Electronic commerce- or E-commerce as it is usually abbreviated to- is a term defining a business or commercial transaction that comprises the transfer of information across the Internet. For some years already, it has been emerging as a key business strategy, roping in the transaction of products and services, and that is not held back by barriers of time or distance.
E-commerce is predicted to continue its spike and may even be seen growing at an accelerated speed within the next few years. This evolution in business will certainly blur the lines between conventional commerce and electronic commerce as more businesses are moving their operations onto the Internet.
How did E-commerce evolve?
If we go back in time, it can be said that the first electronic transaction took place in 1995 (four years after the creation of the Web) when Jeff Bezos shipped Amazon’s first book. And since then, E-commerce has revolutionized retail as progress in this field kept growing. From a non-existent business model, E-commerce has today positioned itself as a major threat to traditional commerce, and has, in the same breath, occupied a large part of the world’s economy. Some important milestones in the evolution of E-commerce are:
- 1994: Netscape launches the first web browser under the name of Navigator. Pizza Hut innovates by offering some online ordering on their website
- 1995: eBay is founded while Amazon sells its first book
- 1996: More than 40 million people are connected to the Internet and online sales exceed US$ 1 billion in that year
- 1998: The creation of PayPal revolutionizes the online payment system
- 2003: Apple launches iTunes, the first big digital music store
- 2006: Facebook starts selling adverts
- 2008: Online purchases are made from mobile phones for the first time ever
- 2012: Online B2C sales exceed US$ 1 trillion
- 2017: More than 800,000 online stores
Online purchase trends that are currently interesting consumers
About 78% of adults in the United States have made online purchases while 69% having Internet access do shop online at least once per month. It is worth noting that according to statistics of 2015, 30% of transactions took place on a mobile device.
Here are some statistics about purchase trends:
- Computers and Electronics: 21.9%
- Clothing: 17.2%
- Auto & Parts: 10.4%
- Books, music, and video: 9.1%
- Furniture: 6.7%
- Health & personal care: 5.6%
- Toys & Hobby: 3.9%
- Office equipment & supplies: 2.7%
- Food & beverage: 2.3%
- Other: 20.2%
Understanding the distribution chain of E-commerce
Today, E-commerce exists in all four major market segments: Business to Business (B2B), Business to Consumer (B2C), Consumer to Consumer (C2C) and Consumer to Business (C2B). From books to financial services and plane tickets, almost any product and service can be offered via E-commerce now. Engaging in E-commerce has allowed companies to establish a market position or to enhance their existing position.
Furthermore, businesses have adopted either a pure-click, brick-and-click or click-to-brick channel system. Here are the differences between the two models:
- A pure-click company is one that launched a website without any previous existence
- A brick-and-click company is an existing company that added an online site for E-commerce
- A click-to-brick company is an online retailer that opens a physical store to supplement his online store
E-commerce has various advantages
Propelled by powerful online tools, E-commerce has become a new arena. It presents a panoply of advantages:
- Easy and faster search as well as buying of products
- Very convenient as buying and selling can take place 24/7
- Absence of geographical limitations and thus expanded reach to customers
- Low operational costs
- No need to physically set up a company
- No need to physically move to buy products from different providers
Consider the drawbacks of E-commerce
If E-commerce has an armada of advantages, there are still some points that you need to bear in mind, especially if you are a customer.
- Customer service is limited. Generally, you cannot talk with employees of the shop for recommendations while shopping online.
- There is a waiting period. Buying online does not offer instant gratification as conventional shopping as you definitely have to wait for the product to be shipped to your home or office.
- The inability to touch and see a product before buying can trigger dissatisfaction upon receipt. It often happens that the product received does not fully match the product chosen on the picture.
- Hackers are always hunting for loopholes in the buying and selling processes in E-commerce
Points to consider when launching an E-commerce
To stay ahead of the curve in the retail market, it is to your advantage to have an online store. There are various points to consider while drafting your business plan.
- Find a niche product customers have difficulty finding in department stores
- Take shipping costs into consideration
- You will need a means for accepting online payments
- You will need an E-commerce enabled website
- You will need a good marketing strategy to drive traffic to your site
E-commerce leads to an intensification of competition in prices
Economists agree to say that E-commerce ought to trigger an intensification of competition in prices of products and services, especially because geographical barriers do not apply to this model. All people across the world are potential customers. Consumers indeed have greater ability to gather information about various products and services and compare prices.
Guidelines to improve customer experience and boost sales
To win new customers and retain existing ones in E-commerce, and to ultimately make more profits, the first and foremost condition is to make customer experience hassle-free. This can be achieved through various strategies such as technology, systems, and design. Enhancing customer experience furthermore reduces the number of complaints and the number of calls and emails to be processed, thus ensuring cost savings. To improve customer experience, consider the following top ten guidelines that you should adopt:
- FAQ pages: The FAQ area is the first area to start with to improve customer experience. It should be a comprehensive guide answering regular product-related and service-related questions asked by customers. It should be updated regularly.
- Educate customers: Make sure that your customer service team is directing contacts to the FAQ page for future reference. Think about adding links to the FAQ page on order confirmation emails or on the rear of delivery notes and email signatures to maximize visibility and to make it easy for the customer to find answers to his questions.
- Ensure a proactive customer service: Always anticipate what a customer might respond with and do not wait for the latter to ask follow-up questions. This might include giving information in advance regarding the return policy, refunds, bank procedures time, exchange conditions and terms, delivery conditions, amongst others.
- Choose carriers that give added value: Many large carrier companies offer added value in parcel tracking and customer communication. Generally, customers are notified by emails or SMS when they can expect delivery of their parcels. Customers can also liaise directly with the carrier in case of rearrangement of delivery. This carrier customer service definitely diminishes certain responsibilities from the shoulders of the retailer.
- Opt for phone calls rather than emails: Regarding customer queries, phone calls obviously allow the query to be resolved in the first time in most cases. Phone calls equally boost customer satisfaction as they can receive the exact information right away.
- Keep customers updated: In the case of delays, errors or other issues, keep customers updated. Do not wait for them to contact you when they finally discover issues; be proactive.
- Consider a Virtual Assistant: Even if a Virtual Assistant will not replace the human touch, consider integrating it into your system as it allows 24/7 interactive self-service help and is automated.
- Offer product reviews: Reading reviews from other customers can urge potential buyers to trust your brand and purchase your product or services.
- Do not shun away from negative feedback: Poor feedbacks and complaints make no retailer happy. Nevertheless, consider them as priceless tools to improve customer service and experience.
- Offer simple and free returns: By offering easy and charge-free returns, you are investing in a long-term relationship with customers. Having to pay for returns can be frustrating for customers who can easily lend up finding another retailer with hassle-free conditions for returns of products. A recent survey conducted by Royal Mail consolidates this idea by noting that 87% of online shoppers wish for a free and easy return policy when making their buying choice.
Retailers are ditching omnichannel models to adopt unified commerce
The omnichannel form of business is being cast away by retailers. The latter increasingly want to expand on unified commerce platforms to respond to connected consumers and their changing consumer habits. According to the 2017 POS/Customer Engagement survey carried out by BRP and PCMS, 71% of retailers are planning to move to unified commerce within the next three years.
How the omnichannel model functions?
The omnichannel model is a cross-channel business model designed for improving customer experience. It consists of various apps and channels namely physical locations, social media, FAQ pages, mobile apps, web chats among others. Businesses that use the omnichannel model believe that offering the customer the ability to stay in contact through multiple avenues is of value. The omnichannel model is seen as offering high-quality customer experiences seamlessly and without much effort between channels. Retailers can equally examine customer behaviors and paths to purchase and consequently adapt strategies.
Examples of omnichannel models other than in retail
- In the finance sector, banks responded to the needs of customers by developing internet banking and mobile banking to support digital transactions.
- Governments started adopting Twitter in 2009 for interaction and are also developing the web and mobile apps to improve citizen experience.
- In the healthcare sector, omnichannel centers adopted omnichannel platforms to bridge gaps to better coordinate patients’ results.
How unified commerce functions?
Unified Commerce is considered as going further than omnichannel models by placing customer experience as the top priority. It aims at bringing down the barriers between internal channel silos and leveraging a unique commerce platform linking all touch points in real time. This strategy is expected to enhance the shopping experience and streamlines business processes.
Examples of unified commerce
Businesses like Amazon or Alibaba have understood the need for the setting up of physical presence to boost seamless customer experience. While their online commerce may provide a greater range of products, the physical stores definitely offer superior customer service, interaction with the brand and convenience for pickups or returns.
Another solid example is the Danish furniture brand Bolia. The company offers an integrated offline and digital experience; a customer browsing the online store will be similar to a visit to a physical store where she can browse the product assortment on an information screen. The sales staff are equally equipped with mobile devices to have access to the online store at any time and provide customers with overviews of products.
Key features defining the unified commerce
Delivery experience is a decisive factor as customers demand both flexibility and choice in this matter. Local drop-off points and click-and-collect are becoming more and more popular as consumers want to manage their own time and would rather not wait for delivery. Another point is obviously avoiding shipping or delivery fees as far as possible. Thus, picking parcels at the store or at the nearest warehouse is indeed convenient for many customers.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being integrated into many businesses today and is expected to take off rapidly, especially with the availability of cloud services. AI can analyze a massive amount of information while defining customer behavior accurately and providing relevant and useful predictions. An example of an AI feature is visual search and image recognition; a consumer may upload an image and look for similar products.
Chatbots is one of the trendiest newcomers. It allows AI platforms to simulate human conversation by replying to queries via chat (even on social media), in real time and round the clock. Brands like H&M and Victoria’s Secret have already adopted chatbots to improve customer service. Pizza Hut and Burger King have adopted the same approach by taking orders on Facebook Messenger and Twitter.
Article published in E-commerce
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