Almost every e-commerce company experienced an increase in online sales since the lockdown policies were implemented. But more orders do not mean an easy success! We invited a few top retail managers to tell us their stories. They explained which challenges they are facing and how they discovered new opportunities during the pandemic.
Our guests were:
- Nic Staeger, E-commerce Director at Cervera, a Swedish kitchenware chain
- Dean Fraser-Philips, E-commerce Director at Life, a Scandinavian health store chain
- Veronica Ermanbriks, E-commerce Director Scandinavia at Tuiss, an online retailer for made-to-measure blinds
- Karin Mineur, IT Director at Kronans Apotek, a Swedish pharmacy chain
Our participants shared a lot of fascinating insights with us. We structured the information for you and came up with three simple questions to answer:
- How did customers change?
- How did (everyday) business change?
- How did companies change?
Let us start with portraying a new post-Covid online customer.
How Did Customers Change?
Do we see new demographic groups among online shoppers?
Older people are known to be the most vulnerable to disease. During the last year, in some countries, they were even officially asked to stay at home. Even if they were not, many feared getting infected and preferred to isolate themselves.
But they still needed to purchase things for everyday life, including their medicines. No wonder that all our guests reported a significant growth in the age group between 55 and 65. For some of them, this demographic even stood for most of the online sales during the pandemic. For instance, Kronans Apotek, one of Sweden's biggest drug store chains, is currently serving the majority of its older customers online.
Customers Expectations: It Depends
Did customer expectations grow higher?
In this regard, our retail leaders had different experiences. They say that online customers became very sensitive to the availability of products and their delivery time in some cases. They expect faster delivery since the usual way of buying things remains impossible.
But, oddly enough, some customers even demonstrated a lot of patience. Probably, they keep in mind that everybody is affected by the lockdown and other preventive measures.
Is there anything new about how customers interact with brands and shops?
Yes, there is.
Physical stores used to be the primary source of information for many buyers. They walked in and asked for consultation or took a product from a shelf and studied the ingredients or product specifications. During the lockdown, this information was only available online.
Nic Staeger noticed that customers started to spend more time on Cervera’s website before buying. They seem to look for the information and inspiration they used to get in-store, transferring their offline behaviour online.
How Did Everyday Business Change?
Dealing With Rising Expectations
Which consequences did the growing expectations have?
Most companies try hard not to disappoint their customers, especially when it comes to delivery time. Some companies, for instance Tuiss, have a longer delivery time by nature, as their products are made to order, so the pandemic put extra pressure on order fulfilment. In addressing this challenge, Tuiss implemented a proactive approach to customer support. It informs customers if any delivery delay is happening instead of waiting for them to call first.
Indeed, Tuiss and all other companies work on reducing delivery time in general. Some companies managed to offer express deliveries, whereas others launched click & collect shopping. The latter allows customers to pick up orders by themselves at a nearby store. However, not all our guests reported a lot of interest in this particular service.
Information Plays a Bigger Role
How can companies satisfy customer needs for more information? Can companies profit from it?
Sure, but this takes some effort.
Product descriptions became an important source of information for online shoppers. On the other side, they are an important instrument for sellers.
For instance, Nic Staeger points to the increasing importance of product information management (PIM). Once his company focused on PIM and delivering rich information to customers, the conversions went up.
Listen to Your Customer
How do you deal with the customers’ feedback?
His colleague at Life, Dean Fraser-Philips, agrees on the growing role of information. He offers a different perspective and says that “onboard[ing] customer questions” is the key to post-Covid market leadership.
Any information coming from customers helps companies to adapt to new challenges more successfully. It is only a question of how well you can incorporate it, for instance, enhancing your service delivery or providing more information online.
Availability Across All Channels
How did customer communication change?
Our guests mentioned another kind of expectation they need to satisfy. Customers expect continuous availability across all online channels, including support and social media. They want to search for information and make inquiries, and want their requests answered in whatever channel they are currently using. This poses a new challenge for such companies like Kronans Apotek that, with its long history, used to be a typical onsite seller.
The following section will focus on how companies managed to overcome all these obstacles.
Spoiler: businesses had to change, too!
How Did Companies Change?
Do we need another business model?
In fact, it’s already there.
The webinar’s participants pointed to the shifting proportions between online and offline sales. Companies that previously focused on offline commerce experienced a direct hit when the restrictions started and people preferred to stay in the safety of their own homes. Among them was Kronans Apotek. Like many other pharmacies, their main business comes from physical stores and the services they provide in person, so they were barely prepared for selling entirely online.
But they all learned a lot. As Karin Mineur says, the pandemic facilitated internal digital transformation.
Do companies work differently now?
Yes, and both Karin Mineur and Veronica Ermanbriks see the enforced changes positively.
At Tuiss, home office became a normal way of working. But it did not prevent employees from different locations to learn to talk to each other better, notes Veronica Ermanbriks. She feels it’s a good thing that Tuiss changed the way it manages new ideas. Instead of elaborating on them for a long time and taking them through a long chain of approving boards, the company simply tries them out.
Karin Mineur agrees that the pandemic has led to faster decision-making processes at Kronans Apotek. Recently, they successfully launched click & collect at their stores and a “you call and we deliver” service within an unusually short time.
But to prepare your company for this change, you need to do an inventory of your digital competencies, warns Karin Mineur. And to address a few more challenges, add the others.
Challenges of a New Business Model
What still has to be done?
The biggest challenges for all are supply chain and logistics. Nic Staeger remains very concerned about the state of the kitchen electronics supply. Karin Mineur points to resource scarcity: Kronans Apotek is missing time and personnel in this field. So does Tuiss, and not only in the supply chain. As a growing company, it needs to employ more people, but it takes new workers time to learn the complete range of their products.
Big Data As a Challenge and a Chance
Can we learn from big data fast enough?
Veronica Ermanbriks regrets that there is often not enough time to dig deeper into the customer data. That would help to increase customer loyalty.
For instance, Cevera actively uses big data, especially A/B testing to improve customer relationships and increase the efficiency of email and other digital campaigns. In addition, Kronans Apotek is working on a new customer data platform.
It may take time for these enhancements to bring fruitful results, but our guests believe that their companies are on the right way.
A Short Afterword
An important note from our guests: there is no universal recipe for every country, industry or company. Customers are different, and so are the regulations and changes they faced during the pandemic. Nonetheless, never hesitate to experiment and make sure you understand your customers.
We want to thank our guests and moderator for their time and invite you to join our upcoming webinars. Stay healthy.