Megan Higgins, VP and GM, e-commerce and marketplaces, Avalara, shares that when it comes to expectations, consumers will continue to raise the bar, creating a new normal for commerce in which retailers need to provide shopping options flexible enough to let consumers control their entire digital retail experience.
Over the past decade, consumers have experienced a radical shift in how they think and go about their day-to-day shopping. The rise of e-commerce platforms and online marketplaces like Amazon, Etsy, and Facebook has significantly changed the digital shopping experience and elevated the expectations of consumers, which has created next-generation experiences driven by convenience. Consumers expect to search for products and services from anywhere, anytime, then receive those goods within days with real-time visibility on the entire shipment process. As such, the onus is on e-commerce retailers of every size to set up shop on multiple online channels while maintaining a personalized and secure shopping experience.
The result of this shift in consumer expectations can be felt across nearly every retail vertical as traditional brick-and-mortar giants race to evolve their online experience and emerging small businesses work to grow their businesses rapidly with an e-commerce-first and direct-to-consumer approach. Fortunately, the technology to make all this happen exists today, enabling anyone to set up an online storefront and begin selling to customers in a few simple steps.
However, for online retailers to succeed and consistently provide an optimal experience, they must constantly improve their commerce strategy by considering how each of their channels works together to serve consumers from initial touchpoint to delivery. To do so, retailers of all sizes must leverage current technology and tools to ensure consumer expectations for seamlessness, personalization, transparency, support, and security are met at each step of the purchasing journey — without getting buried in manual work.
Leading brands are responding to the new world of digital commerce in a variety of ways as the divide between technology-enabled retailers and those failing to keep pace becomes more apparent each day. Those embracing technology are able to increase efficiency and focus their efforts on the most important aspects of their business to ensure that they are providing best-in-class customer experiences. While each leading retailer has a unique approach to digital commerce, they all are driven by a common set of values that are tied to technology that ensures transactions meet the expectations of customers on a daily basis.
Ninety percent of consumers say that when they interact with a brand online, they want a convenient experience. While convenience is key, retailers must put the foundation in place to facilitate convenient shopping experiences, which requires frictionless interfaces and personalized experiences. To provide seamless customer experiences, retailers must connect their customer-facing interfaces, like websites, with their back-end operations, like logistics and tax. When combined with automated solutions, retailers can provide customers with the same level of service from both ends of the customer journey. Similarly, emerging technologies like artificial intelligence can be layered on top of the technology used to connect all interfaces to elevate the customer experience through the personalization of everything from packaging to delivery.
Beyond a convenient and customer-centric shopping experience, consumers also value transparency and responsibility when shopping online. As privacy regulations like GDPR, CCPA, and others change the way retailers collect and apply shopper data, consumers want to know when and how their data is being used with an expectation of privacy and security throughout. Beyond security and privacy, consumers also want to know what they're paying for products and when their purchases will be delivered. Retailers need to provide responsive operations to customers that keep them updated throughout the shopping process. This means that taxes and fees should be calculated instantaneously and accurately. For global e-commerce, avoiding surprise costs and enabling services with a clear delivery events allowing customers to track their shipments from start to finish are foundational to positive buying experience
There's no doubt more retailers will focus on the customer-facing aspect of their commerce operations to make shopping experiences more personalized and efficient. The real winners of the new digital commerce paradigm are those that go beyond the shopping experience and enlist tools to streamline and secure backend checkout processes while improving overall customer experience, thereby converting browsers to buyers. Often overlooked, mandated processes like accurate tax calculation have a direct impact on the entire experience and can make or break purchases for consumers. Businesses that optimize their front-end operation yet fail to offer ample payment options or account for the added costs of tax compliance ultimately face increased cart abandonment and avoidable downstream back-office issues.
When it comes to expectations, consumers will continue to raise the bar, creating a new normal for commerce in which retailers provide shopping options flexible enough to let consumers control their entire digital retail experience. The ability to offer innovation begins with the refinement of backend processes so well-designed frontend operations can deliver experiences that match consumer expectations for the long term. Essentially, the most effective commerce experiences remove stress, increase convenience, and become a natural extension of each consumer's everyday life.
Megan Higgins is VP and GM, e-commerce and marketplaces at Avalara.