Why e-commerce remains important as shops reopen

Retaining a strong e-commerce strategy will help drive customers to your store and create a stronger multi-channel retail platform 

The shops are re-opening – yippee! That means you don’t need to put the same emphasis on the e-commerce that has kept your business afloat over the last few months, right? Wrong! E-commerce is going to continue to play a vital role in consumer habits for the foreseeable future – perhaps indefinitely. Developing effective digital marketing strategies will be essential to help your business thrive in the new landscape.

Although UK highstreets have seen a gradual decline in footfall across the past decade as online shopping has grown, prior to the lockdown they still maintained a vital role in promoting sales for most outlets; lockdown forced this to change overnight. During lockdown, consumers have relied on virtual shopping for everything except the essentials, from clothes to furniture, gardening equipment to birthday trimmings for lockdown celebrations. The UK high street will make some recovery from this shift and will continue to drive business for retailers, however, some of the effects of this seismic break towards e-commerce will have long lasting effects; preparing your business for this will enable you to get ahead of the game.

Why e-commerce is here to stay

Although the personability and customer service of visiting a shop cannot be replicated online, there are real and demonstrable advantages to shopping via your laptop or mobile, established before coronavirus compelled us to stay at home:  

  • Time : E-commerce is unquestionably a lot more efficient than sitting in traffic, competing for a parking space and fuming as the parking app fails to upload on your phone. Plus online stores are open 24/7 – great if you’re working during normal store-opening hours.
  • Lack of crowds : Shops can often be full of people and hard to navigate; a clear website may therefore seem preferable to many consumers.
  • Better choice : Shops can only stock a certain number of items; online, the possibilities are endless, giving customers a bigger range to choose from.
  • More payment methods : Websites can be set up to allow for a variety of payment methods, including traditional card payment, PayPal and ApplePay.

The coronavirus pandemic has added some more reasons to tip the balance towards online shopping:

  • Anxiety about returning to the shops : Despite social distancing, many people are still fearful of unnecessarily venturing into enclosed places. This is especially true for customers who fit the ‘vulnerable’ profile and who may be isolating for a longer period.
  • Limits to the number of customers in a store : Since shops have started to reopen, many have had to implement queues to abide by social distancing; this may well deter some customers from the physical experience of shopping and instead push them towards your online store.
  • The potential for local lockdowns : If there are clustered outbreaks of new coronavirus cases, we could potentially face localised lockdowns, with Leicester, unfortunately being the first example of this. Maintaining a strong e-commerce presence will put you in a good position to weather more temporary interruptions.

Effective digital marketing strategies for retailers in the new landscape

Yes, we saw snaking queues of expectant shoppers on June 15th, the day non-essential stores reopened; for some consumers nothing is ever going to match the experience of going to the shops, especially after months of lockdown.  However, given the additional concerns about visiting the shops that many share, successful retailers are going to need to blend digital marketing strategies with their physical retail experience to thrive in our brave new world.

Potential digital marketing strategies to create an optimal customer experience include:  

  • Creating the option for customers to ‘click and collect’ when using your online shop can be a great way to maintain footfall to your store but also help to conduct social distancing, offering the best of both worlds: the efficiency of shopping online combined with the familiarity of customer service from the in-store experience.
  • Investing in the efficiency, smoothness and clarity of your website can pay dividends in terms of sales : Websites that are glitchy , slow and hard to operate can deter customers from using or returning to your site. Easy customer navigation, including clear calls to action, will help increase conversions.
  • Great online customer service: It will be important to ensure that you maintain a good level of customer service with your clients, despite them not actually meeting your staff. This might involve updating and expanding the FAQ section on your website or investing more resource in your ‘chatbot’ to create a smooth, enjoyable and personal online retail experience.
  • Digital and social marketing to increase customer engagement with your brand: Social media became our only hang out during lockdown; building on the gains you made will help you continue to increase brand awareness and engagement, enabling you to highlight promotions and new products and drive shoppers to both your website and your store.

 The coronavirus lockdown accelerated recent changes in consumer habits, but it hasn’t completely quashed the appetite for in-store experiences. However, adapting your business to reflect more blended shopping preferences, supported by robust digital marketing strategies, will put your brand in a stronger position in our new retail landscape.

Eonic are here to support and accelerate your online presence -  from Google Ads management, digital marketing strategies and e-commerce site enhancements - call on Eonic for advice.