During the last twenty years or so, we have witnessed a painful lack of imagination in retail. When you observe retail stores as an everyday customer, you can deduce that it’s practically one and the same which store you’re in. They are all the same. Even if you are a fashion-aware consumer, you will be very hard-pressed to explain the exact difference between H&M, Zara and any other fashion brand.
The same thing happened with supermarkets. Place a person in any big store anywhere within a country and they will have trouble telling which store exactly they are in.
What the person will instantly recognize is the way these supermarkets work – and they all work in the same way. They are all focused on discounts and sales and they rarely put in effort into the quality of service.
A person would also quickly spot that the service is almost identical. Every retail company prioritizes business costs, so they don’t have enough resources to hire staff that would put in more effort to provide a different shopping experience. In fact, it’s getting harder to find an employee who will help you with the right piece of information, point you to whatever is you’re looking for or tell you something more about a product you’re interested in.
Online stores have recognized all these weak points and managed to disrupt and completely revolutionize the way we sell and buy. In doing so, they have to lead their efforts according to the following principles:
- How can we create a unique shopping experience?
- How can we make online shopping easier, more fun and faster?
- How do we increase your customer interactions?
- How do we promote our brand and find loyal customers – brand ambassadors?
- How can we make better operational decisions to increase customer satisfaction and the company’s profit at the same time?
The answers to these questions are what made eCommerce the digital business of the future, and it’s all thanks to new technologies. Without advancements in the fields of fintech, security, digital marketing and other sectors, we wouldn’t have online stores that we know today.
In this overview, we will look at all those amazing ways that disruptive technologies managed to change commerce inside and out.
- Word-of-mouth Recommendations and Feedback
The internet is available to almost everyone. We share most of the information that we come across with our friends and acquaintances, either through social media networks, messaging apps, blogs or other websites.
Consumers are simply looking for reviews and opinions from other shoppers in real time. This is why you can see many people taking photos while shopping in a retail store and sending out photos to their friends for feedback – which may be the ultimate purchase decision factor.
Many people decide to purchase an item only when they see positive reviews and recommendations on social media, rather than after “consuming” promotional messages.
If you take a look at some of the best-known eCommerce sites such as Amazon, Alibaba, DX or ASOS, you will see that product ratings and reviews have a drastic impact on how much the product is actually sold.
This is absolutely normal, and word-of-mouth marketing is as old as commerce itself. As human beings who are part of a community, we will always be more likely to form our decisions based on the opinions of our peers, rather than imposed facts.
To take advantage of the power of reviews, many brands are now actually putting them into the spotlight in the form of testimonials and ratings on their home page. It’s a trend that’s present across all industries and niches: from fashion retailers to IT service providers.
- The Emergence of Customer Communities
After online technologies started re-shaping the environment of the way we shop, consumers started gathering into groups and communities. These groups, usually found on social media, are the powerhouse of consumer culture, for sharing opinions, thoughts and shopping ideas.
These platforms allow consumers to share their opinions faster and simpler with the help of new technologies. They trust each other more than they trust companies. They use reviews from other consumers to form their own opinions, attitudes and product ratings, which will influence their final purchasing decision.
If you want to take these matters into your own hands, you can create customer communities that are centered around your brand. Some companies do this by opening a forum section in their Help Center. There are also other ways to take back control and shape the narrative surrounding your brand in the way you want to, and it’s never been easier with the help of technology.
- Better Customer Service
In eCommerce, it’s much easier to get a hold of someone that can actually help you solve your problem. In brick and mortar retail, consumers usually believe that they have access to customer support more quickly and easily, but it’s not really true. The staff in a retail store usually delegates and transfers responsibility to someone else, so you can end up wasting time chasing down a staff member that can help you.
By law, online stores need to have support emails and phones (depending on the country) to be able to solve any issue that pops up during online shopping. Many online stores also decide to have a 24/7/365 live chat service to be even more available to their customers.
Changes in customer service have been one of the most dramatic shifts in the way online technologies have affected the way we do business. In the years and decades to come, this will be even more accentuated as businesses switch to a customer-centric approach to support and operations.
- Optimized Delivery Services
Online ordering is having a zenith of its development. While eCommerce took off just a decade or so ago, the delivery sector had no trouble keeping up. Today, you can expect to get anything delivered safely, quickly, and much more conveniently than purchasing in a physical store.
We have the technology to thank for this. Online ordering services use a complex infrastructure of databases, communication platforms and streamlining processes to make sure the entire delivery cycle is perfect.
This is one of the technological areas that has been going through super-rapid development, with tech titans such as Amazon, Microsoft and Walmart being directly involved in the delivery game. However, small startups and innovative companies are disrupting this market even more with their out-of-the-box solutions and unique approaches.
- Better Customer Interactions
New technologies imply a new set of rules – a new type of consumer behavior. These changes urge companies to change or adapt their business models. Due to all the changes that are going on in the business realm, companies are required to pay much more attention to their customers.
Well-Known marketing theory says that an unsatisfied customer shares his experience with 7 to 9 friends, while a satisfied shopper only shares with 3! You can only assume how these numbers have changed now.
Companies are very well aware that poor customer experiences can be detrimental to their brand. It’s also clear that many issues and bad experiences can be prevented and solved through positive interaction with the customer. This is why online stores now invest more to ensure top-notch interactions between sales or support staff and customers.
You can also see this trend being prominent on social media. Brands are communicating to their customers more than ever before.
- Wild Digital Marketing Approaches
Using the help of online technology, it has never been easier to enter a foreign market while never actually leaving your home market country. Marketers have recognized this possibility and all the opportunities it entails and started rapidly expanding to international markets.
Big Ecommerce companies usually get certified written translation at such services as The Word Point to get their promotional and website texts translated to any language where they want to enter the market. However, as an online store owner, you will also need to hire a community manager and support staff who speak the language if you want to sell in a country where you don’t know the language.
But, this has never been easier with the rise of a gig economy and the simplicity of hiring someone on the other side of the globe. Marketers are increasingly using this strategy to reduce their cost, expand their talent pool and hire on a per-project basis.
They are also using aggressive and far-reaching marketing techniques to reach more potential customers than ever. While billboards and TV were the go-to channels for 20th century retail companies, online stores now have to opportunity to advertise on dozens of different channels.
- Automation of the Workflow
Regardless of whether you’re running an eCommerce company, service provider platform or something completely different, chances are, a part of your workflow is already automated. This is a common approach that started from huge multinationals who wanted to increase their productivity to the max but expanded to all companies and brands doing business in the digital realm.
In buying and selling services, every single department can benefit from workflow automation: from sales and marketing, customer support and invoicing to management.
With these practices, we have witnessed a massive rise in productivity, which in turn sparked an increase in consumption. Simply put, automation of the buying and selling services enables a smooth customer experience that’s aligned with the preferences of the modern shopper.
- The Rise of Dropshipping
One of the most significant phenomena in the retail industry that has been directly disrupted by online technology is so-called dropshipping. This is a very popular business model that’s carried out by eCommerce stores around the world. Basically, what it’s all about is finding a supplier, offering their products, and then after a customer makes an order in your online store, you just send over the merchandise by putting in an order with your supplier (at a margin).
Why is this so disruptive? Well, if we look at the developments in eCommerce – the switch from physical, brick and mortar shops to online stores – the most interesting change that brands could use their stock to offer their services around the world. Still, they needed to take care of the logistics, i.e. online stores would sell their own products with the help of a third-party courier.
Interestingly, dropshipping has deleted even the very merchandise from the equation. In the dropshipping business model, the only task from the online store’s perspective is website management and marketing. Everything else is done from the side of the supplier, including product manufacturing, product photos shooting, product packaging, and to the orders fulfillment. In short, this has marked one of the biggest changes in buying and selling services.
- Competition is Fierce
In all the previous chapters, we looked at some of the positive changes that online technologies have brought to buying and selling services. Of course, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks, but it’s still important to note some of the downsides of online technologies.
Namely, due to digital tools, eCommerce has never been more competitive than it is today – and it’s getting more crowded by the day. Given that it’s very easy to set up and promote an online store (especially if the merchandise is sold through dropshipping), the barrier to entry is much lower than in physical retail stores.
To adapt to this demanding market, eCommerce retailers will have to prioritize the differentiation of their brand on the market – striving for higher quality and better marketing.
Online technologies have changed every tiny bit of what we previously knew about retail and commerce. With the rapid development of these technologies, we can expect things and trends to change even more.
Now, there are more eCommerce stores than ever before, and the number is increasing by the day. If you want to jump on the wagon and open your own online store, you will have to stay ahead of the curve and keep up with all the wonders technology can provide you and your eCommerce business.