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It’s commonplace now to talk about the transformation delivered by 2020’s Covid-19 pandemic. But in many sectors, it is more accurate to talk about the acceleration of change, rather than total change. E-commerce, retail and consumer goods is one of these sectors. 

The big story for the sector in 2021 is digital and the need to offer innovative shopping experiences across all channels. It’s not a new story, but it’s now moving more rapidly than previously. In grocery shopping, for example, online grocery shopping made the equivalent of three to four years of progress during the first months of the pandemic, and in the US, the equivalent of two years, according to consultants Bain & Co1.

For e-commerce, retail and consumer goods businesses, this acceleration requires a rapid evolution in the ways they reach customers and in the customer experience (CX) they deliver.

CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE LEADERS CAN WIN IN DIFFICULT TIMES 

A useful reminder of the value of offering distinctive and high-quality CX comes from McKinsey & Co. Its analysis of the 2008 financial crisis shows that CX ‘leaders’ saw less of a downturn, bounced back more quickly and achieved total shareholder returns significantly higher than the market average2.

For e-commerce, retail & consumer goods businesses, that analysis offers a compelling reason to understand the new customer management and CX context. The shift to digital is changing the way that many consumers engage with retailers, and that means old brand loyalties cannot be taken for granted. That’s a challenge but also an opportunity. There is new custom to be won.

THE SECTOR IN 2021

Comdata’s activity in the e-commerce, retail and consumer goods sector places us in a strong position to understand the new context, challenges and opportunities. It’s one of our top five industries in terms of revenues; we work with dozens of clients across multiple geographies and in more than 20 languages; and we provide services across a broad spectrum of business processes, including customer care, sales, technical assistance and debt collection. Our clients span all the main clusters of players, from e-commerce marketplaces to consumer goods companies.

Through that activity, not only do we have a broad global overview of challenges and opportunities in customer management and customer experience (CX), but we also see the day-to-day detail. Our teams are out there interacting with real consumers and providing end-to-end services, not just doing high-level analysis. From this experience, we see four key points to consider, as e-commerce and new shopping experiences drive change across all channels.

  • Think beyond ‘e-commerce’ to ‘a-commerce’ and ‘m-commerce’

‘A-commerce’ is ‘anywhere commerce’, where customers want to buy everything at any time and any place, especially on digital channels, such as marketplaces, social buying and home assistance. ‘M-commerce’ is ‘mobile commerce’, which in many sectors is surging past e-commerce as Generation Z consumers leapfrog desktop devices and buy with their phones instead. Hand in hand with this is the increase of mobile payments (e.g., Apple Pay) and use of super-apps (e.g., WeChat).

  • Optimizing the CX means offering seamless, consistent, omnichannel experiences

Previously, it was seen as leading-edge to offer CX consistency along the customer journey (pre-sales, sales, after-sales); increasingly, it will be seen as a mainstream requirement from consumers. They will also expect consistency between physical and virtual channels, such as on pricing or after-sales care.

One key element will be overlapping boundaries between physical and digital – with retailers being expected to bring some of the ‘in-store feel’ to digital. Already in lockdown, there have been examples of brands developing ‘virtual showrooming’, ‘virtual try-on’ and virtual appointments and consultations. These will become the many, not the few.

  • After lockdown, people want to interact. Conversational commerce is bigger than ever

Conversational commerce is about developing instant interaction between brands and their customers, through social media and live support on e-commerce sites. It’s become a key strategy for increasing sales and customer loyalty in e-commerce and omnichannel. As well as conversational platforms for consumers to communicate directly with brand representatives, it can involve interaction with brand advocates (such as community forums, influencers) to increase conversion and loyalty.

Consumer expectations of conversational commerce are not limited to the quality of the ‘chat’ and ‘no-friction’ technology; they are also concerned about data privacy and transparency. For brand image purposes, businesses have to get all of this right.

  • Businesses need to explore and adopt next-generation technologies NOW

‘A-commerce’, virtual ‘in-store experiences’, conversational commerce – none of this is straightforward in technology terms. In both front-office and back-office services, these new concepts in shopping are based on artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and analytics to improve process efficiency and the customer experience. 

For example, expertise in augmented and virtual reality is enriching the purchasing experience. Conversational commerce is using speech recognition and natural language processing (NLP). And the use of automation and robotics is seen across the whole value chain, right through to drone delivery.

To offer these solutions, retailers, e-commerce players and consumer brands will need to ‘raise their metabolic rate – that is, the speed at which they process information and develop new offerings’, as McKinsey & Co nicely phrased it3. Few businesses have these capabilities in-house; they will need to outsource.

NEXT STEPS AND PRACTICAL SOLUTIONS FOR BUSINESSES IN 2021

Those are big, heady concepts for businesses to metabolise and break down into practical steps. Our discussions with our own clients have identified six priority areas for 2021.

Retail chart

Priority customer management needs for e-commerce, retail, consumer goods in 2021

Comdata is addressing these needs with a combination of operational excellence, problem-solving agility, global accounts experience, and crucially, the innovation made possible by our Comdata Digital team. Given the four key themes identified above, let’s look at a few of the smart tools that we are integrating into e-commerce and consumer goods clients’ existing channels, in order to improve their own customers’ experiences:

Sales and lead generation: clients can have their own virtual showroom on our platform, with flagship products on display via video conferencing. Advisors can offer the customer personal shopping advice or technical advice about product specifications or usage.

Technical support: clients can offer their customers remote trouble-shooting and technical support via a smartphone and live video (using the TechSee visual assistance solution). They can see the customer’s problem in real time, and show them how it could be fixed, cutting down the need for home visits for correct installation or repairs.

Process efficiency and quality: we are using speech analytics to enhance quality control and customer satisfaction – for example, using emotion detection and sound analysis to identify customer dissatisfaction or positivity. This can be used to optimize query resolution and sales approaches or agent selection.

These are a very small selection of the pioneering smart tools that Comdata has already been using in 2020, and will continue to develop in 2021 and beyond. All of them excite our clients because they make change ‘real’. For many businesses, ‘conversational commerce’ and ‘seamless omnichannel’ still seem like concepts on a whiteboard; these tools enable clients to offer them in their own businesses, successfully and cost-effectively. With our support, you yourself could achieve this in 2021.

 

1. Bain & Co, ‘Shaping the Consumer of the Future’, September 2020.
2&3. McKinsey & Co, ‘Perspectives on Retail and Consumer Goods’, August 2020.

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