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E-commerce And Retail Evolution: A New Breath of Life

Well, COVID19 has proved a lifesaver in some ways, a reversal of fortune for some. Given isolation and high demands on E-commerce.

Prior to lockdown, Groupon made a global announcement. They were closing down their goods division globally.  Then these were thrown a lifeline whilst their other 2 channels, ones they’d ideally focus on, travel and local/leisure, took the hit instead.

Setting up an E-Commerce ‘business’ these days, in principle anyway, on paper and in theory, seems a pretty a low barrier to entry. So lots are doing so.

The cold hard truth for retail is it’s become a saturated space. One made even trickier due to the nature of human behaviours channelled via consumers or collaborators: more demanding, higher expectations, more fickle at times, less loyal too perhaps (being spoilt for choice and bombarded wit noise) and almost certainly far less patient.

If that item doesn’t arrive exactly on time, or in condition as promised, to the minute, expect push back. The same goes in store with not getting their own way. Making a healthy profit in retail has for some become tough.

If you can’t make money, or losing it regularly, there comes a point where you have to look in the mirror and ask tough questions.

Unless, of course, you intend to leverage a particular facet, kind of like a loss leader or lead generator, as a feeder into other aspects of your business you have to seriously redefine your business approach. Or, accept you are simply an eager retailing hobby hustling enthusiast or running a dot.org.

Even some of the big players are finding greater challenges in how to keep the leaky retail bucket at bay?

The challenge with your potential retail consumers (everyone with access to the Internet in the case of E-commerce) is they’ve shortcut to a large degree the way in which retail sales are conducted.

The fact that everyone has at their fingertips all the information and choice they think they’ll ever need means initial conversations, even face to face, are often cut to the chase of the transaction.

It’s hard to win in the experience economy where the real value, or discovery process, has been stripped from the relationship.

Another danger being when the consumer leaps straight to conversations on price is that you follow suit.

To keep playing a retail hand this way is to die a death of a thousand disloyal cuts or to smash even greater holes in your faltering bucket once considered a flood proof ark!

In fact this is a lesson dating back to the earliest days, the pre historic Neanderthal equivalent days, in group buying site terms.

Many businesses, finding themselves under duress and stress with their business sinking fast, figured a last ditch effort of appealing to a potential mass market through vouchers and discounts might prove a life raft.

We are well and truly in the experience economy and people will remember how they are treated or how they felt along the way.

If you treat discount buyers (regardless whether through aggregators or direct campaigns) like 2nd rate citizens (you know, tucking them in dark corners of premises or hurrying them along and out the door so proper guests, a more desirable crowd of full paying customers, don’t have to mix with rif-raf) you’ll end up doing more harm than good.  You’ve scuttled your own vessel.

If you are to use hooks or specials of any kind, do so strategically, do so ethically keep your value high, and remember the golden rule of treating every customer as a precious gem.

Create experiences, aspire to make them say ‘Wow’, preferably aloud, then entice their positivity to be the talk of the town, on social too, for you.

Learn to package your own experiences along the entire customer journey: streamline processes and focus on building real value. A completely different consideration to price and something frequently misunderstood.

The irony being the majority of real value in this world, the way you win in the experience economy, lives outside of the parameters of tangible value alone.

Emotional value can be built through better stories, sensory engagement, unique goods or services and improved methods of personalisation.  All of which can be created both in store and online.

Rather than only using technology to cipher data and automate the dropping of names into regular emails or blasting out daily newsletters of relevance based on previous buying habits look for ways to add another point of difference.

In a face-to-face environment, asking questions, listening to the answers and, where relevant, not in a creepy stalker way, demonstrate that active listening. Make suggestions of relevance based on real conversations.  The same can be done with documentation of key themes via contact centres and CRM.

Those things are good, but they are not real personalisation in the sense of demonstrating the real gold. Thought, conscious human connection, human effort or touch.

Intelligence is a sign of effort. Effort says you care as much as a bunch of roses gifted in the hand.

Service value is also being far more considered, especially, it seems, in the habits of increasing millennial buyers.

More and more people care well beyond the price of goods or services to issues of sustainable products or impact on environments. They care  more about communities and the businesses who play an active (not virtue signalling) role in this space.

And then there’s the ace card, relationship value. Building and maintaining a relationship with a consumer is often overlooked. Especially when there’s too heavy a focus on automation, tech stacks or technology as the enabler.

This is where values and behaviours inherent in a culture, along with consistency in mechanisms such as a well thought out, appropriate, sales methodology, are critical.

Regardless whether your business is direct to consumer, an aggregator or a middle man exploding potential market visibility, it’s wise to build a playbook of strategies to do as Groupon suggested for a while: #makelifelessboring.

Find ways to move conversations and perceptions from price to value. Make sure that the experiences you create leave indelible, positive, brain tattoos.

We shall remain in the experience economy on the other side of lockdown. Additionally we are beginning to see value systems and what people value being re-evaluated or truly rediscovered.

Put aside a minority percentage of hoarders, or a rush for certain trending items essential for thriving in a remote work from home era, we are already seeing signs of people taking stock, somewhat of their values.

We’re appreciating the efforts of employees in retailer at multi-levels, through to shelf packers. We’re seeing trends of encouragement supporting retail, hospitality, tourism and travel. People are waiting, somewhat eager to a time where they can meander amidst a flock of other shoppers once more.

Plus speak to people like Mike Mindstrong, Executive Director with Retail Compliance, with his finger on the pulse in terms of trends, and the suggestions are areas such as garden nurseries are resurgently booming.

There are clear signs that our value systems and our appreciation of value is being redefined and perhaps our keenness to once again stick our hands in the dirt and flirt with plants is an indicator of a more grounded openness to appreciate value on the other side of lockdown.

Your goal is to create the experiences to make that appreciation more obvious or a no brainer.