Earlier this year, I was given the opportunity to discuss how brands should approach e-commerce as part of a panel at the ArabNet 2017 conference in Dubai. The conversation touched on the critical elements required for brands, both big and small, to succeed in the online space and undergo a digital transformation. Here, I share some of the insights presented, in order to help brands decide on whether they should rely on existing marketplaces for their online sales channel or create their own e-commerce platform.
“If data is the new oil, then ensure you provide users with a great experience when they share their data”
E-commerce might be the buzzword du jour, but what’s more important is the ability to collect data about consumers – be it online or offline. Therefore, give users a great and consistent omnichannel experience that encourages them to share their data with you in return.
Even though only 6% of retail sales are generated through digital, the channel is now a leading factor (sitting at 65%) in influencing consumers’ in-store purchase decisions. Therefore, one really needs to consider whether it’s worth entering the e-commerce space or to direct traffic to existing marketplaces. This would depend on the size of your business and its time/resources available.
You can opt to have a presence on one of the big marketplaces. However, in the long term, we highly recommend building your own digital presence, even if it’s a website at first that redirects to a marketplace, in order to collect valuable data about your consumers. Some ready-made, quick-to-implement solutions are already available that can help you build your digital presence with little effort. Needless to say, it should be developed with a “mobile-first” mindset, considering that 70% of audiences now use their devices primarily to access the web.
If you decide to build your own e-commerce platform, bear in mind that the classic USPs of e-commerce are no longer key differentiators; they are the norm. Users today expect free delivery, cash on delivery, free returns and best-price guarantees. Once you manage to have these USPs, keys to success are speed, transparency and great customer service – available 24/7 with multiple touchpoints such as phone, chat, social, etc. – since users now expect a seamless experience with digital. Your platform should also have customized promotions and offers that are only available online, in order to incentivize users to use the channel. And do not be afraid of cannibalization; from what we’ve observed so far, e-commerce actually complements other sales channels. Therefore, e-commerce is a great opportunity to drive further growth.
“Don’t underestimate the tools and efforts needed to succeed”
Entering the e-commerce space is a long journey, one that requires organizational restructuring, patience and passion. One’s approach should start with a solid measurement framework and technology stack. The biggest mistake we see these days are companies rushing to launch their e-commerce presence and minimizing the importance of a robust tracking solution in the process. As data is so important for informing your business decisions, you need to ensure that data collection, processing, analysis and treatment are implemented without any errors. Of course, data sharing is also really important, so breaking down the siloes between offline and online data is essential.
Another common mistake that we see is businesses underestimating the resources required for e-commerce, particularly in terms of staff and skills. With the ongoing multiplication of touchpoints, devices, channels and products, consumer journeys are becoming increasingly complex. And even though automation and machine learning are now available, the time needed to activate these and analyze their outputs is often underestimated. Therefore, organizations should undertake a rigorous examination of their existing capabilities and identify any gaps that need to be filled, in order to successfully enter the e-commerce space.
In summary, e-commerce is definitely growing in importance as audiences continue to blend their online and offline behaviors. When selecting the best approach for your brand, bear in mind the importance of data collection from your online activities and the role it will play in guiding your business decisions. Furthermore, ensure you do your due diligence when it comes to setting up your own e-commerce platform so that you get the most out of it.