Where E-Commerce Thrives & Where It Fails

First, let’s look at the facts. In 2016, e-commerce sales grew by 19%, and growing confidence from industry analysts would point towards that number only getting larger. During Holiday 2016 alone, comScore cited a 12% year-over-year increase in e-commerce sales across categories, surpassing several estimates from earlier last year. Particularly as marketers continue to finesse the mobile shopping experience, there are more opportunities for e-commerce success.

But simultaneously, retailers continue to battle declines of another kind. In a recent four-day period, the retail industry saw major brick and mortar store closings announced by Sears, Macy’s and The Limited. In fact, The Limited opted to close all 250 of its stores, while maintaining their online website for e-commerce.

Changes in consumer behavior and interest are certainly impacting this migration from brick and mortar to online shopping. However, the greater issue at hand that will continue to challenge retailers, both from an e-commerce and in-store perspective, is the inability to evolve the customer’s experience. While many brands are thriving in digital and e-commerce, others find their results lackluster.

Currently, the state of success of e-commerce can be narrowed down to three essential elements:

  1. Convenience
  2. Price
  3. The ability to buy a product from any store, regardless of where you live or work

All of great importance to shoppers.

The current state of failure of e-commerce can be narrowed down to one central reason:

  1. The inability to mirror in-store shopping, and to enrich the customer experience.

A majority of retailers see far more sales from stores than through the website. Target, for example, gets 80% of its sales from stores.  And, in stores, retailers typically have a much higher number of products per transaction sold than on their site. This can be attributed to the fact that e-commerce websites don’t always do an adequate job of replicating in-store, where the overall shopping experience is, often times, vastly richer. Shoppers can see, touch and feel the fabrics of the clothes they’re buying. They can visualize the perfect fit of a coat, or try on a pair of shoes. They can interact with, and ask any questions of store clerks. As relationships form, these store clerks are able to provide better instruction on measuring your specific body for clothing, or for suggesting alternatives based on prior visits. There is a level of personalization that continues to be the allure of retail stores – a level that isn’t always carried over to the brand’s e-commerce. As consumers spend more money, and become increasingly fascinated by “experiences”, there are new and important ways to appeal to customers.

Websites simply have to do a better job of enriching the customer experience. Retailers must think of their websites through the eyes of a customer in their store, allowing that customers to feel as if they can visualize, feel the fabrics and interact with their favorite store clerks who know everything about them. Equally as important, is that they feel they’re having an authentic relationship with the brand, and that the lifestyle and essence of that brand remains consistent. From a technology standpoint, there is an opportunity to enhance the site experience with the use of immersive technologies including augmented reality technology, and improved artificial intelligence, where websites can truly come alive and encompass the feel of a retail store. Imagine virtually walking down the aisle of your grocery store, or through the racks of your favorite designer. A few sites do this today, and so the opportunities are certainly there to grasp.

Many brands have evolved their e-commerce, and have leveraged technology to simplify and enrich their customers’ shopping experience. Others that have not evolved will continue to face the same challenges, and may find once loyal customers seeking their experiences elsewhere.

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