Is Your Business Ready for 2021 Multichannel Ecommerce?

2020 has been a long, hilly marathon for brands and retailers. Even as new waves of COVID-19 rise around the world, at least now sellers have started to settle into the “new normal.”

The hallmark of commerce this year has been changing consumer behavior. Processes that whole industries had built up for years had to be reevaluated and adapted to fit a new and sudden need: everything had to be available online.

Ecommerce was a must, which meant physical goods needed to be backed by new delivery processes, and services had to be delivered as much as possible through videoconferencing. As 2020 comes to an end, consumers are even planning to spend more online than in-store for the holidays.

Perhaps the biggest shift in thinking for businesses this year has been the transition from thinking “online sales” to “sales on multiple channels.”

Whether sellers have a brick-and-mortar store or not, online channels need to include a proprietary e-commerce storefront, a presence on marketplaces, and sales on social media to stay competitive.

Luckily, there are opportunities baked into this undertaking.

The new year will push these trends past the finish line of that hilly marathon. 2021 will start with a new normal that’s no longer a surprise to anyone.

Surprised or not, are you ready for 2021? Have you finished making the changes in both process and strategy that 2020 demanded? Keep reading to learn if your business is ready for 2021 and the new normal of multichannel eCommerce!

Buy Online, Pick-Up In Store

Consumers now have enormous freedom when choosing how to interact with brands. They might prefer to buy directly from your website, or on social media while they browse their feeds, or on Amazon where they go as though by default. Given that freedom, brands have to make themselves available on every channel they can according to their products or services.

One channel of order fulfillment that remains popular for certain products is the newly revived BOPIS (buy online, pick-up in store). Also called “click-and-collect,” these options aren’t new to the market, but they’re new to thousands of brands now offering this transaction model.

It’s no longer just a cool marketing tactic but a consumer necessity. If your products have a large local market, this selling model is something you might need for 2021.

How is BOPIS different from delivery? Simple. Consumers are trying to find the most convenient buying option in these complicated times. Even those consumers who are no longer scared to go out in public have still grown accustomed to the convenience of quick-click buys online. But they don’t always want to wait days or weeks for a delivery. The BOPIS model is a compromise of the conveniences they value most.

Online and offline channels have to be completely connected for BOPIS to work, and businesses need the right processes in place to make that happen.

Other than integrating stock information for real-time updates on what products you have where, an online-offline integration also means tailoring ads and product listings to reflect exactly what’s available, in what quantity, and how it can be delivered.

This kind of product data control requires real agility since businesses need to manage quick changes across multiple channels. If the same product is listed on multiple marketplaces, but in a different listing template, the product details must be managed flawlessly or the business risks selling items that are no longer in stock or getting a flood of returns when a product doesn’t match the listing.

This points 2021 multichannel eCommerce to a product information management software (PIM) to act as the “glue” holding a business’s ERP data (for inventory) and their CRM data (for sales) together, so every department has the up-to-date data they need to stay quick and agile.

Not Just Sales

A multichannel brand presence requires creativity. The content creation alone takes whole departments in large and medium businesses—especially after the year we’ve had. Content consumption online more than doubled in 2020 with a resounding total of almost seven hours a day that consumers spend reading articles, watching videos, and interacting with social profiles.

That same content has to be consistent across channels to win real sales for brands. If your online storefront doesn’t use the same language or tout the same benefits as your listings on Amazon, or if your ads aren’t consistent with the landing page they point to, you will not be building a “brand scent.” You’ll just be throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, a trend away from the sales-only mentality had already begun. Direct-to-consumer (D2C) commerce had exploded, giving thousands of new brands direct access to customers while product innovations were able to hit the market faster than ever. Customers, in turn, got direct access to new brands and lower prices.

While this trend continued in 2020, it shifted. The D2C market was no longer about the staple necessities like razor blade subscriptions or makeup sets. With consumers doubling the time that they spent consuming online content, platforms like Pinterest exposed them to products they didn’t even know they wanted.

Consumers even started visiting sites like Amazon just to browse for inspiration without having any product purchase in mind.

While this trend sounds like low-hanging fruit for brands, the fact is that low-intent shopping also poses new challenges. If a consumer is scrolling through Amazon or Pinterest without any real intention to buy, what is it you can provide so that they walk away with a positive brand experience?

After all, you want to stand out so that they remember you when they are ready to buy.

Here, we come full circle back to content. Even your product listings can be thought of as “content” now that online marketplaces have become important places for inspiration. Those same marketplaces know a lot about their users and will tailor the products they show them based on each user’s unique behaviors.

The more your listings stand out—with enriched photos and videos along with complete product information optimized for that platform—the more that marketplace will see your products as “relevant” and feed them to the right people.

When a consumer lands on a product page, 2021’s most successful seller will have tips and inspiration alongside the product specs. The images will be enriched with additional information in the overlay.

And those same rich listings will score more traffic from links within the related content elsewhere crafted to inspire, educate and entertain.

Marketplaces will serve a central role in brands’ “more-than-sales” outlook next year. Choosing the right marketplaces will come down to each seller’s products and target audience—read more on this topic in this article by Amber Engine.

More Optimizations

The kind of economic uncertainty seen in 2020 calls for the same thing it always has in business: tighter marketing and more optimizations.

Competition has always been a moving target for brands selling online. In 2020, we added smaller consumer spending budgets to the mix. Online shopping has exploded this year, but the bottom dollar sales revenue hasn’t exploded in quite the same way. For one, the average “perceived probability of losing one’s job” jumped as high as 16.6% in 2020, whereas in February before the pandemic hit Europe and the Americas it was sitting at 13.8%.

Shoppers are buying online, but they’re looking for the best deal and are buying just as much or less than they would have in-store. Ecommerce costs for businesses who are just getting into it are also higher as brands implement new systems and learn how to handle higher returns.

The acceleration of ecommerce this year has been astonishing. With it, there’s an accelerated need to keep up digitally. Brands who haven’t risen to the challenge yet will need to be prepared to step up to 2021 with this multichannel ecommerce competition in mind. It’s more important than ever to remain agile as shoppers quickly take up new channels for their purchases.

One such example of the required agility is to integrate the right tools to get your product feeds together. How will you optimize your ads as more feedback comes in? Then, how will you turn your listings into scalable components of a content-based sales model? Your ad optimizations get consumers to each listing, but it’s the listing that gets them to convert.

We come back again to PIM software. The kind of multichannel ecommerce that 2021 is going to require will be feasible and even fun to strategize through when your product data is easy to complete, correct, and change. PIM software is designed to help you manage everything from individual products to larger sets and subsets of data so you can easily export what you need for the channel you need it on.

This final test for 2021-ready businesses ultimately comes down to whether you have this software and the systems in place to make 2021’s “new normal” as simple for you as possible.

A cohesive sales strategy includes developing your brand in every possible direction because marketing and selling across multiple channels—each with its own requirements and charm—allows your business to reach users on whatever channel they prefer. Well-integrated multichannel e-commerce will earn your brand its place in the market in 2021.

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Alex Borzo

Alex Borzo

Amber Engine is a software company passionate about eCommerce. The company's fast and simple PIM software gets sellers, distributors and brands to Amazon and other online marketplaces in weeks instead of months.

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