Small businesses well-suited to the era of the nimble marketplace

Fundamental changes are taking place in the way that people shop. Over the last several years, e-commerce has risen and there’s no longer a straightforward distinction between bricks-and-mortar stores and online ones – it’s all just shopping. There’s increasingly an omni-channel approach to purchasing, with consumers increasingly opting for the convenience of “click and get”, especially around the holidays [“E-Commerce Sites Are Set to Hit a Major Milestone This Holiday Season”, FORTUNE, September 27, 2016].

The reality is that what consumers want is a seamless shopping experience whether it’s online or in-store, as well as reliable and speedy delivery to locations around the world.

Of course, it’s not just big companies that can prosper in this new world. Small- to medium-size enterprises (SMEs) are increasingly successful because they’re nimble, quick to adapt and generally speak to customers in a more personal voice. They’re also more open to taking risks and to trying new things – all must-have attributes for any company that wants to harness the power of the new consumer environment.

E-commerce is expected to continue to grow aggressively in the years ahead – but in ways that may surprise many retailers, especially SMEs. Here are three megatrends that all businesses should be aware of, as well as some tips that will help them better engage with customers and grow their businesses globally.

  • Mobile Commerce (m-commerce): Advancements in device technologies and mobile networks are sparking the use of mobile devices by shoppers at every point on the path to purchase. As the mobile shopping experience improves, retail industry observers expect its use to grow rapidly [“New Research Shows How Digital Connects Shoppers to Local Stores”, October, 2014].

Asia Pacific is seeing unparalleled m-commerce growth – in 2015, 46 percent of consumers reported making a mobile purchase in the past 3 months [“Mobile Commerce Growing Fast in Asia Pacific with Half of Smartphone Users Now Shopping on their Device”, MasterCard, June 17, 2015].

In addition, many social platforms are developing “buy buttons” and similar technologies to enable consumers to purchase products without exiting their favorite social channels. Facebook, for instance, continues to upgrade its Shopping tab, a service designed primarily for SMEs, who need easy-to-buy functionality. [“Buy Buttons: Where Social Meets Mobile Commerce”, eMarketer, November 2015]

  • Omni-Channel Retailing: Customers expect a consistent and high-quality experience across all shopping channels. While companies focused on an omni-channel strategy retain 89 percent of their customers, only 45 percent of retailers are making omni-channel a top priority [“10 Notable Omnichannel Trends and Statistics”, Business2Business Community, April 2016]. Honing omni-channel to ensure a pristine customer experience can be a competitively differentiating factor for SMEs.

Top Tips for SMEs

Shoppers engage with retailers in multiple ways. SMEs must optimize marketing, sales and delivery strategies to meet the needs of consumers.

To grow sales, SMEs must invest wisely to improve their e-commerce capabilities. Following are a few tips for the critical 2016 holiday shopping season.

  • Offer More Payment Options: Online and mobile payment solutions are keeping pace with the e-commerce evolution. SMEs who add payment options – and integrate them with their loyalty program – can capture more shoppers who might otherwise delay or forego their mobile purchases.

 

  • Simplify Checkout: Don’t bombard customers with promotional messaging or ads that may distract them when finalizing their purchases. Keep the checkout process simple and secure to provide a quick and problem-free checkout.

 

  • Market to Fit Each Channel: SMEs need to create target-right, customized marketing and merchandising programs relevant for omni-channel retailing. Some solutions enable SMEs to link with established mobile marketing platforms, a simpler way of advertising and offering coupons than developing an app.

 

  • Optimizing Order Fulfillment: One of the most important functions SMEs must get right is order fulfillment, a critical touch-point for nurturing satisfied and loyal customers. Key considerations include:

 

  • Avoid one-size-fits-all fulfillment: Diverse customers demand varied shipping and fulfillment choices. Choose a logistics provider offering a wide range of solutions and the flexibility to handle all facets of domestic, regional and international deliveries.

 

  • Consolidate: Inventory and warehouse costs can skyrocket during seasonal slumps, and inadequate fulfillment services can delay deliveries during busy times. Using a scalable logistics provider can help reduce overhead costs by consolidating operations and ensuring the ability to respond to dynamic market changes.

 

  • Streamline returns: A complicated process could prompt customer dissatisfaction. Some logistics providers offer sophisticated, easy-to-use returns processes that reduce hassles, save time, and very importantly, preserve reputations.

 

Retailers that cater to the needs and whims of consumers can attain competitive advantages. Taking the online shopping experience and bringing it to life through a reliable order fulfilment process may spell the difference between business growth and failure for SMEs looking to expand their business globally.

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