Small businesses a great fit for the new nimble marketplace

As technology advances, so do the ways we shop, and small businesses are best equipped to reap the benefits of a dynamic marketplace

  • By Rajesh Subramaniam, Executive Vice President, Global Marketing and Communications, FedEx Services | Monday, October 24th, 2016

Technological advancement continues to revolutionise the way customers shop

Consumer behaviour, and the way in which people shop, is changing. Over the last several years, e-commerce has risen and there’s no longer a clear-cut distinction between bricks (store) and clicks (online shopping). It’s all just shopping. There’s increasingly an omnichannel approach to purchasing. More and more consumers are opting for ‘click and collect’, especially around the holidays. There’s even movement within the online category of shopping. According to Google, 85 percent of online shoppers start their purchase process on one device and finish it on another.

Consumers are looking for a seamless shopping experience – whether that is online or in-store – as well as reliable and speedy delivery to locations around the world. In fact, social media platforms, like Facebook, have become useful sources of product endorsements. We are now almost as likely to buy a product because of an online review or recommendation from someone within our social media circles as we are after seeing a TV ad.

Of course, it’s not just big companies with large teams of experts that prosper in this new world. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are increasingly successful because they’re nimble, quick to adapt and generally speak to customers in a more personal voice. They’re also more open to taking risks and to trying new things – all must-have attributes for any company that wants to harness the power of the new consumer environment and grow its business.

E-commerce is expected to continue to grow aggressively in the years ahead – but in ways that may surprise many retailers, especially SMEs. There are a number of megatrends that all businesses should be aware of – with mobile commerce, social commerce and omnichannel retailing among the most important.

The prominence of mobile commerce (m-commerce) continues to grow, with advancements in device technologies and mobile networks sparking the use of mobile devices by shoppers at every point on the path to purchase. As the mobile shopping experience improves, retail industry observers expect its use – searching for merchandise, making price comparisons, ordering and paying – to continue to rise dramatically. Europe currently has the highest mobile penetration rate, and with mobile spending doubling between 2014 and 2015, the growing potential of m-commerce is there for all to see.

As the mobile market has developed, so has social networking, with more than two billion people using popular social networks such as Facebook and Instagram. Growing popularity has prompted some social networking ‘stars’ – including bloggers and YouTube favourites – to cash in by accepting advertising on their channels or selling their own products online.

Furthermore, many social platforms are developing ‘buy buttons’ and similar technologies to enable consumers to purchase products without exiting their favourite social channels. Facebook, for instance, continues to upgrade its Shopping tab, a service designed primarily for SMEs who can extend a robust social media presence with easy-to-buy functionality.

While mobile commerce continues to grow in popularity, customers still expect a consistent and high-quality experience across all shopping channels, whether that be in-store, in-app or online – this is known as omnichannel retail. Often, a mix of all three channels plays a role in any single shopping experience – buying online and then picking-up in-store for example. While companies focused on an omnichannel strategy retain 89 percent of their customers, only 45 percent of retailers are making omnichannel a top priority. Honing omnichannel can be a competitively differentiating factor for SMEs, requiring them to integrate their systems and supply chain to ensure a pristine experience for every customer engagement.

Top tips for SMEs
Shoppers engage with retailers in multiple ways. SMEs must optimize marketing, sales and delivery strategies to meet the needs of consumers – no matter when, where or how they choose to shop.

In order to grow sales both regionally and globally, SMEs must invest wisely to improve their e-commerce capabilities. There are a number of ways in which a company can fully optimise its e-commerce ahead of the critical holiday shopping season:

Online and mobile payment solutions are keeping pace with the e-commerce evolution thanks to Apple Pay, Google Wallet, ‘buy buttons’, and other technologies that make anytime/ any device payments simple and more secure. SMEs who add more payment options – and integrate them with their loyalty program – can capture additional shoppers who might otherwise delay or forego their mobile purchases.

Equally, it is important not to bombard customers with promotional messaging or ads that may distract them when finalising their purchases. Keeping the checkout process simple and secure to provide a quick and problem-free checkout limits the potential for transactions to be abandoned at the final stage of the purchase.

In order to fully utilse omnichannel retailing, SMEs need to create target-right, customised marketing and merchandising programs to fit each channel. Some solutions enable SMEs to link with established mobile marketing platforms, a simpler way of advertising and offering coupons than developing an app that could be overlooked among competitors.

One of the most important functions SMEs must get right is order fulfilment – a critical touch-point for nurturing satisfied and loyal customers. There are a number of key aspects a business must consider in order to ensure the customer is left with a positive impression of the company.

First, it is vital that a company recognises that no two customers are the same – with great diversity in age, incomes, geographies and expectations, it is important to offer varied shipping and fulfilment choices. When choosing a logistics provider, ensure that they offer a wide range of solutions and the flexibility to handle all facets of domestic, regional and international deliveries.

It is also important to consider the inventory and warehouse costs, as many can skyrocket during seasonal slumps, and inadequate fulfilment services can delay deliveries during busy times. Using a scalable logistics provider can help to reduce overhead costs, consolidating operations and ensuring flexibility when responding to dynamic changes in the market.

A complicated process could prompt poor online reviews and customer dissatisfaction. Therefore, using logistics providers that offer sophisticated, easy-to-use returns processes can reduce hassle, save time, and most importantly, preserve reputations.

Retailers that cater to the needs and whims of consumers can attain competitive advantages. Taking the online shopping experience and bringing it to life through a reliable order fulfilment process may spell the difference between business growth and failure for SMEs looking to expand their business globally.