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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? : There’s been lots going on with e-Commerce in 2020. It’s been a big year for online selling. We pause to reflect on what lessons we’ve learned over the last year. Read this for practical, customer-focussed tips you can use to boost your future e-Commerce plans.

Well, unless you have a super local, super fast online delivery service, the biggest e-Commerce period of the year, Christmas is over. The final 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? 

We know we talk about e-Commerce a lot. We have admit, it’s one of our favourite topics. But we’re not the only ones. There’s lots of people talking online about e-Commerce.

With all that online noise, it can be hard to separate out who know what they’re talking about. And who’s 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, news and social posts about e-Commerce this year?

The social media posts are the worst.

Why so many beardy men in blazers feel the need to make videos of themselves in front of a whiteboard is beyond us.

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 actual shops are full and 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 seems easy to find people who can talk the talk. But, it’s much harder to find people who walk the walk.

As a business that does both, we wanted to reflect on what e-Commerce 2020 has taught us. Because in those lessons, you may well find some 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 AI or AR or some other acronym driven.

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

Do the basics. It’s really simple. As per our how to start selling online guide, there are 3 basic tasks you always need to do first :-

  • Have something to sell.
  • Find somewhere to sell it.
  • Manage payments and deliveries. 
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

We’ll share a quick story to bring this to life. We were doing some online Christmas shopping recently. And we found examples of businesses selling online, but not getting the basics right. 

We ordered a couple of 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 thought out online store websites

But after we placed our orders, it all went horribly wrong. 

Both sites accepted the online orders. Took the payment. And then, both cancelled the order within two days. They refunded the payment, but didn’t give us any explanation. Not even an apology. 

So, there are businesses out there turning away customers. Crazy, right?

We emailed them to understand why, and still haven’t heard back from them. Yes, they cancelled the payment and refunded us. But, both cases, 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 would actively tell people not to use those sites.  

The basics can be tough

We remember the first online shop we launched, and when it started to take off. The order to delivery process was really 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 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 transfer of order data 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 quite a lot of time working with big global organisations. And in them, we frequently come across what we call the “centre of attention” style leader.

You’ve probably met them, 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. 

Yeh, 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 in to 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 that 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, or 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’s 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.

Carry out qualitative and quantitative research so you can understand online shopper wants and needs. Look at all your marketing data to see what’s working, and what isn’t. 

Run tests on your customer experience. Identify where you interact with the customer, and how you can make those touchpoints work harder to meet their needs. 

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

E-Commerce 2020 has also shown us you can go fast in this space if you really set your mind to it. And you generally 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 really set your mind to it.

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 you own store website. 

And just think about all that lovely data from your online 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’s 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 on offer 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 that pays well but doesn’t really know what it needs? Or work for a business that 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 out there who claim to be e-Commerce experts. But, who when you start to ask “expert” questions, suddenly turn out to not be so expert after all. 

We once worked with a Head of e-Commerce who’d never calculated an ROI on any of his digital activation for example. 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 their approach to segmentation, targeting and positioning

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

Most of all, what e-Commerce 2020 has most 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 contact us, if you want to boost your e-Commerce 2020 results. 

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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