By Laura Lough, Director of Ecommerce Operations at Digital River
There is no doubt the year 2020 presented an array of economic and personal challenges worldwide. But, there was a silver lining for the world of ecommerce. By necessity, the pandemic encouraged people to shop online, which grew the ecommerce industry rapidly. The outlook for 2021 is cautiously optimistic. While consumers may react to lifted social distancing restrictions with exuberant spending, they could also continue to hang on to their money over fear COVID variants might cause more economic upheaval during the winter of 2021-22. Experts are predicting another year of growth, but not at the breath-taking rates seen in 2020.
Whether the growth rate surges or stabilises, one thing is certain: new shopping behaviours learned by consumers because of COVID are here to stay. Contactless payments, mobile wallets and social spending all saw new consumer use in 2020, and consumers who appreciate their convenience aren’t likely to abandon those new habits.
There are some fundamentals that eCommerce providers must take onboard now if they want to have a successful holiday season.
Meet your customers’ high expectations
Gone are the days when fulfilment and supply chain were little-known ecommerce topics. Shipping delays due to a surge in ecommerce demand in 2020 as well as the Suez Canal blockage in March of 2021 brought fulfilment issues to the front page, literally.
Adding to the challenges are current lorry driver shortages and supply chain disruptions. The upshot is supply chain issues will continue to challenge ecommerce brands. Those ramping up closer to the holidays are likely to face some headwinds. However, whether you’re ahead of the game or playing catch-up, you can develop fulfilment strategies that will serve you well in the years to come, as supply chain issues are not going away anytime soon.
Businesses can use their data to intelligently predict consumer behaviour, allowing them to be ready for surges in demand for different products and locations. Avoid costly returns by giving the shopper an overload of information such as product images, comparison charts and reviews. To simplify reverse logistics and appeal to your customers, consider partnering with third-party drop-off sites for brands that don’t have physical stores.
Most critically, brands must communicate clearly, effectively and transparently with customers. They cannot expect sympathy from customers if fulfilment issues outside of their control delay delivery. Customers have come to expect shipping that fulfils their needs and desires—not the needs of retailers.
Accessibility for all
Many ecommerce marketing best practices that were true pre-COVID will continue to hold true this season. Retailers must develop unique customer acquisition strategies and marketing collateral for each market they enter — translated content isn’t enough. They should also use local channels, and messaging should remain cohesive across channels.
It’s critical to incorporate social buying into your marketing strategy as more customers are engaging with brands on their preferred platforms, which are increasingly social. Mobile commerce is another critical component to your marketing strategy, and it’s important to develop an optimised and responsive mobile experience for your customers.
Another important consideration is making sure your D2C platform is accessible to those with disabilities. In addition, brands need to pay attention to how COVID has affected various areas of the world, so tailoring your messaging to local realities is critical.
Payment strategies as a tool for business success
Payment systems are so important for brands that they should constitute a strategy in and of themselves, rather than just a back-office tactic. Over the pandemic several payment systems have become business-critical:
- Digital Wallets: Consumer use of digital wallets surged during the pandemic. Chinese shoppers made the bulk of digital wallet purchases. In the US, digital wallet usage was up nearly 24% over 2019 numbers.
- BNPL: Buy now, pay later (BNPL) is another payment method that is quickly rising in popularity. Brands offering BNPL have reported a 45% increase in average order value when customers pay in four instalments.
- Mobile: Consumers will continue to rely more heavily on their smartphones to make purchases in 2021 and beyond. It’s critical for brands to optimise the mobile experience with payment methods that allow shoppers to pay with one touch of a button rather than entering a credit card number.
- Direct Debit: Direct debit is another payment method that brands should consider adding to their online store. In this scenario, which is most popular in Europe, the retailer withdraws money directly from a consumer’s bank account.
Lean on tech
Underpinning every aspect of an eCommerce strategy is data. Businesses must leverage their data by developing a comprehensive customer-centric system that includes the entire customer lifecycle, including search, payment methods, and sales and shopper support data.
eCommerce providers can boost conversion rates, improve customer experience and reduce false declines by using a local payments processor that understands each market you’re in. Ensure that your payments partners are using retry logic to automatically route payments in a way that maximises the likelihood of authorisation.
Retailers simply must prepare well in advance for a surge in traffic to their platforms. If 2020 is any indication, the number of shoppers transacting through your platforms at any given time can vary wildly. That’s why it’s critical to test your system well ahead of time to ensure it can handle the load and make the adjustments early. More than any time of year, a failure to prepare spells trouble.
Finally, companies should select their partners carefully. They should look to work with back-office experts with specific tech and market experience. Appropriate partners can facilitate your brand to deliver tangible results this holiday season, ensuring you finish the year with a bang.
A Smarter World: What role will electronics play in 2022
There has been a sharp increase in technology and devices designed to make our lives simpler, faster and more productive in recent years.
Industry 4.0 is taking the digital revolution of the late 1900s one step further, combining cyber-physical systems with the power of the internet of things (IoT) to automate computerised decision-making and enhance efficiency. As a result, intelligent technology has surpassed the simple tools and gadgets people enjoy using every day; it has become a driving force for innovation and problem-solving for businesses worldwide.
The first generation of ‘smart’ technology products provided enhanced connectivity, allowing people to stream video on smart televisions or communicate wirelessly between devices. But with the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), our devices do more than simply talk to each other; they collect and interpret data to inform user experience and automate processes that would typically require human guidance.
From watches to phones, building controls to medical equipment, we are heading towards a ‘smarter’ world at lightning speed. So, in 2022 and beyond, technology will continue to evolve and improve its capabilities to deliver personalised, mechanised solutions that will optimise functions and enhance our day-to-day lives.
How will smart tech change our way of life?
The pandemic has significantly impacted global technology trends, with lockdowns contributing to heightened activity within the consumer electronics industry.
The demand for games consoles, smart televisions and other entertainment devices led to an 18% increase in the global consumer electronics market (excluding North America) in the first half of 2021, reflecting pandemic-related behavioural changes and consumers’ growing expectations for premium electronics. Following the outbreak of COVID-19, the public is also more conscious of their health and the limitations of our health services than ever before. Wearable technology such as smartwatches — which can remotely monitor and record physical health data — is, thus, becoming increasingly appealing.
As more and more businesses embrace remote working models, employees are enhancing their homes with innovative home technology, too. Demand for devices such as mobile stereo headsets and headphones spiked in the wake of lockdowns. Organisations are also embarking on digital transformation to secure online networks and optimise energy efficiency in modern offices.
The future of the electric vehicle market also looks bright. With governments facing global pressure to reduce carbon emissions, major automotive manufactures like Bentley, Volkswagen and Audi have pledged to cut fossil fuel cars from their product portfolios by 2030. And despite the pandemic-related semiconductor shortage that crippled the automotive industry, UK electric vehicle sales jumped 186% in 2020.
How will the electronics industry meet demands?
In a digital world, technology is embedded in everyday objects, and ubiquitous computing connects devices through continuous networks of sensors and servers — all of which must be carefully designed and produced by electronics manufacturers. As a result, the future of electrical engineering will depend on the industry’s ability to address the technical and logistical considerations for delivering these advanced systems and equipment.
From smart grids to intelligent lighting, IoT has the potential to revolutionise the way we live. With technology permeating so much of our lives already, local governments are investing in ‘smart cities’ that will harness data collected through the IoT and cloud-based technology to tackle social issues and improve urban life, sustainability and transport. However, the IoT will also be essential to developing new electronics.
Brexit, the pandemic and labour shortages have impacted supply chains and threatened to stunt the industry’s ability to keep up with ever-increasing demand. But embracing IoT can streamline processes, provide accurate real-time data to mitigate supply chain disruption and improve the overall quality of printed circuit boards (PCBs) and other core components within electronics. Plus, as sustainability is a core focus for businesses across sectors in 2022, developments in AI and ML will be crucial to ensuring systems are operating with the minimum energy output.
From remotely controlled wire cutters to industrial robotics performing monotonous tasks in factories, investing in robotics will also be crucial for electronics manufacturing services providers. While the industry focuses on training the next generation of engineers, adopting robotics will reduce the likelihood of human error that might affect manufacturers’ abilities to continue delivering high-quality electronics products at scale.
Investing in workforce intelligence now, leads to an optimised tomorrow
Michael Cupps (Senior VP, Marketing, ActiveOps) discusses four critical ways in which a new world of workforce data improves organisational function.
As governments work rapidly to respond to the Omicron variant, businesses experienced its effects as a timely reminder that flexibility is an essential part of any attempt to open offices again.
Even in a hybrid work environment, the unpredictable nature of the world and people’s lives means that organisations will need workforce management methods and tools that are flexible and intelligent to make the transition a success.
As a result, it’s as important now as ever to look at how data is the key to getting direction during these changing times – and how some of the data requirements that might seem burdensome can be a source of optimisation.
Attitudes on workforce data are continuing to change with the times
The pandemic has already forced a sea-level change in how operations managers understand their workforce and workload and plan their operations. While traditional workforce management data was based on looking around the office to get a sense of things and historical data around skills, schedules, inventory, and so forth, the pandemic left many operations managers in the dark as their teams worked remotely. Many organisations had already adapted to this change, implementing new methods of understanding productivity and performance and managing employees that were effective when working from home.
As hybrid working becomes the norm, the question remains for managers, where are my people most productive? Working from home is the preferred option for many employees, but not all of them – and not all types of work can be adapted to remote working.
More recently, other layers have started to appear that present a challenge to operations managers. One layer is eligibility – as in, who is allowed to work in an office or not.
Of course, US organisations will still be feeling the effects of the government’s attempt to enforce a nationwide vaccine mandate. Still, other countries are facing similar legislation – Western Europe is experiencing what can only be described as a ‘COVID-19 reality check’ when Austria became the first country to enforce a total lockdown since the vaccine rollout. The news of a rising number of cases has led to drastic actions from Schallenberg, with the announcement that Austria will enact compulsory vaccinations in early 2022, which has sparked violence in Vienna as tens of thousands of people protest the measures.
While vaccinations have been the key to the UK’s return to normality, nations that continue to struggle with controlling the virus will have an eye on Austria’s vaccine mandate and consequently fear that it will be a sign of what’s to come. With the ever-changing pandemic situation in Europe, businesses must prepare for the uncertainty.
If other Western European countries follow Austria’s example, vaccination mandates will inevitably add a new and novel challenge for businesses. Across every industry, management teams are already feeling overwhelmed. After two years of new variants, new vaccines, and new restrictions on the workforce, Austria’s mandate, as well as Biden’s Executive Orders in the USA, exemplify a new risk to the growing stability that vaccinations gave us.
Some organisations are implementing their own mandates regardless of national policy – the upshot being that, as a result, operations managers now need to know who is allowed to work in a particular location at any given moment. And of course, as the Omicron variant becomes more widespread and its effects are felt in society, organisations will need to rapidly adjust their plans to keep employees safe and comply with the law.
This can all feel very burdensome for operations managers: more data to gather, more lenses through which to look at workload, resources, and availability. But while there may be some initial pain associated with responding to these new requirements, I believe that they present an opportunity to create a more optimised future of work.
Understanding comprehensive workforce data can make business life more manageable. Thereby, it’s crucial to outline the four ways it contributes to a productive workplace.
1: It creates a well-balanced and engaged workforce
It’s no secret that your employees will have preferences for where they work. Understanding those preferences and factoring that into your planning can help ensure your employees are engaged in their work, improving productivity, well-being, and retention. If you can layer that information with data on employees’ performance in different environments, you have another part of the picture to help you balance your workforce. Of course, that data may need a third layer – who is eligible to work in which locations – and that needs to be handled correctly so that you comply with any local or national laws that are in force or will come into force.
2: It helps to reduce costs
This has already been discussed concerning the pandemic in a few places. As organisations move to hybrid working models, their need for office space reduces the costs associated with it. That could include rent, power, heating, water, insurance, and facilities.
But the cost argument goes beyond the maths of office space. Armed with the correct data, organisations can ensure that their people are working where they are most productive and happiest. That can reduce costs, mainly in decreased absenteeism, costing thousands of pounds per year.
That reduced cost could be used to help balance the books in a tight year – or it could mean that funds are available for training and coaching programmes that improve employee performance or even on rewarding high-performing employees.
3: It broadens the scope for your talent pool
Although gathering and analysing more data might feel burdensome, the truth is that it enables you to implement hybrid working models effectively and with confidence that they will deliver. And that means that you gain all the benefits of a hybrid work environment – including a vastly expanded talent pool. With minor roles a part of the norm, you can hire anyone from any country, allowing you to create more diverse and talented teams than you could before.
4: It can help make a positive contribution to sustainability efforts
Most organisations are considering reducing their carbon footprint and becoming more sustainable. If your organisation uses data to support a hybrid workforce, you should see a reduction in emissions on multiple fronts. You may see reduced emissions as fewer employees commute and those who commute less. You may see a reduced need for office lighting and heating – not to mention a reduction in office waste – as footfall in the office decreases.
The workforce data you gather to enable all this will help demonstrate a contribution to your organisation’s emission reduction programme – or could even form the basis of starting one if you haven’t already.
Availability is the new eligibility
It’s essential to start thinking about gathering data in a different light. Eligibility is arguably the most pressing (and stressing) requirement for organisations right now, and the temptation can be to find a solution that focuses solely on eligibility. But to take a broader view, eligibility data isn’t that different from the other data you’re gathering about employees and where they can work. You’re trying to build a picture of where your workforce is based – and eligibility is just one more layer on top of others, such as where your employees prefer to work and where they are most productive. When you consider the challenge in those terms, the uses for the data, you’re gathering suddenly expand. We’re calling the blanket term for this data “availability.”
Of course, gathering availability data – and indeed all the workforce intelligence that makes the four things I’ve mentioned possible – is the trick. In a hybrid world, that data needs to be gathered automatically, wherever employees are based, in real-time, to give managers as much detail as possible. But at the same time, organisations need to find solutions to prevent managers from drowning in data, which will prevent them from getting on with their jobs.
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