Is this the year that changed retail forever?

We are now into the busiest shopping months of the year, and it’s clear that the way we browse and buy has changed – possibly forever – and that retailers must embrace new habits and trends to remain relevant.

Ecommerce boomed in 2020, and the cause is obvious. The global pandemic hit our shores early in the year and more than six months ago the government ordered the population to stay indoors and for all but the most essential of shops to close their doors.

This meant that for pasta, toilet roll, home haircut kits, car parts, hobby equipment and everything in between, online retailers were the favourable – and sometimes only – option.

Perhaps that’s not surprising, but what few predicted was that ecommerce is continuing to grow even as social distancing restrictions are easing. And with major events such as Christmas on the horizon, spending through online shops is set to be catapulted to unknown levels.

Here are a few trends of note: High street footfall is down across the UK – and not just during the strictest weeks and months of the lockdown, but it’s ongoing. In-person shopping in towns and cities is, on average, down 30% compared with 12 months ago, and the decline got steeper throughout September.

Meanwhile, online retailers are the beneficiaries. From the smaller, niche outlets through to the major players, order levels are up. In fact, Amazon is recruiting 7,000 additional workers on top of its planned increase of 20,000 seasonal workers to keep up with demand during the Golden Quarter.

So if you run a retail operation of any description, here’s what you need to know: ecommerce is taking over, and it’s time to make your moves.

Online sellers of all description, from across all sectors, are benefitting from this increase in spend. But a study by Clearwater International showed that it’s the companies who invest in digital marketing that reap the biggest rewards.

Investment in SEO, PPC and social media marketing is clearly correlated with sales success.

And these investments are paying greater dividends, too. Because of the changing nature of the way we shop, repeat online orders are growing rapidly, too. Customers are falling in love with new brands and sticking with them. That means that each customer won in late 2020 (and beyond) is worth more in the long-term than the same individual would have been a year or more ago. In short, marketing spend is reaping higher returns on investment overall.

What’s become more difficult, however, is standing out from the crowd. While there is more money being spent online, there are also more places to spend it. It’s not enough to simply exist online any more, that’s no longer novel. Shoppers have more options than ever before, and it’s far easier to click from one shop to the next than walking or driving between shops ever was.

This means that your digital marketing needs to be smart, well-designed and backed-up by a high-quality, easy-to-navigate, secure ecommerce platform to secure your share of this boom in online spending.

The same study by Clearwater International which found that marketing spend correlated with sales success also drilled down the results further and found that targeted, data driven campaigns were the most effective of all. That means understanding your customers, your potential audience, marketing through the channels they use, utilising the keywords they search for and enticing them with the sorts of deals that compel them to purchase.

There’s another factor to consider: is it possible to be too successful? Hit the right notes and your order levels could grow exponentially, but this is only good news if you have the stock levels, the distribution channels and the people power to process them all (and the inevitable returns, too.)

Bad customer experience can earn you bad reviews which, with social media and the rise in prominence of review sites, can affect your reputation for years. Some retailers are beginning to time sales earlier in the year to help spread demand out more evenly over the busiest periods.

But get your marketing right, and your processes in place, and your online shop could flourish right as ecommerce spending takes a giant stride forward.

Here’s three steps you can take right away:

  • The Golden Quarter is here, make sure your marketing reflects this
  • Use PPC and SEO to your advantage, it’s proven to get results
  • Assess your stock levels and distribution plan. Are you ready?