People may be the most integral element of retail trade, but you can’t afford to overlook the technology that allows them to communicate and complete transactions: the e-commerce platform.
With the high level of internet penetration in Australia, more of us are shopping online than not. From groceries to electronics to whitegoods, it’s all up for grabs.
This is a trend that is only going to continue – it’s definitely not an incidental thing. We can see this in the user behaviour. After the user has completed their research, all they want is to get through the purchase process as fast and easy as possible. If we can’t help make it a quick process, we lose them.
And this isn’t just a theory derived from market research. As a consumer I have completely evolved the way I shop (as has my family) and the advent of the internet has enabled that.
A Personal Account of Modern Shopping
Traditionally, the idea of having to take the time to physically travel to a crowded shopping centre and wander around looking for the item I was after really was a negative experience for me. Now however, I have the option of researching and pre-shopping online to find the product or item I am after and where to buy it – I find this a far more effective use of my time.
Whilst researching and pre-shopping online is a preference for me, I still like to go into a store to pick up and this often leads to me usually purchasing more than I was originally looking for.
I have a wife and two daughters, so shopping in our household is a profession! But on a serious note their shopping has also evolved, the girls are glued to their mobile devices and social media, so this has a real impact on how they research and where and when they purchase. I would say that whilst they do all of their research online they still tend to purchase most items in store. They do this because they actually like going to shopping centres, unfortunately (for me) this also means they end up spending more once they are there.
They are not doing their online research and pre-shopping because they don’t like walking around the shops like me, it’s simply because that is how they run their lives. Social media is a significant driver of this and also a big influencer in how they shop.
When it comes to addressing the complexity of the consumer path to purchase, understanding the dynamics of how consumers think and interact differently – even within my own household – really helps to appreciate the dynamic and ever-evolving challenges our retail customers are grappling with.
Whether it’s pre-shopping research, or actually transacting online, a retailer’s e-commerce platform is the single most integral artefact to the entire experience. In many ways, this technology is more important than a multichannel retailer’s storefront.
Platforms and Platform Usage
For many retailers the website will be the single largest touchpoint for their brand. The thing which distinguishes a platform from a bespoke website that fulfils the same purpose from a customer’s point of view, is the ability for non-technical business users to be able to manage the content on the site.
The e-commerce platform is a system that facilitates online transactions. They typically comprise of a number of components to power e-commerce. These include:
- catalogue management
- customer management
- order management
There has been a lot of consolidation in the market over the past few years with a handful of players cementing their position in their respective markets (small business, SME and enterprise).
A variety of models exist in terms of how they are constructed and managed:
- SAAS (hosted) or self-managed
- Open source or proprietary
E-Commerce platforms have changed dramatically over the last few years. The incorporation of social features such as the ability to like and share a product, or review a product or service and enable other users to view/interact with that review, has become the expected norm. New products such as BevyUp, which further enable social shopping, are evolving in other markets to bring the user’s experience closer to what they would get shopping with a friend.
In addition to this, the smartphone and tablet revolution has meant that we are now designing for users to access a site from many different screens. It is considered a poor customer experience if a site doesn’t work properly on a mobile or tablet. This has led to the concept of responsive design where sites automatically restack pages to suit the size of the device accessing them.
Unfortunately, some western countries are already well ahead of Australia in terms of their takeup of e-commerce and this could be due to not having the scale to be able to invest in all the tools required to run a fully-kitted out website. Another reason could be because of the big bricks-and-mortar retailers being late to the party.
Either way, it’s a widely-held opinion that we are five years behind the US and UK in particular. In terms of platform usage, it’s difficult to say definitively, but there are still a lot of retailers out there on bespoke platforms that they manage with internal development teams. Whilst this provides great control, it also results in single points of failure and solutions which have to be customised significantly to meet trends such as click-and-collect or delivery from store to home.
Features that Define a Good E-Commerce Platform
Keeping in mind that each retailer will have different requirements for what they need in an e-commerce platform, the following is a list of features that practically any business should look for.
- Cater for multiple contexts – a user may be a customer or an employee with the retail client and each of these may have multiple different reasons for using the platform. For this reason, an e-commerce platform must be designed for all conceivable contexts, whether a shopper is looking for their local store, or a customer service assistant is looking up a customer’s purchase history.
- Inter-compatibility – the platform should also be easy to upgrade and integrate with other pieces of software. With the rising popularity of extensions for third party services – such as Temando – having a platform that can easily work with these will save time and money.
- Ease-of-use for non-technical personnel – Some retailers are very interested in the ability to constantly evolve the way the site looks to an end customer, so content management and ease of use is critical to them.
Of course, each retailer is going to have to develop a clearly defined set of requirements before they consider partnering with any e-commerce platform, as these will dictate the best technology for the best outcomes.