Last year forced retailers to pivot, adapt and embrace changes as a result of the pandemic. As a result, e-commerce has experienced year's worth of acceleration in a few months. We spoke to Vijay Sundaram, Chief Strategy Officer at Zoho, about the strategies retailers should use moving forward for a robust 2021 and beyond.
Last year was significant in many ways. How can retailers view last year’s challenges as this year’s business opportunity?
Few industries were harder hit than the retail industry. However, thanks to the rapid adoption of e-commerce platforms, and an industry that is as resilient as it is innovative, local recovery has been stronger-than-expected. Indeed, Australia hit an online shopping record in November 2020. This in itself is an indication of how resilient and adaptable the industry is. The pandemic brought on a sense of urgency to survive, with many retailers using the challenge as an opportunity for digital transformation, implementing new platforms and tools that might otherwise have taken years to roll out. While the new year provides greater hope and security for retailers, it’s important to reflect on the tactics that served them well in 2020 and turn them into strategic long-term business goals in 2021. For example, if a local retailer introduced e-commerce capabilities last year, they’ll want to consider how to continue developing their end-to-end omnichannel strategy, utilise tools such as CRM and enhance their customer experience.
What would be the biggest take away that retailers have learned during the span of 2020?
Many retailers will have realised that adopting new technologies needn’t be daunting. It’s still possible to grow your business and connect with your customers in a meaningful way while leveraging new platforms. If anything, technology can actually enhance a retailer’s ability to do so. For example, while lockdown forced them to shut their doors for periods of 2020, they could implement alternative solutions such as live chat support or personalised marketing to continue providing positive, convenient and safe customer service, albeit virtually. Remaining nimble and continuing to leverage the most useful tools will prove extremely valuable in the years to come.
Businesses had to learn how to pivot online very quickly last year. Should retailers continue to leverage online platforms, and why?
Absolutely. The proliferation of Australian e-commerce over the last 12 months is an incredible indication of how businesses can work smart with the support of online platforms. As Australia navigates ‘Covid-normal’, retailers must fully embrace the methods that were introduced, or accelerated, during the course of the pandemic in order to stay relevant and meet the needs of today’s consumers.
Now operating in what is a comparatively stable environment in Australia, retailers can reflect on the quick survival tactics that did and didn’t serve their business and turn those learnings into a platform that may prove more beneficial in the long run. There are many online platforms and tools that can empower a retail business, no matter the size, in a variety of ways. When it comes to technology, though, a little goes a long way. For a more seamless experience – for retailer and customer alike – 2021 should be about finding an integrated platform rather than implementing countless new siloed tools that take time and money to master. For example, Zoho Commerce contains, in one place, all the tools retailers need to build a website, accept orders, track inventory, process payments, manage shipping, market their brand and analyse their data.
COVID changed the way businesses and consumers alike embrace and understand e-commerce. How and why should retailers continue to embrace these methods that gained popularity, throughout the pandemic and in a COVID world?
The Australian e-commerce industry boomed last year, and it’s unlikely that even when ‘normality’ returns, the behaviours that accelerated during the pandemic will revert back entirely. For example, many consumers are now reluctant to handle cash, and some retail businesses have outlined long-term policies to go entirely cashless. Without embracing or understanding the changes that defined 2020, retailers may struggle to stay relevant in an evolving retail industry. To ensure they provide a convenient and future-friendly experience for customers, retailers should consider, for example, deploying a seamless e-commerce website, implementing data analytics, leveraging CRM and tailored marketing.
In the last few months, Australian retail has established years worth of growth in the span of a few months. How can retailers best leverage these new technologies to stay better informed and ahead of the curve in a post-COVID landscape?
To best leverage the technologies, it’s important to continue learning, refining and understanding how the software can improve internal processes and better serve customers. This can be achieved through research, of course, and leveraging data insights to identify industry trends and consumer behaviours. Insights into what is and isn’t working helps retailers ensure the technology is always working for all parties. However, if digital transformation is a long-term focus, retailers must consider what they need to do in terms of upskilling or training their staff. Empowering staff through training will drastically help improve how the new technologies are used, and in turn, help improve overall consumer satisfaction and loyalty.
Similarly, these technologies have been easily adopted by many Australians that were stuck at home. Which of the newer retail innovations can businesses expect to continue seeing after the pandemic has passed?
e-commerce was by no means a new trend, however, it accelerated rapidly as a result of the pandemic. In ‘Covid-normal’, e-commerce will continue to evolve. New and emerging capabilities where online shopping is concerned – such as shopping directly through social media accounts – will provide consumers with faster, easier access to their favourite retail brands on the platforms they use most. Additionally, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is, and will continue to, provide new and evolving capabilities for retailers, both in terms of behind-the-scenes process automation and customer-facing CX enhancements.
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