

One area I always look at when considering a new vendor is their social media marketing. When I check it, I am looking for several things:

  • The date of their last post. I see so many businesses start social media, run it for a few years, and then drop it. How current is the last post? If it is over a year ago, it may be a red flag.
  • What do they post? Do they post relative information that provides their readers with useful tips and news within their industry? Sharing is caring in social media. Pay close attention to what they have to say.
  • Number of followers play a role as well. Too small of an amount may mean that not enough effort was put forth. Too many unevenly distributed between following/followers may suggest a bot was used. Many companies use bots, and while I don’t feel it is a negative, it is worth noting.  
  • How do they respond to customer service issues within their profiles? This is a very important area to take a look at. Unhappy customers many times will go to social media when they can’t get the right answers from normal customer service channels.

Flexibility

How flexible are they to change? As much as we all try, there are times when we need something handled and we need it yesterday! I remember a payroll vendor of ours once telling me that she was going to discount something for me because over the years, we never requested customer service. By looking over our account and determining we had been a good, quiet customer, she rewarded us. Kudos to the company for empowering her to make that call.

Be sure to ask about their customer service turnaround times. Is it within 24 hours of placing a call or inquiry via the web? Be sure to understand this before a problem comes up.

Proper vetting can save you a lot of time in money down the road. The added effort is well worth it.

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COVID-19 Customer Service

ecommerce

Customer service adjustments. During the last several months we have all had to make a lot of changes to our lives. We all have our own personal story on hardships as well as new opportunities. Working from home for the first time. Working while trying to home school kids for the first time ever. Getting accustomed to wearing a mask for the first time. Social distancing all while trying to work and take care of our families.

During this time I think that most consumers have shown appreciation for the essential front line workers and we understood when our Amazon order took 2 weeks instead of 2 days. We appreciate those hard working people sacrificing for the well being of others.

Are Things About to Change?

While for the most part, people continue to have patience. Some people are showing a great deal of resistance to mask wearing and retailers and restaurant owners have had to quickly train employees on how to handle an unhappy guest who didn’t want to comply.

My concern is more along the lines of people using the pandemic a an excuse for poor customer service. I have two examples of what I am referring to.

Local Steals and Deals

I am located in the Charlotte, NC area, and I see their commercials daily. Sometimes as part of my local evening news (slower news days). They have a spokesperson who is very compelling and does a great job selling products. Their About Us section on their website states the following:

Local Steals and Deals is operated by Knocking (www.knocking.co) in association with Cox Media Group.

We connect the best brands with Cox Media Group’s audience, offering exclusive deals.

I like the concept. However what I wasn’t impressed with was the customer service. I placed an order 2 months ago and never received my purchase. I honestly think I would have forgotten about it altogether if it were not for the commercials! After emailing the company, I found out that the product is no longer available. It left me wondering how many people placed orders and then forgot about them? Automatically refunding customers on out of stock items, should be part of any e-commerce site these days.

Website Hosting

A quick chat with my hosting company regarding a log in issue I was having kept me busy for over an hour trying to trouble shoot with them in a chat. Finally, I was told my issue would be escalated and that I should try again in a few hours. Good enough. I did what he said and even waited until the next day. Still had the same problem. Got on the chat with them again, knowing full well that I would have to start from the beginning. Sure enough. When I asked if my issue was escalated as I was told, I received an awful reply. I was told that because of COVID19, they were working with reduced staff. Really? You are working on a computer from your home office, I would bet. How could COVID be affecting your customer service?

Don’t Neglect Your Customer Service

Times are hard and budgets are tight. Now is not the time however to neglect your customer service standards. In fact, I believe it is the time to make them an even more important priority. Evaluating what is happening when a customer engages with your business or brand is more important than ever before. People will remember the businesses who came through for them during this time.

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