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20 years of ecommerce – and the impact on every business

August 20, 2014 Leave a comment

The first secure ecommerce transaction took place 20 years ago when a lucky shopper paid $12.48 plus shipping to buy Sting’s album, Ten Summoner’s Tales, from NetMarket. From these small beginnings online sales have grown to hit £93 billion in the UK last year, according to IMRG, and are expected to top £100 billion in 2014.

Heptica_20_yearsow we shop today is radically different to 1994, changing the retail sector completely and reshaping the competitive landscape. ‘New entrants’, such as Amazon, have grown to become billion dollar corporations, while many long-established high street names have disappeared.

Aside from the benefits to consumers in terms of greater choice and lower prices, ecommerce has driven 3 major changes that have impacted business, particularly retail.

1. Customers demand more
The balance of power between companies and their customers has shifted. The combination of greater competition and the advent of social media means that consumers can easily switch supplier, as well as share their experiences on social media. This doesn’t just apply to retail – customers are demanding more from every organisation they deal with, from utilities and banks to government departments. No matter what sector you are in, you are judged by the same standards as the best performing organisations, so you need to ensure you are benchmarking against them and improving to provide what customers want.

2. The customer experience is paramount
Twenty years ago, the experience received by customers was patchy. Some high street shops were renowned for poor and unhelpful service, but as consumers had little choice, little was done to improve the experience. Indeed, the term customer experience was little known back in 1994. Its importance has developed in parallel with ecommerce, across every channel and sector.

Now, in today’s multichannel world, shoppers expect the same, consistently high, levels of service in-store as online, or over the phone. At the same time, the recent recession has focused retailers on better understanding their customers and delivering what they want, no matter how they make contact. The technology and tools are available to empower staff with the right information to provide this, helping to retain customers and build brand loyalty.

3. Integration is vital
At many points over the last two decades experts have predicted the end of the high street, with all retail sales moving to online channels. This has obviously not happened, and with the growth of click and collect services and flagship stores, physical shops have never been more vital. However, what is crucial is that all these channels are integrated to meet customer needs. Shoppers might browse the web on their mobile, place an order through their PC and then pick the item up in a shop or return an ecommerce purchase in-store. Consumers want the ability to switch channels dependent on their circumstances and needs, meaning that retailers need to integrate their operations to ensure a seamless, cross-channel experience that is centred on the customer.

Expect to see equally radical change in retail over the next 20 years, as new channels, and distribution mechanisms, build on the foundations of ecommerce. However, what won’t change is the need to focus on the customer – delivering the right experience across the multichannel journey. Organisations in all sectors therefore need to put in place the framework to manage every channel holistically, underpinned with consistent information based on customer needs. By doing this, they will be able to build lasting relationships that increase loyalty and revenues, now and in the future.

Why retailers shouldn’t ignore social media commerce

May 3, 2012 2 comments
Graph of social media activities

Graph of social media activities (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Facebook launched its e-commerce platform, a huge number of high profile retailers opened virtual stores on the social media network. Since then many of these have closed amidst poor customer take-up – for example recent research found that just 2% of French consumers would buy through Facebook. However new retailers are still opening F-commerce stores and niche boutiques are recording impressive sales figures. And don’t forget that Facebook itself has grown to become the most visited site on the web with around 850 million members.

While the jury may be out on F-commerce itself, there’s no doubting the importance of social media to retailers’ strategies. Here are five areas, based on Eptica’s experience working with retailers across Europe, where social media can be incorporated into overall operations.

1          Listening to your customers
Social media provides a perfect forum to listen to and learn from your customers. A great example of this is a current thread on parenting site Mumsnet discussing Mothercare. It may contain a lot of criticism but the key point is that this is the right demographic giving detailed feedback about what is holding them back from buying from the retailer. Make sure you are listening to your customers – and acting on what they say.

2          Engaging with customers
Fashion retailers have been particularly successful in using their presence on social media sites such as Facebook to build stronger relationships with their customers. Obviously in many cases, their target audience are avid Facebook users which makes it the perfect channel to engage on. Recent research found that a combination of regularly updated content, special offers and instore promotion had led to Topshop attracting over 2.2 million fans for its page.

3          Social customer service
As we’ve discussed before social media gives a megaphone to anyone who has experienced bad (or good) customer service, enabling them to broadcast their thoughts to the world. Retailers need to ensure they have both monitoring in place and also a way for customers to ask and receive answers to their queries through Facebook and Twitter. What is important is that this social customer service is integrated with other customer service channels to avoid duplication of resources and inconsistent answers.

4          Driving traffic through special offers
While some consumers don’t want to buy through Facebook, one of the key reasons they give for following brands is access to special offers. So retailers can use social media to distribute vouchers and also to trial new ranges or styles to an engaged audience.

5          Social sharing
The key difference between traditional e-commerce and selling via Facebook is the social element. So make it easy for customers to share what they are doing with their friends, get their opinions and replicate the social elements of a high street shopping trip on your Facebook page.

While it is only the beginning of May, online retailers know they don’t have much time to prepare their strategies and platforms for Christmas 2013. So make sure that you consider social commerce as part of your overall plans – with 850 million potential customers on Facebook alone, it simply can’t be ignored.

Dedicated follower of fashion……….

August 23, 2011 1 comment
Blazerbermuda

Image via Wikipedia

The continuing bad news from the UK retail sector, with sales growth slowing and more than one in ten high street shops vacant means retailers need to focus clearly on customer service if they are to successfully compete in a challenging market.

Nowhere is this competition more intense than in the fashion sector, with sales of clothing and footwear actually declining in July. However one bright spot for the sector has been the growth of internet fashion retailing. A concerted push to enhance the customer experience and deal with issues such as returns has won over the public to buy online. Any worries about purchasing clothes without physically seeing, touching or trying them on have been overcome for the vast majority of consumers.

So, given the move online how do fashion retailers handle customer service via email and the web? The 2011 Eptica Multichannel Customer Service Study included analysis of how ten leading fashion retailers handled online customer service queries. And the good news is that this investment in the internet experience appears to be delivering results. Fashion was by some way the best performing sector, with retailers successfully answering an average of 64% of queries asked on their websites, with three companies scoring a perfect 100%.

Fashion retailers had also embraced social media more than any other sector. 90% had links to their own Facebook pages and 80% to Twitter showing how they had integrated these new channels into both marketing and customer service.

However where fashion retailers fell down was on answering questions emailed to them. Eight out of ten companies gave an expected time on when they’d respond, but then only three actually answered within their own timescales. Clearly there is a disconnect between ambition and ability – not being able to keep promises not only annoys customers but forces them to use other channels such as the phone to find an answer, increasing workloads for everyone. When they did respond, only six fashion retailers successfully answered the question, showing the investment in their websites hasn’t extended to the contact centre.

With competition for sales ever-increasing the sector needs to look at how it handles email – otherwise some companies will simply go out of fashion.

 

The European customer service dimension

European Union

Image via Wikipedia

It is widely acknowledged that the UK is the largest online market in Europe – hitting £44 billion in 2010, and expected to reach £51 billion this year. However other countries are growing as fast, if not faster, with the entire European population turning to email and web channels. Forty per cent of EU consumers bought goods and services over the Internet in 2010, with sales expected to grow by nearly 20 per cent in 2011.

So how do different countries compare when it comes to customer service over the web and email? Given its position as Europe’s leading provider of customer interaction solutions, Eptica is perfectly placed to provide insight into the market. As well as running the Eptica Multichannel Customer Service Study in the UK, it has been replicated in France and Spain, surveying 300 leading companies and providing some startling headlines.

The UK leads the way when it comes to successfully answering questions sent by email (48 per cent compared to 37 per cent in Spain and 24 per cent in France). So if you email a UK company you are twice as likely to get a correct response as if you contact a French one by the same channel.

But this is the only metric the UK does lead. More Spanish companies offer an email channel – 89 per cent versus 87 per cent in the UK and just 77 per cent in France. And most vitally you have a better chance of finding the answer to your query on the website of a Spanish company. They answered an average of six out of ten common questions asked – not outstanding, but still one more than UK websites, that averaged five. France, again lags behind with a poor 3.5 out of ten.

Eptica’s research into 300 leading online brands across Europe highlights that organisations need to move their performance up a gear by investing in knowledge based systems that will enable their website and email channels to deliver the answers that customers want.

 

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