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7 eCommerce Investments to Make in 2021

Adapting. We all did a lot of that in 2020, didn’t we?

In business, in socialising, in life – and for a while maybe we all thought this monumental change would blow over, and everything would just go back to the way it was before.

Well… it hasn’t. But – being presented with those challenges and changes opens up the door to endless new opportunities. So if you’re in eCommerce, it’s really time to start looking at how the market is changing permanently, both for 2021 and beyond, and what you can do to ensure you stay in business – and hopefully, start (or continue to) thrive, too.

Whether you have a little to invest back into your business this year – or a lot – it’s all about being smart with what you have, and directing it where it’s needed most. We’ve pulled together the 7 areas within eCommerce we think will have the biggest impact over the next few years – so if one or more of these is lacking in your business, it’s time to change that!

1. A Robust Platform

Last year it was enough to just have an online store. Many merchants whacked up a simple eCommerce system as fast as possible, and it did the job back then… But want to stay ahead of the game? It’s time to really invest in your website and supporting systems. 

Whether that’s switching to a scaleable, robust new platform that will grow and adapt as your business does, finding secure and sensible ways to manage and act on data, or simply investing in great people and expertise, your business will only flourish online if you have all the behind-the-scenes stuff managed.

Really want to take it to the next level? Invest in a PWA now, and rest assured your site will be adaptable and ready to scale. A ‘headless’ system architecture means your site will be super-fast and continue to rank well, throughout updates to search engine algorithms (so all your hard work on SEO doesn’t go to waste). Plus – sites built this way work incredibly well on mobile, where a huge portion of eCommerce traffic now comes from. For everything you need to know on PWAs, check out our comprehensive eBook.

2. Customer Retention

If you experienced an influx of new customers last year, now’s the time to invest in retaining them. We all know getting new leads is the most expensive part of our marketing, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invest in existing customers – quite the opposite.

With more competition in the online marketplace, and new brands launching all the time, it’s easier than ever for your customers to go elsewhere. How will you keep them shopping with you?

It’s not all about offering the best price, either. A few things to think about:

  • Tiered loyalty schemes that reward consistent spending
  • Personalised product recommendations
  • Early release and pre-order options for subscribers
  • Environmental or ethical policies consumers can get behind
  • Exclusive discount codes or freebies
  • Consistent communication and engagement
  • Building a brand community
  • Asking for and implementing customer feedback

3. Better use of Physical Space

High street retail isn’t dead (no matter how many times someone on the internet says so) – it’s just changing. Just like everything in our society, as the way we live, work, socialise and shop changes, so should our infrastructure around us. Rather than looking to offload physical space, we suggest you look at it in a different way – how can your stores, warehouses or collection points enhance the online offering?

It depends on what you sell, and the physical space you already have, but it’s a real opportunity to get creative with it.

  • Can you offer unique services in-store that make a store visit an exciting experience, worth the trip there?
  • Are you able to offer local collection points – through stores or third-party providers – to make shopping more convenient, accessible, affordable or eco-friendly?
  • Can you facilitate kerbside or drive-through collection so customers don’t even have to leave their cars to shop with you?
  • Can you set up a localised network of warehouse space to improve delivery times?
  • How can you efficientise or improve your order fulfilment or manufacturing?

A creative approach to this we love is Whole Foods’ first purpose-built dark store – closed to the public, it’s an entire store dedicated to online shopping. Staff have extra space to pick, pack and fulfil orders of fresh goods (and no customers to serve) which is great when social distancing is required, but even better when you need to scale capacity as demand increases. It’s not limited to the US either – dark stores are touted to be the future of the UK grocery industry too, with Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda and Morrisons all investing in them to support their online grocery delivery services.

4. Products and Campaigns that Cater to our new Hybrid Lifestyle

Over the last year, the products that have seen growth are the ones that cater to our new way of living – things that were important before were suddenly less so, and things we didn’t have time for were suddenly an option for us. The bottom fell out of the formalwear market, because no-one need a suit on a Zoom call, but everyone started buying pyjamas and loungewear instead. As spending on dining out, socialising and holidays became a no-go, consumers spent more on takeaways, craft supplies, baking ingredients, home furnishings, and DIY products. 

It doesn’t always take developing an entirely new product line to capitalise on a pivot in consumer behaviour. Sometimes it’s just a well-timed and thought through campaign; knowing so many people were missing holidays, Expedia inspired consumers with a clever stop-motion inspired ad centred around planning future trips. Many fashion brands already had loungewear lines, and there are endless examples of them pivoting to ‘work from home fashion’ messaging as consumer appetite switched from sparkly tops to cosy pyjamas.

Whether it’s gifting or DIY, loungewear or home improvements – many of these trends are likely here to stay, at least for a while. Which of your upcoming product lines or collections can add value to our new home-based, hyper-digital lifestyle?

5. Enhanced Online Support

That support and advice your amazing team would usually offer in-store? Don’t let it go to waste – your customers still want it, even when they’re shopping online.

It takes a little work to adapt the in-person shopping experience to the online space, but the investment is worth it. Getting the customers the information they need – and cutting down enquiry response time – will have an exponential impact on your conversion rates, and in turn your bottom line.

Level up your online support with:

  • Video tutorials, explanations and guides
  • Step-by-step blog posts, comparisons, and advice
  • Live chat on your website
  • Fast responses to customer enquiries via email and social media
  • Use of social listening tools to capture customer queries
  • Live 1:1 consultations via video call
  • Retraining shop staff to help with online queries

It’s especially important for higher-ticket items – and we love the approach cycle brand Ribble took to this issue. Customers from across the globe can arrange a 1:1 call with an expert in-store, all from the comfort of their own home – to access personalised advice, recommendations and the confidence to make the best purchase decision. Check it out for yourself here.

6. Gifting Offering

In 2020 we saw a huge demand for gifting – as consumers couldn’t visit their loved ones in person, sending gifts became suddenly way more important. Everything you can imagine – from brownie boxes and handmade chocolates to letterbox bouquets and personalised artwork – descended on the postal system to brighten people’s days.

And now we’re a little more used to it… the possibilities are endless. Birthday presents for far-flung loved ones; sympathy gifts for those we can’t be with right now; even just a little something to let a friend know you’re thinking of them. Gifts aren’t limited to booze, chocolate and flowers any more either – the wackier and more personal the better, so whether you sell books, bras or bedding, you can totally get in on the action.

Some of the ways you can cater to gifting:

  • Order splitting
  • Offering gift wrap services
  • Including personal messages
  • Clear gifting options at checkout – so customers can hide prices or personal details
  • Shareable order tracking
  • Automatic delivery notifications
  • Gifting-specific marketing campaigns

7. Direct To Consumer (D2C)

As people stay away from the high street, and big department store brands scale down or stop trading all together, it’s never been a better time to go Direct To Consumer (D2C).

Customers are already used to the idea – whether that’s in beauty (Harry’s, Beauty Pie, Glossier), fashion and clothing (Snag, Allbirds, Reformation), gifting (Bloom & Wild, Papier, Firebox), groceries (Naked Wines, Gousto, Pact), furniture (MADE.com, Eve, Loaf) or fitness (Gymshark, Peloton) – no matter the industry, there’s consumer appetite to purchase directly from brands. It’s seen as a more affordable way to access higher quality products – since there are no ‘middlemen’ – while being just as convenient, often with a luxurious and joined-up shopping experience. And after the convenience of online shopping became the norm in 2020, consumer desire in this area will only grow.

Plus – what’s even more convenient than shopping online? A set-it-and-forget-it subscription for the things you always need. Whether it’s a modern resurgence of your local milkman or the Subscribe-and-Save service from Amazon, we love having to remember to do less stuff. And what could be better for merchants – for profits and stock control – than knowing exactly how many regular customers will be ordering from you next month? Win-win.

What else is great about D2C? Margins. With your own platform selling directly to the consumer, you don’t have to share a chunk of profits with a retailer. That extra money can be invested back into a slick website, stunning product photography, top-tier social content, digital advertising, new product development and of course, warehousing and logistics. There’s a reason great D2C brands grow fast.

The key here is being ready to scale – D2C is all about capturing those loyal customers who will buy from you again and again, so if you keep them coming back, you’ll need to be able to scale operations fast. Having a robust, agile strategy and room to grow will help you keep up with demand!

Where does your eCommerce business need to invest?

Whatever stage you’re at in your business journey, we’re willing to bet that one of the above will be a great investment for you. Some require a financial commitment, some more of a time commitment – but all will help your eCommerce business weather the proverbial storm and become more agile, hopefully leading to many more successful years of trading.

Need further guidance on strategy for your eCommerce business? We can help. Over the last decade we’ve helped a plethora of eCommerce brands grow their online channels through smart technology, robust strategies and joined-up-thinking. Contact us for a no-obligation chat about how we can help your business grow too – through specialist consultancy, discovery workshops or by becoming your eCommerce partner.