Riding the Wave of Demand: All it took was a Global Pandemic to Sort Out the E-Commerce Winners from the Losers - Global Trade Magazine
  September 28th, 2020 | Written by

Riding the Wave of Demand: All it took was a Global Pandemic to Sort Out the E-Commerce Winners from the Losers

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  • Has COVID-19 merely accelerated rapidly changing consumer trends toward e-commerce?
  • It’s vital, as you move online, to make the most of what analytics can tell you about your customer.
  • Speed and ease are key to building trust and winning business.

Undeniably, businesses all around the world today find themselves grappling with the profound changes we are experiencing as the world comes to terms with the impact of this pandemic.

All across the world, businesses—from the local deli to major conglomerates—are transforming their offline and online operations as they seek to protect their customer relations. With consumers confined to their homes, we are experiencing an enormous e-commerce surge, which is set to have an unforeseen impact on consumer behavior.

It is a phenomena experienced by existing e-commerce platforms like Ding.com and newcomers focused on in-store sales alike: Overnight, we’ve all been forced to pivot, regardless of our platform, size or clout. As lockdowns continue in many parts of the world, and people continue to practice caution in regions where they have been lifted, online sales have increased exponentially, especially in the food and grocery space.

While many e-commerce retailers adapted their existing digital strategies to maintain presence and reach, others lacked the infrastructure, confidence, and social media savvy to stay as close as possible to their customers during the pandemic.

Making the Connection

Has COVID-19 merely accelerated rapidly changing consumer trends toward e-commerce? Perhaps, although such is the force of human nature, there will always be room for offline exchanges. Critically, as we seek to enter recovery, how do we keep customers engaged long after the fear from the pandemic subsides?

Our own experience is instructive of the challenges many businesses are facing. At Ding.com, the first thing we did after the outbreak was declared, was to remove all fees for our customers globally for an initial period—a significant investment, both financially and operationally. It meant that we could help people stay connected to their loved ones during those early, fearful days.

Making those connections took a monumental effort, as we needed to action this decision across every one of our operators, countries, teams, languages, and technologies. It also served another vital purpose. The lockdowns compelled Ding.com to transition to working fully remotely–we closed all our offices at the same time–so we learned how to communicate and work together well remotely, making quick decisions together despite being physically apart.

The Art of Pivoting Under Pressure

The lockdowns implemented by various governments led to an instantaneous spike in demand for our products as specific countries went into lockdown we saw a direct correlation in terms of demand for mobile top-up–first Italy, then Spain, then France, then the UK, and across the Middle East. We had to make big investment decisions on going into markets that might not have been traditional markets for us–pivoting under pressure is quite an art.

The move into online retail can seem daunting, especially if it is forced by unforeseen factors such as this major public health emergency rather than as part of a carefully planned long-term strategy. Trust is key to earn and retain consumer loyalty, so too is visibility. Many retailers fear they lack the technical knowhow. But we know that the heart of any retail experience is knowing your customer and knowing what they want.

It pays to invest the time and energy now into making the transition to digital a long-term success. In my view there are three key principles to live by when you are considering adapting your business to an online model:

 1. Be Easy to Find

Be everywhere where your customer is–make it really easy for them to find you.

2. Be Easy to Buy

Speed and ease are key to building trust and winning business. Guide your customers on every part of the journey. From browsing to payments, be where they need you.

3. Be the Reason They Stay

Make it the most wonderful experience for them once they’re here. Listen to their needs, continue to evolve to serve those needs, reward their loyalty and commitment to you.

The principles can seem overwhelming, especially if you are an SME or a start-up or a business whose main model is offline. So it’s best to start small and scale-up.

When you’re getting your business set up online, the opportunity to sell to a global audience is an enthralling one. But slow down. A McKinsey A report on rapidly setting up an e-commerce function suggests success is possible in a relatively short timescale, pragmatism is wise in the beginning. This might mean limiting delivery to a certain region or offering a more limited range of products at the outset. This gives companies the chance to identify and address pain points and bottlenecks before scaling up to full capacity.

It’s vital, as you move online, to make the most of what analytics can tell you about your customer. Online shoppers give retailers a wealth of information about themselves when they make a purchase. Google or Facebook demographic information will tell you where they live, their ages, and gender, while the website and e-commerce tool itself will tell you how often a customer shops on your website, what category of products is most important to them, and how much they spend. In the marketing world, this is known as a customer persona.

This information is crucial, as it can be used to retarget them with similar products in the future. It will also allow merchandising managers to understand which products appeal most to your target demographic, and which are of little interest and should be discontinued. You can also boost sales by combining social media platforms with email marketing. It pays off handsomely: according to Oberlo, every $1 invested in email marketing results in $42 of sales.

Go Big, or Go Home

In many respects, we have no choice but to adapt, if recent actions by major players such as Amazon and Facebook to increase their market share are anything to go by. On May 19, Facebook announced that it will launch a full shopfront on both its Facebook and Instagram platforms.

With more than 3 billion monthly active users between them, the opportunity for consumers to make direct sales within those apps will be a gamechanger for the social network. It also represents an unmissable opportunity for new streams of revenue for retailers, whether they’re a mom-and-pop store or a major enterprise when their consumers can shop in real-time.

If you take your time and get it right, the rewards of online are unending and will help you achieve the best of both worlds. Despite, or perhaps because of this unprecedented business interruption, there has never been a better time to ride the wave of demand for online.

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Denise Dunne is chief growth officer at Ding.com, the No. 1 international mobile top-up platform. Having joined the Dublin, Ireland-based company in November 2019, she is now responsible for Ding.com’s consumer business. She arrived at the 14-year-old concern with 15 years of experience from a number of international companies, including MindSauce, Neom and Paddy Power. Developing and executing robust customer growth strategies and delivering transformational revenue growth is what Denise has spent her career doing.