What future for commerce?

Retail has changed rapidly in the last couple of years. But the transformation gives merchants the chance to take the time and invest to do things smarter, both in-store and online.

Countless local merchants have pitted themselves against larger players, coming online in the way that is most appropriate for their businesses and their customers. Local merchants have the advantage of connecting with customers in their geographic area, but they also have an infinite online reach with customers who have common interests, no matter where they are. Shoppers now make 43% of their monthly retail purchases online, with some demographics buying even more. And merchants respond to your needs. While nearly three in four retailers say converting or expanding their online business has been the biggest challenge of the pandemic, it’s a challenge they’ve mastered. 88% of store owners or managers now sell their products online.

Many merchants have been able to experiment with different ways of running their business, whether it’s trying out wholesale, a new product line, or branching out into another industry. And online sales made these bets more successful. Among merchants who sell online, an average of 58% of their revenue now comes from these online sales. One in six merchants say that all of their revenue comes from online sales, and 36% say it is very likely that they will sell exclusively online in the near future. Translating an online business doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Starting to tap into this channel allows merchants to sell in new ways now that customer buying journeys have become less straightforward. It’s about figuring out what works for the business and what makes it easier for them to sell in new channels in the future. When it comes to the future of retail, people have been talking about an omnichannel strategy for a long time. But omnichannel talk is taking a small leap. The biggest hurdle is making that first foray into an additional channel – moving from physical to online, or moving from an online store to selling on social media. This is the inflection point where it becomes vital to manage a company’s operations digitally.

While the pandemic has spurred retailers to connect and explore new possibilities, the coming years will offer many opportunities to explore other ways to improve retail.

Combining forces with online and in-person shopping

Physical stores, especially local stores, help make communities what they are, providing energy competition, culture, history and personality. The expansion to online channels won’t change that; in fact, it offers a variety of opportunities to build stronger customer relationships. 92% of consumers said they regretted not being able to shop in person at the height of confinement. Online experiences clearly do not replace face-to-face interactions, but complement them. Stores aren’t just a place to buy things; they are truly part of the communities they serve, and there is an inherent joy in shopping in person. As merchants expand into online channels, they have the ability to connect online and offline experiences, resulting in increased sales, repeat customers, and the ability to give customers the experience they want, where they want it.

Nearly three in 10 shoppers prefer in-store or on-site pickup over delivery when ordering online, and nearly half of those shoppers say it’s because they can get their items faster. For more than two in five shoppers who prefer in-person pickup, this is a reason to leave the house, presenting a huge opportunity for merchants to re-engage customers in-store. More than a quarter of shoppers who prefer to pick up their products say they shop at the store later. When consumers go to the store, 37% do not know exactly what they want to buy and prefer to browse the shelves. Whether helping customers experience the thrill of frantic search or allowing them to unexpectedly find exactly what they need, merchants can seize the moment. Creative merchandising, attractive store layouts, in-store discounts and other smart upselling strategies will help merchants highlight the in-store experiences they offer.

Same day delivery: a chance to stand out

With same-day delivery, retailers can offer something that Amazon struggles with, which is one-hour delivery. This is a proven way to compete with the biggest players in e-commerce. 72% of shoppers prefer to have their items delivered for pickup when shopping online. However, only 37% of merchants offer same-day delivery. That is likely to change as more and more smaller merchants use same-day delivery to compete with the larger ones. This not only delights customers, it can inspire them to buy more. Same-day delivery encourages larger baskets: if a customer wants to buy a €6 product and shipping costs the same, it’s not worth buying that one product. To justify this, customers often add items to their cart that they have previously thought of.

Integrate technology for greater success

The regular feedback that sellers give as they expand beyond physical stores and explore new products is that they benefit from behind-the-scenes management technology to improve the way their business runs. Robust tools handle the details behind the scenes, giving traders time to focus on running their business. These tools are very important in making an omnichannel selling strategy possible for merchants of all types and sizes, as they give companies the flexibility they need to be creative and try new things. For example, when inventory management software is synced between the online store and the in-store point of sale, it automatically shows an item as out of stock online when the last one was purchased in-store, preventing customers from purchasing an out-of-stock item. only to receive an email informing you that it is indeed sold out. Integration tools are also crucial. The click-and-collect model has been a real success for retail during successive lockdowns. If managed correctly, services like this can present a profitable opportunity for business expansion, especially with the right hardware and software.

The “Social-first” sale, to boost local merchants

Social first selling, or social media priority selling, gives local merchants the tools to drive more purchases, as well as the flexibility to reach a wider audience beyond their geographic area. With so much competition for consumer attention, marketers are taking a creative approach. They take a QVC-style approach on TikTok, for example, or they do flash sales on Instagram, where customers have to send a direct message to the brand at a certain time to get the product. Creates a sense of urgency. The future of social for retailers is a combination of “Social-first” sales supported by e-commerce tools. For example, some merchants do instant sales on Instagram, where followers send a direct message to purchase items. When sales increase, receiving payments and sorting deliveries through direct messages can become a headache. Setting up an online store to handle orders during these flash sales can help merchants simplify things. It’s still sales via social networks, but fully supported by an online store. Selling via social media gives local merchants an edge over large structures competition, allowing them to reach a group of hyperlocal customers while building a community. Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook provide commerce features that allow merchants to target hyperlocal audiences, making it easy to send customers to their digital storefronts and keep them engaged.

Some sellers are turning their Instagram accounts into end-to-end shopping experiences, and others are using the app to keep customers updated on what’s happening in the store and what merchandise is available. It’s a great tool to help build and maintain customer relationships and engage with your audience. Marketers who sell on social media say they see an average of 40% of their online revenue coming from direct sales on social media. Their results are increasing interest in selling via social media: 84% of merchants selling online already sell on social media or plan to start in the next 12 months. Shoppers are also increasingly comfortable buying items directly from social media.

State-of-the-art retail, to allow customers to enter stores virtually

As merchants look to attract local shoppers, they can turn to live streaming to recreate the sense of connection shoppers feel when shopping in a physical store. In a live sale, a host presents a product on live video online, via social media, a direct video call with a customer, or other means. The live stream is unfiltered and has many years ahead of it. Thirty-five percent of store managers plan to implement live shopping within the next year, attracting 34% of millennials and millennials who are interested in shopping via online video.

The ability to shop in VR is even more appealing to millennials and millennials (39% of whom are interested in buying in VR). It’s a reimagined online shopping experience that is immersive and creates the same excitement and sense of discovery that customers enjoy when shopping in a physical store. A third of merchants are expected to implement virtual reality shopping by next year, allowing consumers to experience their retail space from anywhere.

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