Much like our working lives, the pandemic forced retail to move entirely online. With this seismic shift, shoppers’ expectations have grown: customers no longer expect smooth transactions and prompt delivery. It’s now a standard expectation. At the same time, consumers all over the world want an enjoyable and rewarding online shopping experience and experience a digital neighborhood. This is even the case when Covid restrictions are lifted. What does this all mean for retailers?
The idea of “place” has evolved into something meta. The pandemic has only increased the convergence of digital and physical worlds. We meet for work from our homes and we gather in digital spaces to view streaming concerts. This digital neighbourhoods are forming and will continue to form.
But what is a digital neighborhood? It works just like any other neighborhood, but it is online. It occurs when people come together through multiple platforms and virtual spaces in order to create and explore a community.
It is a trend every retail business should embrace. In the digital neighborhood of the future, people will “show up” to online shops as an event. Not only to shop and purchase goods but also to socialise, and entertain, as they do in physical stores.
Retail brands could be locked out if they don’t get connected to these digital communities from the beginning, and if they aren’t able to quickly and continuously evolve with new apps and technology.
An immersive shopping experience
Ecommerce will have to become more social and also more experiential. Retailes have to expand and diversify the channels that are offered to consumers. In a sense, Youtube, TikTok, and Instagram are digital cities. They have countless influencers and brand ambassadors. There are integrated shopping options, numerous selling opportunities, and many selling opportunities for both brands and business owners. Instagram’s new shopping feature allows users to purchase items in-app. This means that followers can now buy products from their conversations.
Despite this cultural shift in retail, shopping online is still boring. It’s been designed this way. It is designed to allow shoppers to browse and choose with ease. But is this really what they want? The Future Commerce report shows that 51% of shoppers admitted they miss the socializing element of shopping in the shops during the pandemic. One in four consumers still watch QVC and classic shopping channels. This sense of community and interaction is missing in online retail, at least for now.
Retailers will need to diversify their technology in order to meet the consumer demand for an immersive shopping experience. Because experience trumps loyalty, consumers will find another retailer if a retailer is unable or unwilling to provide the shopping experience they desire in these digital areas.
Are retailers up for the challenge?
Retail brands have shown that they are capable of adapting to consumer needs by adding the role as conversation facilitators to their offerings in recent years. Customers expect that their brands will recognize their potential as culturally influential entities and use their influence for good causes.
Black Lives Matter in 2020, for example, put the spotlight on brands that champion diversity and inclusion in marketing and product lines. In the US, there are was widespread adoption of initiatives such as the 15% Pledge which saw retailers like Macy’s, Rent the Runway and Sephora commit 15% of their shelf space for black-owned businesses.
So brands can evolve to meet consumers’ expectations. The main challenge in a digital neighbourhood is that you need the right tech.
How can you make yourself stand out in a digital neighborhood?
It will be crucial for brands to be able to sell through multiple channels if they want to be seen in a digital neighborhood. This will create a more complex system and make it difficult to operate. This environment means that no one vendor can offer the best functionality to all applications required for modern eCommerce.
Relying on legacy ERPs prevents retailers from rapidly upgrading and evolving their tech stacks. This is going to lead to major problems in the future. If your ecommerce store can’t connect immediately to the most popular sales channel using TikTok, consumers will just go elsewhere.
This shift will result in companies needing – and probably requiring – the ability to quickly select, integrate, and assemble best-in-class functionality for specific business needs, and then switch out technology when it no longer serves its purpose.
Flexible solutions and an open API are the key to enabling brands to curate dynamic tech stacks that can be interconnected with systems that allow them quickly to integrate new tools and applications. This is crucial to maintain pace in a saturated B2C market. We’ll see more brands build agile tech stacks via API to meet consumer demand.
The most recent research by Brightpearl in July 2021 has shown that a staggering 90% number of brands with a turnover between 5 an 50 millions are concerned that an single vendor ERP system is hindering their ability to deliver better shopping experiences, meet customer expectations, and sell more. Furthermore, 71% of merchants agree that their ERP makes it difficult to integrate new, better technology from other vendors at the speed they desire.
This is why new approaches are essential. The new era in commerce requires systems that are flexible, adaptable, and scaleable. You can’t rely on one-size-fits-all strategies from one vendor. For eCommerce brands, API adoption is the best way to grow and sustain their customer experience investment while staying connected in the digital community.
The upcoming demand for consumers to be capable of ‘buying wherever they are’ may create operational complexities. But with the right operating system, it doesn’t have to be daunting. There’s never been a better time to be in business than now for those who are open to the possibilities that digital neighborhoods offer.
Flexible tech stacks will allow you to stay two steps ahead of other online merchants. You can use multiple best-in-breed systems to meet consumer expectations rather than relying solely on one vendor for standard functionality.
The effects of the pandemic are still affecting the retail sector. However, it’s not surprising that some have failed or struggled while others have prospered. You can make sure your business is in the top tier by preparing it logistically so that you are an evolving leader in the digital community. Otherwise, you could be locked out.