Online Strategy is More Important Than Ever as Christmas Shoppers Flood High Street

Now that non-essential shops were able to reopen after the national lockdown was lifted, ecommerce brands are seeking out new ways to keep shoppers on the digital buying journey. 

It’s been a tough nine months for retailers, there’s no denying it. The coronavirus pandemic forced shops to put their shutters up, with many ending up closing their shutters for good. As the British public stayed inside to keep safe, the high street was quickly replaced by the ease and convenience of online shopping. 

The share of ecommerce in the UK has jumped from 19.1% to 31.2% this year, which has blown all previous predictions out of the water. Pre-pandemic, the ecommerce share was only expected to reach 25% in three years’ time. 

In light of this, online retailers revelled in a dramatic surge in sales. It was a tough pill to swallow when shops opened their doors again in June. 

Backed by government campaigns and communities, the high street came back with a bang. But when the country entered its second lockdown, retailers were forced to focus their energy on their online strategy once more. Now that the latest lockdown has been lifted and shoppers are taking full advantage of price drops on the high street, it’s more important than ever for brands to offer a slick online experience. 

The Lure of the In-Store Shopping Experience

If we drill into the reasons why shoppers head in-store, it’s usually because of the “local” factor (they know these stores and want to support them) and trust. It’s far easier to place trust in a brick-and-mortar store that you can physically see and touch than an intangible online shop that’s metaphorically floating in the ether. 

But, with the tools and technologies available today, it’s easy for online retailers to replicate the in-store experience. And, those that do manage to succeed at this will hold their position against the mighty high street. 

To put the high street versus online shopping debate into perspective, let’s look at an example of a customer journey in each. 

The High Street Shopping Journey

A shopper goes into a store and is welcomed by the sales associate. They exchange pleasantries – it might be the first person they’ve spoken to all day. As they browse the store, the sales associate asks if they need any help and recommends some items based on their needs. 

It’s a personalised experience, the shopper has a nice conversation, and they end up with the goods they want. At checkout, they hand over a twenty-pound note which they watch the cashier put into the till before they hand over the change. It’s slick and it’s safe.

The Online Shopping Journey

A shopper navigates to their favourite online store with a list of products they need to buy. They struggle to find the third item on their list; no matter what search term they put in, the store draws a blank. In the end, they give up and head to the checkout with the items they did manage to find. 

At checkout, they’re asked to pay via a method they’re not familiar with. This raises their anxiety, but they put in their details anyway and hope for the best. After clicking that all-important “buy” button, they’re redirected back to the store’s homepage without an order confirmation. They aren’t sure if their order went through, so they spend the next half an hour trying to find out how to contact the store. 

It’s easy to see where online retailers might fall short when pitted against their high street counterparts, but it’s also an easy fix. 

By picking apart the customer journey in both scenarios, retailers can rebuild the customer journey by implementing the same tactics as brick-and-mortar stores use to create convenience, personalisation, and security. 

Here’s what this might look like in action.

Smart Searches

The main selling point of online stores is their convenience. Today, shoppers can buy an item they need and have it delivered the very next day. Not only that, but people are able to shop on-the-go or whenever they have a spare moment. 

The online shopper in the scenario outlined above quickly became frustrated when they couldn’t find what they were looking for. In store, it would be a simple case of asking the store’s assistant for help, but they didn’t have this luxury online.

Serving customers what they want, when they want it is the key to a smooth shopping experience. Online retailers can implement powerful search algorithms that foster smart searches.

Online stores should strive to deliver search results as relevant as possible even if the customer can’t remember the name of the product they need. 

Personalised Product Recommendations 

The year of the pandemic has changed the way we interact with others. While people are forced to keep their distance, months of isolation have sparked the urge for more meaningful relationships. 

This is easy to capture in-store – after all, interacting with a real-life person is a major part of the experience. Online, this is more difficult, but not impossible. 

In the high street shopping scenario above, the sales associate played a huge role in creating a personalised experience. They enquired about the shopper’s needs and offered response-based suggestions.. 

Online retailers can tap into this effective shopping strategy by integrating personalised product recommendations. If you’ve ever been on a store’s website and seen the words “If you like this, you might also like…”, you’ve been party to personalised suggestions. 

This is achieved through AI capabilities that use a shopper’s previous interactions to offer an intelligent stab at other products they might be interested in. 

Secure Checkouts 

While shoppers increasingly crave personalised experiences, they are also more wary than ever of online fraud. 

Providing a secure and safe checkout is crucial for stores that don’t want to lose customers at the last hurdle. Shoppers actively seek out online stores where they can pay via their preferred method, and so retailers that are able to offer a suite of options will quickly gain a competitive edge. On top of this, keeping customers informed of their purchase and confirming their order will put anxious minds at ease. 

Ecommerce Will Continue to Enjoy the Limelight

The high street is bouncing back because of easing restrictions in the UK, but there’s no doubt that online retailers have enjoyed a mammoth leap in sales this year. Maintaining this head start will be tricky, but nowhere near impossible – particularly for brands that replicate the in-store experience in an online capacity. 

By implementing the same or similar security, personalisation, and convenience measures that brick-and-mortar stores do, online retailers will create a slick customer journey that keeps online shoppers coming back for more.

Original article published on European Business Magazine website.