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.
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.