Consumer expectations are perpetually shifting, and while there's been some pretty dramatic evolution since the pandemic arrived, fundamentally, this is nothing new. When it comes to shopping, especially online, today's consumers have one powerful tool at their disposal: choice. And it's driving their decisions about everything from where they shop, to who they buy from, to how long they're willing to wait for an order to arrive.
As organizations set their sights on 2022, looking at e-commerce tools and strategies should be front and center. Here are some of the emerging trends worth investigating, in the interest of improving the ever-important user experience and, ultimately, your bottom line.
1. Discovery commerce
Traditionally, people find the products they're looking for. But in the age of social commerce, brands are flipping the model, finding ways to make their products find the right people at the right moments in their shopping cycle. This approach doesn't just aim to meet customers' needs, it anticipates them.
People like that feeling of discovery--that aha! realization of finding just what they're looking for, something they didn't know existed, or did but forgot about it until it was presented to them at the right moment. Facebook conducted a survey from December 9 to December 24, 2020 and found that 63 percent of global shoppers surveyed enjoyed discovering items they weren't actively looking for. So while this strategy will prove most fruitful during the holiday shopping season, investing in marketing tactics that use the right mix of channels and audience targeting to make products discoverable will serve you well year-round.
2. Supplier diversification
While many supply chain experts and executives believe supply chain disruptions may end sometime in 2022, for the foreseeable future, delays must still be accounted for. There's no way to control or avoid them entirely, but one way to make yourself a little less vulnerable is to expand your options by diversifying your network of suppliers.
Something to keep in mind is that, while diversification better protects you from disruptions, it will almost certainly increase transaction costs. There are many variables that determine the best course of action for any given business, so while developing a business continuity plan, it's wise to explore what is more expensive: Sourcing from multiple suppliers or disruptions from an under-diversified supply chain?
3. Local delivery
The surge in volume traditional parcel carriers have been experiencing since early 2020 is expected to continue at least through 2021, and likely well into 2022. Consumers tolerated delayed shipments during the pandemic because there were no other options. But since that time, alternate delivery solutions emerged, in many cases making same-day delivery as ubiquitous as two-day delivery.
To that end, to deliver on consumer expectations, there is now a need to decentralize inventory via hyperlocal fulfillment, in order to ensure all items are sufficiently stocked in the right places and your products are as close to the end customer as possible.
The level of organization required to manage inventory and orders across various locations typically warrants bringing in a fulfillment partner with advanced warehouse and inventory management systems that integrate with supplier and vendor systems. That said, even with limited technologies and resources, any organization can gain access to an Application Programming Interface (API) and back-office supportive services that increase operations visibility.
4. Better reverse logistics management
In many shopping categories, such as apparel, consumers are routinely making online purchases with the expectation that a return is likely to follow. According to the National Retail Federation, online returns more than doubled in 2020 and are a major driver of the overall growth of returns. How brands deal with returns on the front and back end of the process can make or break profitability and customer loyalty.
Some businesses are accommodating rising return volume by hiring more labor, increasing warehouse space, and creating dedicated departments to handle reverse logistics. Ensuring returns are handled responsibly and efficiently minimizes unnecessary inventory losses, and results in quicker replacements and refunds.
A certain number of returns are inevitable, and the best way to mitigate profit loss from returns is to minimize them. This can be done through careful packing and shipping processes, optimizing product listings with super accurate descriptions, excellent photography and videos, enabling customer reviews, and integrating shopping support tools such as chatbots and virtual try-on capabilities.
There are really no surprises here in terms of what consumers are expecting. They want what is possible, and that means a seamless shopping experience, faster delivery, and easy returns. Simple enough, right? No, of course not. But it is worth doing now. And with the right mix of data, software and support, it's certainly a lot easier.