Shipping boxes loaded into a shopping cart on top of a laptop keyboard - ecommerce concept
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At first glance, it’s easy to assume that ecommerce would explode during COVID-19 and social distancing. According to eMarketer, however, growth could decelerate to 16.5% this year, with some countries seeing more growth than others.

With the outlook for ecommerce up in the air, we’ve turned to industry leaders to understand what they’re seeing in online retail and their best tips for surviving the uncertainty.

What’s Happening in Ecommerce Today?

According to Antonio Wedral, co-founder & director of NOVOS, it’s been a mixed bag over the last few months where some industries have been hit worse than others. “However, in general we've seen clients' traffic levels grow, as well as phases where revenue and average order value has been very high.” He believes that with physical stores being closed, ecommerce has definitely grown over the lockdown and will likely continue to grow in the future.

Josh Wetzel, chief revenue officer of OneSignal believes some brands were in a much better position prior to the pandemic. “Digital-native retailers are naturally better equipped to survive in this new normal under COVID,” he explained, “whereas many traditional stores that are often small businesses, are left scrambling to come up with a digital-first strategy.”

For small retailers that can’t easily transition at least a portion of their business online, the situation is tenuous at best. “But with the right strategies in place, the digital transition can be done.”

Related Article: What Do Businesses Need in an Ecommerce Platform Today?

How Ecommerce Brands Can Manage Uncertainty

Most brands are struggling to adapt to today’s business environment, here are some tips from ecommerce leaders to better manage the uncertainty.

Offer Generous Return Policies

For one, Wedral suggests offering free returns for a longer period of time. “It's been a huge deciding factor in recent months,” he said.” That’s because consumers new to ecommerce may be hesitant to make a purchase when they haven’t physically touched a product, and the ability to return items can provide reassurance and develop trust in the brand. A comprehensive return policy that’s transparent to shoppers can be crucial for optimizing ecommerce conversions.

Don’t Overdo Personalization

There’s been a trend towards highly personalized customer experience, yet many ecommerce brands could be better off focusing on getting a few key things right. “For most small to midsized retailers,” Wetzel explained, “personalization is important but hyperpersonalization is neither realistic nor necessary.” For Wetzel, that means creating several target personas and focusing on offering unique experiences for each of them. Micro-targeting, hyperpersonalization and other advanced techniques can be challenging to implement successfully and could do more harm than good for some brands.

Utilize Multiple Marketing Strategies

Ecommerce brands should use many different digital marketing tactics to drive traffic to their websites, mobile apps and other touchpoints. “Digital strategies like search engine optimization (SEO) and engagement through social media can help to build awareness of your online presence,” Wetzel explained. Beyond traffic, however, brands should leverage a variety of digital tools to better engage with visitors and build relationships with prospective customers. That way, companies can minimize cart abandonment, customer churn and other signs of customer satisfaction.

Focus on the Experience

Wetzel also suggests brands focus on creating a shared experience that improves customer retention. “Customers are paying for your brand story as much as they are paying for the actual product or service,” he explained, “it’s not enough to just sell a product anymore.” If customers feel like they’re a part of a brand’s story and community, they’re much more likely to become a loyal customer. “In essence,” Wetzel continued, “feeling like part of a community and creating a shared experience brings about a sense of urgency that drives action.” 

Related Article: Is Live Streaming Ecommerce the Next Thing?

The Future of Ecommerce

“As an industry, retail has been going through a digital transformation well before the pandemic hit,” Wetzel stated. That said, COVID-19 has set the transition into overdrive and forced brick-and-mortar retailers to adapt now. “Ecommerce has already become our current reality,” Wetzel said, “and will continue to play a vital role in our future.” 

“Overall, the outlook for ecommerce looks very positive,” Wedral said. He expects measures in place at the moment, such as free shipping and longer return windows, to remain at least in the near-term. “As people have become more comfortable with shopping online, and with brands wanting to focus more on their online presence, the demand on ecommerce will only continue to grow, so brands need to be ready and have the infrastructure in place.”