If you are a part of the retail industry, there’s a good chance you’ve felt the impact of the e-commerce juggernaut. The National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates that in the 2016 holiday season in the US, total retail sales grew by 4% year on year, whereas e-commerce, specifically, is expected to have grown by at least 16% over the previous year.

For traditional retailers who still have a primarily brick-and-mortar presence, these recent events have been increasing proof of the need to expand to online channels. They are adopting ecommerce to extend their presence online, primarily to prevent customer churn. We, however, see this as part of the inevitable transition to the omni-channel retail – or ‘brick and click’ – a model for all retailers. This is why we recommend that instead of adding an online presence as a separate channel, retailers should move ahead towards a more integrated and agile model of business.

Getting The Backbone Right

Including the online channel in your business indicates a shift in your goals, horizons and strategies as a retailer. Also, you will be dealing with a lot (a lot!) more data, with the need to understand it and respond almost in real time. With the digital customer, we believe that personalization, convenience and value are the core pull factors and that your entire business model needs to be oriented to deliver this in terms of user experience, fulfilment as well as marketing/promotions. To achieve this when transitioning to include the online channel in your brand, you need to ensure the following in your back-end systems and processes:

  • Cross-channel integration: Customers expect to have a consistent and seamless experience across your store, website, mobile app or kiosk. Cross-channel integration in terms of transaction data, loyalty programs, customer service and inventory data will allow your in-store customers to move seamlessly onto your website.
  • Flexible fulfilment: Increasingly, customers are demanding the convenience of buying online, and picking up in-store, and your inventory and logistics systems should be integrated to allow the same.
  • 360° customer view: Personalization is, increasingly, the key to customer loyalty. Having access to real-time data about a customer’s demographics, social media profiles, previous transactions as well as their loyalty and service records is a key enabler for personalized offers, promotions, recommendations and assortments.
  • Analytics and KPIs: Analytics gives you clear and timely insights into customer and market preferences, helping you manage your product, pricing, sales and marketing strategies in an agile and effective manner. With ongoing promotions being a common model online, tracking competitor prices, for example, is important for online stores. Additionally, analytics can help you track the performance of your online channel. Clear key performance indicators based on your online objectives and strategy should be identified, and systems configured to ensure ongoing monitoring and reporting of the same across relevant functions. To adopt data analytics approaches for your e-commerce store, you can look online to hire Python developers, or R and Python ones. They will help you make more effective data-driven decisions to stand out in the overwhelming competition.

Getting Ready to Take Off

With your systems in place, it’s time to get started with the pre-launch activities:

  • Designing your online store: Apart from ensuring consistent brand representation in terms of visuals and themes, designing user experience in keeping with your online objective and strategy is important. For example, if the primary objective of the website is to prevent the loss of existing customers who now prefer to shop online, it would make sense to have a faster, one-step registration process for existing loyalty program members. This stage also includes defining your responses to scenarios like abandoned carts, items not in stock online, etc., as well as defining email templates (promotional, transactional, service-related) and chat scripts.
  • Getting your SEO strategy in place: Searchability is a critical success factor for an ecommerce website and an ecommerce marketing agency can help with that.
  • . Making sure that your online store is search engine optimized is, therefore, one of the most important pre-launch activities. Develop and fine-tune a comprehensive list of keywords for your website depending on your product category, customer segmentation, geography, and any other relevant attributes. It also helps to know the keywords your direct competitors are using. Tools like the Google Keyword Planner Tool help can you finalize keywords and related search terms that have high search volumes and low competition.
  • Creating a social media presence: If your brand does not already have a social media presence, you definitely need to create one by this time. Think through your social media objectives in terms of outreach, fostering dialogue around your retail category, tapping local/community events, type of content, etc., and creating a presence on relevant platforms. Invite existing customers to follow you and plan for frequent content updates to attract newer followers. Planning a few interactive activities or online events is a good way to keep your audience interested and generate a pre-launch buzz.

Hitting in Off with Customers Online

The launch of your website, which could involve certain promotional strategies like store-wide discounts, or even direct offers e-mailed to existing customers, would be a good chance to review the extent of engagement you have been able to achieve with your pre-launch strategies. A close eye on transactional analytics will be required to identify what works, and what doesn’t; for example, user flows leading to abandoned carts or otherwise truncated purchases. Prompt responsiveness in terms of follow-up emails to customers who were not able to complete their transactions or social media updates in the wake of customer feedback on various platforms will be critical to assure customers that the brand is willing to engage and is here to stay.

Establishing an online store is a long process depending on a lot of factors, but searchability, good user experience, smooth order fulfilment, and ongoing and personalized customer engagement to build trust and transparency, are definite stepping stones to online success.


Amelie Kensington is a Senior Technical Writer. She has over 5 years of experience in software product development, IT solutions, IT consulting, Retail Technology and Digital Transformation.

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