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What e-Commerce 2020 has taught us

An Amazon cardboard box with Christmas icons on it sitting in a hallway with a Christmas tree in the background

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Why read this? : We look at what’s been a big year for e-Commerce in 2020. Learn the lessons we’ve gathered over the past 12 months. Read this for 5 key lessons on improving your e-Commerce impact.

Unless you have a local, super fast online delivery service, the biggest e-Commerce period of the year, Christmas is over. Last deliveries will land on doorsteps tomorrow. (Obviously, excluding those from the big red fat guy himself on Christmas Day).

And so, it’s a good time to reflect on e-Commerce 2020. What online selling lessons can you take out of this weird year? Well there’s been a lot of talk about e-Commerce in 2020. With all that noise, it can be hard to tell those who know what they’re talking about. And those clearly making it up as they go along

Our e-Commerce 2020 experience

If your experience is anything like ours this year, you’ll have seen pundit after pundit proclaiming they always knew e-Commerce was going to boom.

Doesn’t it feel like there’s been a deluge of “told you so” articles about e-Commerce this year?

Social media is the worst for this. Why do so many beardy men in blazers feel the need to video themselves presenting in front of a whiteboard? We don’t get it.

Woman holding credit card near a macbook and typing in her details

The worst are the ones who say traditional retail is dead. It’s just not true. Now, we’ll happily acknowledge the pandemic has finally pushed us past the tipping point of more businesses doing e-Commerce than talking about e-Commerce. But pandemic restrictions aside, shopping centres and shops are busy at this time of year. In terms of traditional and online retail, it’s not either / or, but how both channels work together. 

And in terms of e-Commerce 2020, it’s easy to find people talking the talk, but harder to find those walking the walk. As a business which does both, we wanted to reflect on what e-Commerce 2020 has taught us. Among our lessons learned, you should find tips you can use for your own online business. 

Lesson #1 - Getting the e-Commerce basics right still matters

Many pundits like to bang on about the cutting edge of technology and the future as being driven by AI, AR or some other acronym.

But our number one lesson in e-Commerce is you can’t do the advanced selling stuff until you’ve got the basics right. 

Do the basics. It’s that simple. As per our how to start selling online guide, there are 3 areas to focus on :-

How to get more sales online - 3 key basic of a product page - product name, images and information

So, we’re talking product sourcing and development. Channel plans and your product page set-up. And setting up your IT, finance and supply chain systems.   

Examples of not getting the e-Commerce basics right

A quick Christmas shopping story of businesses selling online, but not getting the basics right. 

We recently ordered some gifts for friends and family. One site here in Australia and another based overseas. These were orders from sites with good-looking product pages. And, what seemed like clear and well-designed store websites

But after we placed our orders, it all went horribly wrong. They took the payment, but then, both cancelled the order within 2 days. They refunded the payment but gave no explanation. Not even an apology. So, there are businesses out there turning away customers.

Crazy, right?

We emailed them to ask why, but haven’t heard back. Yes, they cancelled the payment and refunded us. But, in both cases, they lost sales.

Terrible customer experience.

We won’t go back to either site. Because if you can’t take an order, then why would we trust you with our shopping needs? And in fact, we’d actively tell people not to use those sites.  

The basics can be tough

We remember when the first online shop we launched started to take off. The order to delivery process was clunky and manual. Orders arrived via email from Magento. And someone then had to manually key orders from Magento into SAP. (And as we’ve shared before, you know the reason it’s called SAP, right? Because it SAPs the energy of anyone who has to use it.) 

Each order came with 13 fields of data. So, that was 13 “cut and pastes”, line by line from an email into a form on SAP for each order. Not a fun order processing job. But, not too much of an issue when you only have 10 orders a day. 

But, when we started to get 300 orders a day, manual keying became a real issue. We couldn’t keep up. We even remember our not-very-digital boss’s suggestion “Can we just take the shop offline for a few days?” Yup, that’s not really how the internet works. 

In actual fact, we ended up putting Out-of-stock notices on all the big selling items to stem the flow of orders. This helped ease the pressure in the short term.

Longer-term, we did eventually manage to automate the data transfer from Magento, directly into SAP. That wasn’t a glamorous project. We needed some advanced IT skills to solve it. But when we did, it made a huge difference to the customer experience, and to the workload on the customer service team. 

Lesson #2 - E-Commerce needs more substance than style

We’ve spent a lot of time working with big global organisations. And you often find in them what we call the “centre of attention” style leader.

You know the type, right? They spend more time thinking about their own profile than their customer’s profile. Any chance to give a presentation, a talk, a magazine quote and they’re there.

They like telling people what to do, and love spending time with agencies. Their biggest concern is keeping the Most Important Person happy. And that’s their boss, not the customer.

They always have their eye on that next big role. And, they spend most of their time making sure they manage internal perceptions of what they do. They’re all about the style, not the substance. 

Yeah, you’ve definitely met that type of leader, right? 

These people should be nowhere near e-Commerce.

Because, the people who make e-Commerce happen are all about the substance, not the style. They get stuck into the action and the detail.

They’re the ones who fill in the product information management pages. Who find great images, and write great sales copy which ranks on search engines. And most of all who really understand what online shoppers want and need. 

Amazon Item Template screengrab

Lesson #3 - What shoppers want, not what you have to sell

We saw a statistic recently that suggested there are over 12 million e-Commerce sites online. That’s like everyone in Los Angeles, Moscow, or Guangzhou having their own online store. 

That’s a lot of choice for online shoppers. A lot. 

It means having an e-Commerce site is probably more interesting to you than to online shoppers. It’s what you sell on your site, and what it does for the online shopper that matters. 

You need to have your basic market research skills in place for this. Do your secondary research. See what’s going on with shoppers and in your category, right now.

Do qualitative and quantitative research to understand online shopper wants and needs. Look at your data to see what is and isn’t working. Run tests on your customer experience. Look at where you interact with the customer, and work out how to make those interactions work better.

Lesson #4 - Speed and control are the best e-Commerce benefits

E-Commerce 2020 has also shown you can go fast in this space if you set your mind to it. And you have more control over how your product reaches customers, even when you work with online retailers.

With channels like marketplaces or Print on Demand, you could start selling online today if you wanted to.

And if you’ve had the foresight to set up your own online store, you know you have total control over the online shopper customer experience.

Relay sprinter holding a baton in his blocks about to start a sprint relay

Add new products. Change prices. Run sales promotions. Change the design, look and feel of your online store website. Test different calls to action. All easy to do when you run your own store website. 

And just think about all that lovely data from your store website. It’s free market research to build your marketing plan and run your brand activation

And yes, it might take more time to change your order to delivery system than your website. But, it’s still a lot faster than most bigger businesses tend to move. It’s the businesses who’ve been slow to move, that’ll get left behind in the online world.

It’s now the smartest fish, not the biggest fish that wins.

Lesson #5 - Find good e-Commerce people

You’d think with the e-Commerce 2020 boom in sales*, businesses would be hunting down those with the right skills.

But we see a lot of established businesses only just starting their digital and e-Commerce journeys. 

We keep half an eye on the job ads for marketing, creative and e-Commerce roles because it’s a great place to look out for trends.

It also helps us keep an eye on potential future clients and competitors. 

What we’ve seen this year is high demand for good e-Commerce people. But, a lot of businesses either don’t know what they’re looking for or undervalue the skills required. 

For example, we know a couple of well-known businesses in pharmaceuticals and medical only just hiring their first digital manager. And who have their websites managed by head office overseas.

What’s that about?

These businesses define e-Commerce roles that stretch across marketing, sales, design, coding, IT system integration and commercial acumen. And believe us, there are very few people who have ALL those skills. And if they do, they’re probably working for themselves.

Add to that the many start-up businesses advertising for e-Commerce specialists, who at least seem to know what they’re looking for. But, people we know in the industry tell us when they follow up on those roles, the salaries and benefits often fall way behind the most established businesses. Like, way, way behind. 

And that’s a real challenge.

The e-Commerce people challenge

Work for a business which pays well but doesn’t know what it needs? Or work for a business which knows what it needs, but doesn’t value the skills enough to pay well? Neither option is great, is it? That’s why so many people seems to be doing their own thing right now. 

Mind you, saying that, there are many claiming to be e-Commerce experts out there. But, who when you start to ask “expert” questions, suddenly turn out to not be so expert after all. 

For example, we once worked with a Head of e-Commerce who’d never calculated an ROI on any of his digital activation. And we know another e-Commerce consultant who claims to be a marketing expert but had no idea what we meant when we asked them to talk through their approach to segmentation.

E-Commerce 2020 has taught us there’s another way

Most of all, what e-Commerce 2020 has taught us, is there’s another way. Because you can set up on your own pretty quickly. And the best way to feel valued and to take some control is to start doing it yourself. That would be the best e-Commerce Christmas present you could give yourself. 

We’ve got a lot of experience in setting up online stores and in e-Commerce planning. Check out our e-Commerce guides, or email us, if you want to benefit from more of our e-Commerce 2020 learning. 


* Update as of May 2023 – E-Commerce sales going to perform strongly with latest figures suggesting :-

  • E-commerce sales are expected to surpass $6.5 trillion during 2023,
  • E-retail sales account for 22.3% of total retail sales,
  • There are currently 12 to 24 million e-retail stores globally,
  • 33% of the world shops online,
  • 95% of all shopping will be done online by 2040.

Photo credit 

Amazon Christmas package : Photo by Wicked Monday on Unsplash

Woman holding credit card near Macbook : Photo by Pickawood on Unsplash

Sprint : Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

Three people pointing at laptop : Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

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