The three imperatives to make your e-business a success story.

Jason Kataropoulos Chief Commercial Officer

This is not another article about COVID-19. Yet no one can deny its dramatic impact on the retail industry, rapidly and abruptly accelerating the change that was already underway, in unforeseen ways.

Whether we are referring to organisations with digital dexterities in place or to e-commerce newcomers, retailers must spare no effort to meet evolving customer expectations and stay ahead of the game. As the new reality is here to stay, anyone doing business online needs to find strategic ways to mitigate risk, take control and remain relevant.

Here are three imperatives to make your e-business a success story.

Think services, not products

Let’s say your company sells home appliances online. You are a typical product-based retailer, enabling customers to purchase physical goods through a digital platform. Is that all there is to it though? Does your company really fall into the category of strictly product-based e-businesses?

In my opinion, no.

With consumer needs and expectations in perpetual motion, it all comes down to how you deliver value to your customers. The recent seismic shift in customer behaviour due to the COVID-19 situation, made clear that considering your purpose fulfilled once selling is done is not enough.

When consumers make online purchases of products, they don’t just buy products; they expect a product-service bundle that is inclusive, precise and tailor-made to their needs. Thinking beyond the product means providing for your customers in terms of order shipping flexibility and options, customer care and after sales support. Such services are expected by consumers, complement the actual product and fulfil expectations. This significantly augments overall customer experience and loyalty.

Take for example the well-known retailer IKEA; heavily investing in customer experience, they have expanded substantially their range of services, offered independently or in a complementary context. Apart from establishing a hybrid order placement/pick up model, IKEA introduced a series of virtual 3D planning & designing tools, and inaugurated the virtual Home Furnishing Advice appointments, among other convenient and impactful services.

Should your own perception of your brand and, ultimately, your CX strategy evolve then? Absolutely. Retailers should consider themselves as service providers and adjust their business model within a product-service hybrid context.

Elasticity is continuity

Right now, it is an undeniable fact that e-commerce demand is on the rise much more than ever before. But how much is too much, when it comes to business capacity?

Recent history has shown that most e-businesses were not adequately prepared for what occurred during the first months of 2020. Retailers worldwide experienced an unprecedented overload caused by overwhelming volumes of online orders, especially during the first lockdown. Even though this development was hard to predict, it indeed set a precedent that cannot be missed.

As irregular fluctuations in e-commerce supply and demand tend to become the norm, businesses need to seize the opportunity to optimise their operations and their systems for elasticity, build resilience and be prepared for any expected or unexpected peak. Elasticity is all about turning rigid, inflexible systems into a seamless network of interconnected components – operations, infrastructure, warehousing, supply chain, call centre, delivery, digital and physical assets, to name a few – that can be streamlined and regulated as needed. In Greece, we’ve seen retailers employing various practices to build resilience throughout the lockdown and Black Friday season; including, to that end, the transformation through training of employees who could be furloughed or even made redundant due to the situation, into effective workforce that populates different segments of the supply chain, such as warehousing or delivery. Or the conversion of physical outlets into dark stores, to facilitate the uninterrupted function of the e-shop. Both instances are indicative of a well-planned strategy for elasticity and, of course, resilience.

As this is the essence of business transformation, the choice of the right partner is the sine qua non for a successful outcome.

How deep do you measure?

The strategic implementation of my first two points is a good start – but there’s still one thing missing: Intelligence.

It would be pointless to embark on a new journey, if you don’t know where you are going, how you are getting there and what it takes to reach your destination. It is up to today’s e-businesses to turn unpredictability into proactivity, through a data-driven strategy.

Decision makers need tools to make faster decisions, real-time analytics to monitor e-business activity and roll out a comprehensive business timeline: reflect on the past, define and measure the present, forecast the future.

By employing intelligent mechanisms configured to match the organisation’s specific business and economic model as well as industry and activity, we can gather valuable data and analytics that reveal the current state of the business in a straightforward manner. It is only through keeping a clear account of profit and loss that we can reach safe conclusions and have a clear understanding of, for instance, the true cost of a customer acquisition or a transaction. The interpretation of collected data brings forth new KPIs, which, in turn, can indicate that new goals should be set or corrective actions need to be taken. The constant feed of data into specifically designed statistical models empowers business leaders to create and analyse a plethora of “what if” scenarios, eventually gaining the ability to make lower risk predictions faster. Applying such solutions to the e-shop of Greek fashion & beauty department store Notos, we have seen astonishing results so far, as to the brand’s financial efficiency, agility in forecasting and, therefore, decision-making competence.

Converting real data into actionable business insights within a framework of continuous intelligent improvement, translates into being able to foresee the near future of your business – a solid starting point if there ever was one.