Growing ecommerce sales with video live chat
Plenty has been written about the dramatic rise in online commerce and the role the pandemic has played in fuelling that growth trajectory. Whilst an increase in the proportion of online revenue is not new, necessity undoubtedly led to sharper rises than were previously forecasted. Whilst some categories saw rapid changes in purchasing patterns that reflected consumer need others undertook a more gradual transformation as retailers and brands understood the need to deliver a stronger and more immersive direct to consumer (D2C) experience, to counteract the shortfall in physical store revenues.
As we look ahead, we don’t expect rates of ecommerce growth to be maintained, and even the proportion of D2C sales looks likely to flatten within some categories as consumers take the opportunity to return to physical retail outlets. That said however, there are categories that will depend on digital channels for growth because their physical revenues remain impacted by consumer nervousness at returning to store or the continually shrinking portfolio of stores that formerly provided them with broader coverage and greater reach than in today’s post-Covid world.
For those categories that find themselves dependent on ecommerce and their digital channels for growth, what do they need to consider and what role can technology play in helping them?
In terms of behavioural changes, recent developments have accelerated a trend that was present pre-Covid. The previously held view that consumers think and even shop with a “channel” mindset no longer stands up to scrutiny. As the owners of physical retail outlets have begun to appreciate that outstanding service, the introduction of theatre and the creation of unique points of difference may be required to rebuild footfall levels, so consumers have come to expect those same elements to be present wherever they choose to engage with their brand or retailer. Consumers that have enjoyed and perhaps continue to enjoy personal interaction, customised recommendations, and advice on product details through store visits must expect those same connective conversations as part of their online journey. Added to that, as some retailers and brands have quickly adapted to the digital switch and provided website-based offerings such as live video chat, so their competitors have been left in their wake. Consumers who readily hop from one website to another are quickly disappointed to discover that brand B doesn’t offer the same immersive interactions as brand A. No prizes for guessing where the consumer loyalty develops.
“Innovations in digital services may hold the key to further penetrating digital channels, and to staying competitive in the ones that companies have already entered”.
“What’s next for digital consumers”? McKinsey, May 2021
The digital spike has also given brands the chance to reach new audiences, and audiences not bound by old-fashioned physical borders and geographical limitations. Suddenly brands have the chance to engage with potential consumers from across the globe and need to ensure the experience they serve up is ready and able to meet the expectations that come with this new audience. One of the big advantages of a technical proposition that enables live or scheduled video chat is it can be deployed seamlessly on websites anywhere, and the only adaptation a brand has to make is in handling opportunities to chat that arise in various languages. This is an opportunity for globalisation whilst the physical trend for localisation goes in the opposite direction. We think of this as the rise of conversational commerce.
Our strongly held belief is that D2C growth is imperative for many brands. This need is driven by the previously mentioned reduction in opportunities to showcase products physically, by a consumer desire for choice in how they engage and shop and by a need to expand into new territories or tap into new audience groups. This presents its own set of challenges. Return rates are often high through online channels as consumers take the convenient option of ordering multiple styles, sizes, or formats, knowing they can simply return those they reject. Sometimes an ineffective online retail process has left them with an unsuitable product, through no fault of their own. With operational costs in deliveries and logistics to consider, brands need to augment their digital customer journey with elements that encourage accurate decision-making, aided by effective advice and information.
“37% said it is important that the brands they shop with show respect for the environMoreover, companies moving boldly in digital tend to see excess returns, in part through a virtuous circle that emerges: as more customers use digital channels, organizations learn from behavioural data to further improve digital offerings, which in turn draw more users. This opportunity might be particularly promising in industries most at risk of losing newly acquired digital users.”McKinsey
How then can technology, and specifically, a live video chat service counter some of these challenges and fuel D2C growth?
A recent McKinsey study called out the fact that the addition of “phygital” interactions, including some form of “human agent” especially when it comes to high-cost or complex items can really make a difference to the customer journey, and ultimately, their satisfaction levels. Whilst we aren’t overly keen on the “phygital” word, the idea that this is the combination of some of the physical elements that consumers enjoy and the enabling capabilities that technology can provide, clearly has some merit.
From our experience, we have seen that a level of human contact provides valuable reassurance for the consumer. Add to this the ability for a customer service agent or online sales assistant to demonstrate a key feature, show two products side by side, within a branded environment, or explain why there is a price differential based on functional capabilities and you have a consumer who makes a more confident purchase. Ensuring the purchaser leaves a call with real confidence in how to get the best from their new product leads to higher levels of product and brand loyalty as they get to enjoy or utilise the product as the brand/manufacturer intended.
Whether video chat forms part of the information gathering phase for the potential purchaser, plays a role in clinching the sale, adds supplementary products that enhance the experience or aids with post-sale queries depends on the type of product and its complexity. Whatever choice a brand makes it’s clear that the solution is a way of elevating levels of customer service online to be on a par, or even to exceed, those found in store. Worth noting that McKinsey’s survey also suggested an eagerness on the part of customers to see an improvement in the end-to-end service they receive, not just the removal of friction points.
To conclude, we are convinced that the future of online shopping has human interaction at its centre. Finding ways of bringing that personal touch and reassurance to a brand’s online retail presence will be a critical success factor. The time when implementing this type of innovation was driven by the need for positive PR and landed with a half-hearted “something is better than nothing” approach has passed and been replaced by a clear imperative to create a true omnichannel experience that is flawless and consistent, regardless of the “channel”. If you want confirmation of that, just ask a consumer how they shop now and whether they are happy to accept second best because they are on a phone or a PC. We think we know the answer.