Winning at omnichannel commerce in the social distancing era

  • Posted on July 1, 2020
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes
Winning at omnichannel commerce in the social distancing era

While the focus has mostly been on handling day-to-day business during the pandemic, it makes sense to look forward and to step smartly in that direction. Foresight is especially essential in the rapidly shifting realm of omnichannel retail and commerce.  

Dependable foresight springs from problem-solving skills that integrate analysis with intuition, grounded in hands-on experience. So, we asked six of Avanade’s best forward-thinkers to share their views on the current triggers, trends and technologies impacting omnichannel commerce and on retailers’ smartest path forward. Our commerce foresight panel includes a mix of savvy marketers, technologists and strategists: Lauren David, Elizabeth Ebert, Megan Dills, Rob Want, Ben Adamski and Joe Kehoe.

Which consumer shopping shifts are here to stay? 

Joe Kehoe: Subscription models are here to stay for low consideration products where brand doesn’t matter.  More consumers now want to just set it and forget it. “Commerce with a heart” is another trend that may be here to stay. Consumers are increasingly partial to socially-responsible brands who give back to community causes as part of each purchase. The other trend is to the types of frugal, comfort habits that increase during hard times like cooking and teaching our kids to cook.  

Megan Dills: With remote working has come an increase in multi-screen usage and multi-mode usage of devices. Screen time is up as people are watching TV while they text others and do other online tasks. Omnichannel marketers need to consider the multiple devices and contexts in which they’re communicating. Beyond delivering capabilities like buy-online-pay-in-store, retailers need to be training their workforce to have a more omnichannel mindset and to engage in a consistent way across all devices, situations and channels.  

Rob Want: Behavior is shifting not just in the relationship between consumers and retailers but between retailers and suppliers. Consumer loyalty is harder to maintain right now because of inventory challenges and difficulty of not being able to give customers a tactile experience of product selection.  Since that’s likely to continue, retailers will need to do a better job of leveraging their multiple stores for omnichannel fulfillment while reducing returns and dissatisfaction. Customers may buy from a new retailer just because it has an item in stock.  Because they’re more price sensitive now, customers are also more likely to switch retail sources based on price. The supplier relationship is also changing as retailers figure out more flexible supplier strategies. Going forward, retailers are likely to seek a broader set of suppliers from which they can shop around to ensure competitive pricing and sufficient inventory.

How can retailers adapt quickly and successfully to the current demands of omnichannel commerce?

Elizabeth Ebert: Right now, commerce is all about transactions.  The retailer that wins a sale is the one with the product available at the best price. Even buy-online-pick-up-at-curb approaches are transactional rather than experiential ones. As we move forward, retailers will have to move beyond cost and convenience and start doubling down on customer experience as it is redefined in our new environment.  

Lauren David: As online shopping becomes more common place, retailers will need to differentiate on experience and service. They’ll need to know their customers better and engage with them more intimately.  Retailers will need to deepen their personalized shopping experiences and get out of a reactive, transactional mode if they want to rebuild loyalty. That will mean significantly different and enhanced treatment for loyal customers. 

Ben Adamski: The increase in online shopping is here to stay. So, companies need to pay more attention to how they are providing a distinctive brand experience online when the store plays a lesser role. The best retailers will echo and amplify in-store brand experience across all channels?  

Joe Kehoe: Now is the time to get ahead of customer expectations by looking at social media and search trends to see where people’s expectations are going near term and then innovating around those trends – not just shopping trends but workplace and societal trends.  Retailers who aren’t protecting the well-being of their staff during this tough time are losing customers long-term. Those that are taking care of their people while delivering on new business models and those that are giving back to the world are winning. They’re going the extra mile and customers are responding. There’s a toilet paper subscription company online that is making products with environmentally friendly materials and donating 50% of their profits to help build toilets for those in need. They’ve sold out.  

What enterprise technology changes can marketers make now to prepare them for continued consumer shopping shifts over the next 24 months?

Lauren David: We have several retail clients right now with employees spending more time outside of stores – for instance, handling curbside pick-up. Those retailers are focusing on how they can better use technology to keep their on-ground workface safe and secure. Also, many off-price retailers didn’t have a robust e-commerce presence, if they had any. They should view the current situation as an opportunity to catch up.  

Elizabeth Ebert: Many major retailers weren’t prepared for the crisis because their systems didn’t enable flexible work arrangements or support working from home.  More retailers will be moving to the cloud, adopting video collaboration and implementing contactless payment. We will probably see a rise in implementation of store tracking tools which monitor customers’ in-store behavior in relation to local restrictions.  

Rob Want: We will see more retailers implementing automation technology like robotics for picking and packing orders and internet-of-things systems that make things like curbside pick-up more seamless. For instance, it might be useful to have a system where an outdoor camera recognizes a customer’s license plate and notifies personnel that the customer is ready for pick-up. With more commerce moving online, we’ll also see more omnichannel commerce companies adopting robust digital asset management tools and improving their ability to scale in a cloud environment.  

Ben Adamski: Retailers offering curbside pick-up may also want to implement location services and expand the information they collect about customers like license plate, car color and model. Omnichannel retailers will want to invest in better real time inventory visibility. Tools that improve self-service capabilities are also going to be in greater demand.

Joe Kehoe: The key is to add agility and embrace simplicity. Retailers need to get up and running with e-commerce basics quickly and there’s no time to gold plate their commerce solutions.  Apply a lean start-up approach to your e-commerce efforts. Another key is to think and act in a mobile-first way. Your customer base can’t get to their company-owned PC in the office, so they’re on personal mobile devices at home.  

Megan Dills: Organizations will be investing in using data to become more proactive with customers.  Predictive analytics that drive anticipatory customer communications will be more important. Of course, more contactless technology will continue to grow, too.

Even amidst the disruptive shifts of the shopping marketplace right now, retailers need to carve out time to reimagine their businesses to thrive now and post crisis. Retailers that rely on foresight to reinvent themselves as conditions evolve will be best positioned to succeed. Avanade has responded to this emerging need by creating a program to jumpstart contactless omnichannel commerce.  

We encourage commerce providers that need to play catch-up to explore our new Avanade Commerce Accelerator and contact us directly to discuss how we can help you pivot faster.

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