Like all business in the online marketplace, ecommerce will face its own challenges in 2017. If you are a small online business and you want to keep ahead of the curve, you need to come to terms with the trends that are impacting your sales and conversion online.
Now is an exciting time to be strengthening your position in the online retail marketplace. There are plenty of opportunities for those businesses that are focused on their marketing, able to restrain expenses and able to take advantage of innovations and technology.
While department stores continued to see a decline in 2016, marketplace establishments such as eBay, Alibaba and Amazon continue to grow. People are looking to shop in one place for a variety of items at any one time. This provides an exciting opportunity for small, niche market entrepreneurs to grab a profitable sector of the retail industry.
Above and beyond that, customer expectations are changing day today. Here are three trends in customer behavior and online retail along with the strategies you could employ to increase your retail dominance.
1. Introduce a Virtual Marketplace
The desire to conceive of your product and even sample it in some way before you purchase is becoming wildly popular.
Recently, the North Face, an outdoor sports retail specialist, began experimenting with its fashion displays in order to allow customers to experience their product in store as they might be used in the wilderness.
Nike, in one of its Paris stores, experimented with augmented reality by allowing customers to create and alter the appearance of shoe design and color.
HoloLens, a creation of Microsoft, enables you to design your ideal kitchen, perfect and alter it – and all before you spend any money.
While such technology might not be available to small niche industry retail, the concept is vital to understand.
Allowing your customers to experience, enjoy, fashion or design the product prior to purchase provides a competitive edge over more traditional purchasing streams.
The option to allow you to purchase the product, bring it home, try it on and then decide if you want to keep it has proven successful in the United States. Some online retailers allow buyers to choose the clothes they want and have them delivered. If they don’t like them they can return them without spedning a cent.
The principal here is simple: Your customers want to be able to experience the product before making a purchasing decision. Finding ways to accommodate this customer need is going to put you ahead of the curve in retail this year.
2. Tighten your Delivery and Shipping
Shipping and delivery have been a key battleground for retailers online. Some recent studies suggest that as many as 66% of online shopping decisions are made based on the terms of delivery.
Retailers need to investigate the most profitable options for them. For some, this will mean offering free shipping on certain purchases.
Door to door, courier, and other fast delivery options also need to be considered if you are to compete in a larger marketplace.
The bottom line is simple. If your competitor can deliver the product in 24 hours and it takes you five days, you are falling behind in the demands and expectation of online buyers.
Free shipping is not possible for everyone. Each business needs to consider its own unique position in the marketplace and find a gap where they can win a sector of their market through the shipping policies.
3. Repeat Business and Loyalty Programs
Why would a customer come to your store and create an entirely new account when they can purchase the same product under the same conditions to an account there already set up with Amazon?
Loyalty programs have typically puzzled online retailers. Many small online retailers don’t have a need to communicate with customers every day of the week. And so they have considered loyalty programs as being of no value.
While many traditional customer loyalty programs have fallen into decline over the last few years; there are still many opportunities to increase your customer’s engagement in your product and gain repeat business through strategic and intelligent loyalty programs.
Retailers will need to find an incentive for their customer base to enter into the loyalty programs. Amazon has achieved this with its Prime account which provides free shipping as a result of membership.
Retailers might have to consider discount programs for members, along with other promotional strategies in order to gain repeat business.
One of the problems with traditional loyalty programs is that customers have become indifferent to promises which require the delay of gratification.
For example, the fact that I might receive a free coffee in five coffees time is no longer a real incentive to become a member of a coffee club.
Retailers need to find ways to immediately satisfy their client or customer needs through the loyalty programs they run.
Retailers need to find ways to provide an exchange of value that is reciprocated. One of the ways retailers can do this is by enabling their customers to participate in a unique way with the business.
This might be in the form of customer contributions to the website or the product development phases of some line items.
Loyalty is not something that happens overnight. A consistent message coupled with a consistent, high-quality product or, service is what builds loyalty.
Small business retailers need to look into those opportunities where a customer can participate in a meaningful way adn then engage them.
Now is an exciting time for small, niche retailers to enter the marketplace. While the larger department stores and retailers are having to reinvent their value proposition for customers, smaller industries can step in and fill the gap.
Small business can turn more quickly and adapt more quickly than their larger bulkier cousins in mass merchandising.
But, like the larger department stores, these niche retail opportunities need to be taken up and thought through in the overall marketing plan of the business. A piecemeal approach will not last long.
The heart of success as we look ahead will be in our ability to satisfy the immediate demands and questions of our customer base.
We need to make the journey for the customer both enjoyable and satisfying as well as profitable for the business. We need to identify customer pain points as they change over time and meet those pain points with solutions.
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