As they gear up to face 2021, digital experiences should be top-of-mind for retail executives. Problems like shipping delays and buggy websites can be costly.

By Dan Murray, retail evangelist for Quantum Metric

By Dan Murray, retail evangelist for Quantum Metric

The COVID-19 outbreak reshaped the 2020 holiday shopping season and some of those changes are here to stay in 2021.

U.S. ecommerce sales are expected to grow up to 35% from November through January. During this time, experts forecast that Americans will spend upwards of $196 billion on ecommerce sales.

The boom in ecommerce, however, started well before the pandemic struck. Total ecommerce spending with U.S. merchants reached $601.75 billion in 2019, a 14.9% increase from 2019. But in Q2 2020, ecommerce sales broke records, increasing 44.4% from Q2 2019. By some measures, the COVID-19 has advanced the shift to digital shopping by five years.

Consumers are spending more time than ever before shopping on their phones, tablets and desktops. Consequently, retailers must prepare their websites and applications for the uptick in traffic. Otherwise, businesses face potential website outages and application crashes, both of which can cost companies millions in lost revenue. Also, retailers should be thinking of new and innovative ways to enhance the digital shopping experience.

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As companies gear up for 2021, delivering excellent digital experiences should be top-of-mind for all retail executives. Shipping delays, buggy websites, inventory issues, and other logistic challenges can damage your brand reputation and customer retention. Retailers that deliver on the online shopping experience will be better positioned to retain customers, boost brand loyalty and drive revenue in 2021.

Creating a standout digital user experience

Before COVID-19, many companies that focused on in-person shopping experiences treated their digital channels as an afterthought. But with the sudden shift from digital-first to digital-only, building a standout digital shopping experience has become more important than ever.

Organizations must align priorities and use data to create digital products that drive conversion rates, revenue, and customer satisfaction. With a limited number of resources, companies can’t waste time or money on building features or offering experiences that don’t positively impact their bottom lines.

Retailers should enhance every component of the digital customer experience, from landing pages to deliveries. UX errors and slow-loading websites often prompt consumers to abandon their shopping carts and search for products on another website. Similarly, technical errors tend to raise security concerns among consumers, especially surrounding payments, fraud, and identity theft.

By focusing on the customer journey and quickly identifying moments of friction, organizations can avoid steep revenue losses, address user pain points and ensure that the customers keep returning to their websites.

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Communicating supply problems and inventory shortages

In the past, most Americans didn’t start their holiday shopping in earnest until Thanksgiving or Black Friday. For 2020, experts recommended U.S. shoppers get a head start on their holiday shopping to avoid delayed shipping and out-of-stock items. All across the globe, supply chains were flux due to social unrest, political instability, and ongoing shelter-in-place orders. Even Apple, commonly regarded as having one of the best supply chain systems ever, had to delay the latest iPhone series release.

While it may be impossible to make sold-out items appear out of thin air, retailers can make the shopping process more transparent by clearly labeling items on their websites at low stock or out of stock.

Offering a mix of digital and in-person shopping experiences 

We will also continue to see the rise of buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS).

Retailers such as Target and Walmart are already offering free in-store and curbside pickup. When the pandemic hit, Target and Walmart turned thousands of stores into distribution hubs, giving them a leg up over Amazon. This change allowed the retail giants to offer online digital shopping experiences without the headache of delayed shipping. On the other hand, Amazon struggled to keep up with deliveries, including Prime Day purchases. Expect to see BOPIS trends to continue in 2021 and beyond.

Bringing social media to the online shopping experience 

Social media has long been a part of marketing strategies, but the pandemic has prompted organizations to integrate platforms such as Snapchat and Pinterest into the online shopping experience. Earlier this year, in May, Kohl’s joined forces with Snapchat to offer an AR dressing room experience. Similarly, this holiday season, Michaels is collaborating with Pinterest to provide a 360-degree virtual shopping experience.

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As we look ahead to 2021, we can anticipate seeing more organizations turning to social media than ever before. Social media usage across the U.S. has increased significantly since this past March. Stuck-at-home consumers are searching for entertainment, connection, positivity, and creative outlets, a trend that will continue as consumers remain stuck at home.

Quantum Metric is a digital intelligence platform.

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