The Evolution of Online Retail

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Ecommerce witnessed unprecedented growth in 2020 as people were confined to their homes. This evolution of online retail was made possible by both new consumers and additional purchases from existing customers. Big box retailers expanded their online offerings to create a new category of businesses, bricks and clicks, making them omnichannel platforms.

What can small businesses learn from the bigger players who are riding high on this e-commerce wave? What can independent sellers emulate from the strategies of the big brands? To get answers, we spoke to Carlos Ferreira. US Ecommerce Director VMS at RB. Carlos works with some of the biggest household names in consumer products, including, Clearasil, Lysol, and Durex. He currently works in supply chain but was formerly in marketing.

“It’s been a crazy year, absolutely crazy,” says Carlos about the acceleration in e-commerce in 2020. But his firm had been building both capacity and maximizing operational efficiency for this. “We built the structure to be ready for this,” he says, talking about how they are outperforming others.

“Small” = Lean & Mean

How can small businesses adopt some of the practices of big brands? Are they at a disadvantage? Not at all, according to Carlos. Being big can slow you down. Small could mean being faster and aggressive. Smaller businesses should use their lean organizational structures to their advantage by responding faster.

The key thing in e-commerce is to focus on lifetime value. Businesses have to understand that the environment changes weekly and daily. Keep track of it, adapt, and be agile. Being small can help you do that.

Before everything else, know your customer. Who are these shoppers and what are they looking for? Know their impulses, their habits, and their problems. Ask yourself, are you talking to all your customers? Are you finding them all?

“We gained market share during the pandemic because we were giving access to new groups of consumers we weren’t talking to before. Which makes you wonder why you weren’t talking to them before,” he admits about African Americans and Hispanics entering their customer base. What is the solution to that? “You should be talking to all consumers everywhere.”

“Think Consumer First”

The overall strategy for big household brands is simple. It is “consumer-at-heart,” says the Ecommerce Director. “Think consumer first. You will figure out the rest later.” Provide a solution that no one is offering and keep optimizing the customer experience. Awareness of trends and an obsession with consumers will lead to strategies. You will also be able to change your strategies once you focus on your consumers, feels Carlos.

In e-commerce, it’s about the best experience you can give at the best offer. “Once you do that, you can talk to them. Once you talk, you can satisfy them, and then they will keep coming back.” For Carlos, that’s true for both traditional and digital platforms.

So, does he address different sales channels in different ways? Yes, different platforms have different modus operandi and capabilities, so you need to adapt. There are channel-specific policies but some stay the same regardless of how you sell. The foremost among them is providing value to the consumers.

“Search Is What Will Make You Win”

Do big brands underutilize paid advertising on social media? Is paid search better for bigger brands? Carlos is certain of the power of search. “Search is something we should be obsessed about. Search is what will make you win.”

He has a recipe for competitive advantage. “You have to be very dynamic. If you can be fast enough to know the trends of consumers are looking for, if you can be agile, that’s an advantage.” Small firms can understand trends fast and act fast. Maybe that’s why there are thousands of new brands now compared to even a decade ago.

Another Tech Boom Is Coming

“I don’t think this is going to stop,” Carlos says referring to the e-commerce boom. At the end of the day, people want convenience. Ecommerce is a revolution that’s making life easier. There will be hiccups but if you keep reinventing, you will be able to resolve those. Small businesses shouldn’t be afraid of change. They should make the most of technology to offer seamless experiences to their customers.

When technologies like AI get integrated into e-commerce, the benefits will far outweigh the challenges. It can even change age-old traditions. In cultures where physical money is a big thing, like China, no one is using it anymore. It is all digital, through apps like WeChat.

In technology, we are not fully developed but it is evolving. We are catching up with China on specific aspects of e-commerce like social commerce. “If you want to know where we are going to be in five years, look at China. You have your answer.”

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