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E-commerce this festive season: Why online retailers need to step up their game in a COVID Christmas

As we approach the end of the year, the festive shopping season is in full swing. But in 2020, it’s turning out to be a very different experience for retailers and their customers. Bustling high streets have been replaced by virtual queues and Christmas lights traded for the glow of our digital devices, as we sit down to do our gift shopping online this year.

Supercharged by lockdown spending, e-commerce sales in the UK have rocketed with more of us spending online than ever. But with the pandemic accelerating the move away from physical stores, customers have come to expect more from internet retailers.

Increased digital demand

As the industry enters the all-important holiday season, which of course follows on from Black Friday and Cyber Monday, retailers must ensure they’re ready to handle an influx of digital demand — far beyond the likes they’ve seen before. From logistics management to payment integrations, the customer experience must be seamless from the point of purchase right through to the arrival at their front door.

The ‘golden quarter’ should be more lucrative than ever for e-commerce businesses in 2020. But online retailers shouldn’t get complacent. Broken web links, lack of secure payment options and redirects away from a user’s shopping basket can all kill sales.

Technical problems are a root cause of purchase abandonment, so it’s vital that vendors fix both existing snags in the user experience and identify potential pain points across digital platforms to ensure a frictionless checkout experience.

Omnichannel fulfilment and flexible payments

A crucial component of this will be offering customers greater choice, both in the way they pay for and receive their purchases. By offering a range of third-party and secure payment options — from traditional card options to e-wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay — retailers can unlock the full spending potential of their customer base this festive season.

Many B2C firms are racing to adopt Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL), for example, in response to increased consumer demand for flexible payment options during the pandemic. The BNPL model is a win-win for customers and vendors alike, helping shoppers stretch their pounds further as the COVID-19 crisis continues to affect buying power, while installment options enable retailers to push bigger ticket items even in these challenging economic times.

E-commerce firms must also recognise that customers have different comfort levels and preferences when it comes to how they receive goods that they purchase online. During the pandemic, the best-of-both-worlds ‘Buy Online and Pick Up In Store’, or BOPIS, model has surged in popularity.

While lockdown restrictions will of course dictate whether this offering is available over the Christmas period, retailers with a physical presence should be thinking about how to leverage these locations to their advantage and consider omnichannel fulfilment options, such as ship from store, curbside pickup and BOPIS.

Mobile matters

Another channel gaining ground during the pandemic is mobile shopping. Consumers are making more purchases than ever via their smartphones in 2020, with m-commerce sales up 30% in the first quarter of this year alone.

In an increasingly competitive e-commerce market, online retailers must be ready to meet their customers wherever they choose to shop this Christmas — including on their mobile devices.

Now is the time to stress test digital marketplaces to ensure a user-friendly experience, no matter which device a customer uses to access them. Mobile sites should be easy to navigate and even easier to checkout.

Simple fixes like integrating your website with social media channels can turn casual scrolling into casual shopping, particularly as consumers look for gifting inspiration virtually this year — on the likes of Instagram and Pinterest.

These channels also offer a great way to reach customers at the start of their purchase journey and a well-timed seasonal ad campaign or personalised offer can make all the difference in getting customers to hit the buy button this Christmas.

Marketing for the moment

The pandemic has fundamentally changed consumer purchasing behaviour in 2020, as we’ve learned to adapt to lockdown restrictions and rethink our spending habits in an uncertain economy.

On the one hand, sales of traditional consumer goods have slumped, as restrictions on air travel and eating out have forced us to go back to basics. On the other, spending on home entertainment, groceries and takeaways has rocketed, as we’ve adjusted to spending more time indoors.

From video calls to home workouts and DIY to baking, pandemic spending has illustrated the importance of marketing for the moment. This doesn’t mean selling face masks and PPE equipment, but retailers should focus on those products and services that make the most sense for a COVID Christmas.

This could be as simple as loungewear, streaming subscriptions or gadgets that help with home working — anything that appeals to stay-at-home or socially distant experiences.

While making predictions has been a fool’s errand this year, we know that the festive shopping period in 2020 will be unlike any we’ve experienced before. It’s also likely to shape the way we shop in years to come, meaning investment in digital sales infrastructure, omnichannel fulfilment and mobile-first experiences isn’t just for Christmas.

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