Online retail has been experiencing history-making changes in the last six months. What have been some of the most significant changes that Wiise has seen in the year?
We’re seeing consumers buy new product categories online. Previously online channels were mainly used to buy discretionary items such as clothing, consumer electronics and recreational goods. Now people are buying daily essentials and health products online, and things they used to ‘pop down to the shops’ for, such as groceries, pharmacy products and alcohol.
Customer expectations have also changed. They increasingly expect answers on-demand and greater transparency over what’s happening with their order. And they expect exact information about stock levels.
Did Wiise foresee an uplift in online retail before the pandemic?
Online retail has been increasing every year, even before the pandemic drove the exceptional surge we’ve seen in 2020. The rate of growth had been predicted to cool, but COVID-19 changed all that. So we’ve always foreseen growth, but the levels experienced this year have taken everyone by surprise.
Many older Australian shoppers are using e-commerce platforms for the first time. How can retailers make the shopping experience easier for those who aren’t used to the e-commerce platform?
Trust and transparency are key for all shoppers, but perhaps even more so for new online shoppers. It’s vital to have responsive customer support, and telephone support remains important as well as newer methods such as live chat. Always make it easy for customers to contact you.
Websites need to be mobile friendly and accessible, with sufficient product information and clear images. Sites need to load quickly and have easy navigation, including good site search technology. Customer reviews also help build trust.
Be flexible in offering different payment and checkout options. Offer free shipping for larger orders, and provide as much tracking/delivery information as possible.
What do you believe are the biggest challenges for Australian e-commerce businesses right now, and what could be done to address these? What are the biggest opportunities?
Navigating the uncertainty of the pandemic remains the biggest challenge. The rest of the world is in turmoil, and the economic implications are not yet known. Being adaptable, flexible and keeping costs under control are all critical.
A lot of companies that invest in technology such as ERP software are surprised to see that some of the tasks they were doing manually before or were assumed to be essential are no longer necessary. And that’s allowing their people to move into more customer-focused and growth-focused positions. You can then take the opportunity to improve service levels, investing in marketing and driving sales.
Looking back at the last six months, what has been the biggest challenge, and what has Wiise learned from the experience?
Meeting demand amid great volatility and uncertainty. Many businesses struggled to scale both up and down. Supply chains experienced unprecedented disruption (and still do). The key lesson is that everyone needed to be better prepared and have contingencies in place. Going forward, resilience – which includes flexibility and adaptability – will be a dominant theme in business strategy.
What online retail trends does Wiise expect to see in 2021?
Until recently, supply chain businesses have been a little slow to go digital – there’s a lot of complex layers and manual processes involved. But COVID-19 has seen many companies digitising their operations, and fast. In fact, 49 percent of small to medium-sized businesses changed the way they delivered products and services to their customers during COVID. We expect to see this continue.
Further digitisation, automation and smarter use of data will be key. Data-driven insights are essential for supply chains. You need good data analytics to understand who your customers are, what their buying behaviours are, and what that demand profile looks like.
Blurring the lines between brick and mortar and online retail is becoming an increasingly popular trend. Does Wiise expect treating the customer as channel-less to become even more important in this half of 2020?
It’s not a trend so much as an inevitable evolution of retail. Customers will get increasingly frustrated when businesses continue to silo and operate split-models. Retail chains also need to break down their own geographies. If a certain clothing size is available online, or in a particular store, why can’t you get it to another store? Telling a customer in Hornsby that they’ll need to visit the Penrith store just isn’t acceptable.
An intelligent ERP and supply chain system that tracks and moves stock to where it’s wanted is the way forward.
Following the rough months during the height of the pandemic, how can retailers remain resilient as they enter the holiday sales period?
Being flexible and keeping a close eye on costs. Look at your regular expenses. Reducing your outgoings can help your cash flow immediately. Look at what’s selling and what’s not and keep your stock levels lean. This will have a knock-on effect, helping you to save on staff costs and storage space.
Local retailers may benefit from disrupted international supply chains (if they can get stock) as international shipping times are currently much longer/more uncertain. AusPost, for example, is recommending that people add at least 10 days to estimated airmail delivery times and 30 days for seamail. Even within Australia, delivery is slower currently, but it’s still faster and more reliable than shipping from overseas.
Consider shortening supply chains as much as possible and have a list of local vendors and suppliers to keep things flowing. And obviously, if you’re not selling online, now is the time to start.
There are also a range of government measures that retail business may be able to access, such as supporting credit flow for SMEs, the JobKeeper payment, an increased instant asset write-off, and Backing Business Investment (BBI).
What can Australian retailers learn from international e-commerce success stories as they enter the holiday period?
The lessons from past years don’t always apply this year, due to the pandemic. A lot of analysts are making grim predictions around Christmas being ‘cancelled’ as people aren’t in the mood to celebrate.
In previous years we’ve seen Australian retailed benefit by emulating major online retail events such as Black Friday. In 2018, Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales saw a 28 percent growth in online shopping to become the biggest online shopping week of the year. That may not be the case this year.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Wiise aims to give Aussie small and medium-sized businesses the tools available to big businesses and large corporates at an affordable price. Our Cloud ERP is used by many small but complex businesses in the retail and supply chain space. What we’ve seen during the pandemic is massive spikes in demand for many of our customers. For smaller operators in the retail space, having the right tech and supply chain systems in place is essential to capitalising on the growth opportunities.
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