No industry has been unaffected by the pandemic, but it can certainly be said that retail has been one of the hardest hit segments of the economy. With stores shut down, supply chain issues, and reduced capacity in many locations, what’s a brand to do? For most of the last year, the answer was just to hang on and hope. Now that things are opening up more, the key to gaining back any ground lost is to make sure your brand is optimizing every channel possible.
There’s always been a divide between retail sales via e-commerce and sales that happen in brick and mortar locations, but the pandemic blurred those lines. For retailers, brands, and especially customers, Buy Online, Pick up In-store (BOPIS) is where it’s at. The challenge for brands now is to navigate a split shopping experience. The first part online, where the customer researches, browses, and tries to learn about a product, and the second part in a store that now has to be safe, frictionless and flexible.
The pandemic changed retail, but it changed the customer as well. In a survey from Prosper Insight and Analytics, cited in Forbes, data showed that in March of 2020 about 20% of shoppers had used BOPIS to purchase an item. In March of 2021, that percentage jumped to 24%. Ask anyone who has used curbside pick-up; they love it and they’re going to keep doing it. The research also revealed that 45% of consumers will make the behaviors that were due to COVID caution, permanent habits.
In order for brands to make the most of the BOPIS concept, they have to cover two fronts: online and in-store. E-commerce customer engagement is still possible, especially if the interaction is genuine. What’s the best way to make that happen? Brand advocacy, which looks different in each segment.
If your customer is browsing your site, the chance that they will buy something is actually pretty low. The latest survey from 2020 put the average conversion rate for e-commerce at 2.86%. In the United States, specifically, it’s at 2.63% and globally at 4.31%. That's the nature of online shopping, the competition is a click away. Chat features are pretty common on e-commerce sites, but if it’s just random, clunky, AI-generated bot chat, is it really working? Brand ambassadors can absolutely impact AOV and conversion rates online. The difference between programmed chat popping up at a customer randomly, and an actual live brand ambassador coming in at the right time during the visit with product knowledge and brand passion is night and day.
The second part, where the customer goes to pick up the item can’t be ignored either. Supply chain issues still persist from the pandemic, so keeping on top of inventory, backstock, and merchandising is critical. When you’ve gone to the trouble of upping your e-commerce gain, you have to make sure the product is available for consumers when they want it. The pandemic has shown consumers that they can get what they want, when they want it, so no brand can afford to be unprepared. Keeping track of the store floor conditions across all doors is a huge task, made only more difficult due to post-pandemic disruption. Enter the field agent, another kind of brand ambassador. Putting brand matched field agents, whose sole purpose is to service your brand, in retail locations allows key account managers to see what’s happening across multiple doors. From inventory levels and backstock to associate education, field agents can keep your brand at the head of the pack. The retailer is dealing with staffing shortages, supply issues and new safety protocols and simply can’t give your brand the attention it needs.
ThirdChannel has added a live brand advocate chat platform, Needle, to its suite of offerings. We are going to take retail brands to the next level with in-store representation as well as an agile e-commerce chat platform that helps convert online browsers to buyers.
We think this new business model is going to make a real difference in growing market share, lifting sales, and turning the corner on what’s been a difficult time. Reach out if you’d like to hear more about the plans we have for the future of retail innovation.