October 18th, 2021 | 9 MIN READ

How Will Online Buying Evolve in 2022 and Beyond?

Written by Jeffrey Wright

Jeffrey Wright is the Senior Director of Revenue Marketing and Operations for Elastic Path.

By now we are all familiar with what the global pandemic did to buying behavior and how that affected some of the world’s biggest brands. We had winners and losers, and the common denominator between winning and losing came down to agility to transform customer engagement or the fact that the business was deemed “essential” by the government.

You can see below some very recognizable brands could not survive the impacts of the pandemic.

However, it would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall to know how many of these brands were discussing or maybe even in the process of budget planning to transform using digital experiences leading up to February 2020.

The buyer trend for more online and digital experience was already present in the market pre-pandemic, which is why some were ahead of the game as early adopters, but why companies did not prioritize would be interesting 2020 hindsight to learn from.

(Source)

Now that that the dust is settling, we are moving from reactive to a more proactive planning for eCommerce and while there was a rush to pivot online back in 2020, our buyers are now discussing how to improve and or replace what was in place and looking to “future proof” their eCommerce approach going into 2022.

Future proofing the eCommerce experience is all about how you invest in technology and ensuring the foundational components are flexible and adaptable to the unknown future of buying experience and back-office workflows.

What was once a bleeding edge experience that differentiated brands is quickly become part of the standard expectation of the buyer.

Just consider a basic use case we all live with every day. We are not far from a time when most restaurants big or small had very little in the form of online presence and only the big brands like Dominos or Applebee’s had a way to order and pay online for delivery and take out.

Then came the “delivery marketplaces” like Uber Eats and Grub Hub which expanded the opportunity to digitally order your dinner and providing more local restaurants a channel to sell online.

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Living up in Southern NH (which is only 32 miles from Boston – so not the back woods by any means), there were not many options for either just before the pandemic. We were lucky to find a menu online and we had to pick up the phone to place an order for delivery or pick-up.

Within a matter of months every restaurant trying to survive, big or small, had dedicated parking for online ordering, they all had menus online and ways to purchase using credit card or PayPal. Some of the bigger chains spun up mobile apps to try and create a brand presence and accommodate multiple locations within a buying area.

I can tell you firsthand that some did it well, but most took an MVP approach that had buyers like me going back to the phone only because the food is good. The few that did it well have earned new business from me, but they are the exception vs. the rule and sad to say they are the bigger chains with deeper pockets.

Now that life is getting back to some normalcy just having a shopping cart online or mobile app is not going to be enough. Buying behavior has shifted and we the buyer are expecting better, multi-channel experiences. We don’t want to go to the store because we half to, we are going back because we want a day out of the house, and we might not even buy anything. If I need something I just go online and order it.

So, this shift is not only changing the experience online it is also changing how we interact in person.

While I am not a fortune teller that can predict what new buying trends will emerge in 2022, I did want to share some customer experience examples every brand and retailer needs to be doing to just meet buyer expectations.

When reading this, If you consider these things are hard to do because of the eCommerce technology you have today, then that is a major signal that you might need to start looking for a different, “future proof” eCommerce solution.

Also keep in mind, the biggest question you need to ask the technology vendors is not can you do this or show me where you have done this – but rather how fast did your customers do this, how much did they have to customize the solution to make it work? If you can transform quickly, you will never be able to keep up with the ever-changing and increasing buyer expectations.

Blending Online and Offline is already the expectation

Retailers that quickly merged online and offline experience with options like Curbside pick-up were on the winning side of the buyer shift that happened in the pandemic.

I briefly mentioned this in another article I recently wrote as being one the keys to Best Buy’s winning without being “essential”. Digital Commerce 360 did a study earlier this year on the topic and below shows just how much this experience has been adopted from December 2019 (pre-pandemic) to August 2020.

What is interesting is now we are starting to see the effect this having on how the physical experience is shifting.

Companies are looking to invest in smaller retail space that is optimized for pick-up and delivery. In fact, I would not be surprised to see dedicated drive thru lanes for services like Uber Eats and Grub Hub and maybe even loyal online buyer pick up window at McDonalds coming soon.

And I can even envision “distribution” sites where there is only a kitchen so that companies can operate in lower cost industrial districts vs. paying higher rent on Main Street.

These points illustrate why “future proof” decisions for technology need to be more cloud-based and composable, per Gartner Groups "By 2023, organizations that have adopted a Composable Commerce approach will outpace competition by 80% in the speed of new feature implementation."

Other use cases that blend of online and offline:

  • Contactless checkout. Provides a unique buying experience where there is never a que to pay. Even the self-service lines are getting longer as less clerks run registers.
    This allows the buyer to skip the line all together and your staff can spend more time helping customer 1x1 on the floor and stuck behind a bar code scanner.

  • Having a data driven catalog solution means you can ensure the in-store experience is the same as online. Buyers can see product in the store and even if it is not available in that store, they can find it online with the same price and option to purchase and ship to their home. The data and availability is in full sync with your warehouses.

Sell your brand direct to great trust and loyalty

Marketplaces and retail sites are great ways to get your product exposed, but then you are just a commodity stuck presenting your product the same way as your competition.

However, you need to have a place where you can control the online experience and have that work seamlessly with the marketplaces and retails you also may use – online and offline. If you currently are managing the information about your products and services in silos across these channels, you may not be operating on a “future proof” platform.

Many eCommerce vendors claim multi-channel as a strength, but really, they are just enabling loosely couple separate instances that require a ton of user and technical support to operate effectively across channels.

Adding to this complexity and something that is at the heart of Elastic Path’s customer base is multi-brand and multi-geo. In order to have a seamless experience across this ecosystem you need to consider how well your current platform enables this integration on both the customer experience and back-office operations. The bigger and more diversified your company gets, the harder this will get.

While the quick to deploy cloud monolith might look attractive to get started. You will soon outgrow it if you are successful, and you will likely fail to scale with an experience buyers will expect as a standard in the near future, as more and more buying happens across digital channels.

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Channel variety will continue to diversify

Think about why major brands had to be on main street or in the mall? Foot traffic.

They knew that just by being visible to buyers when they went out shopping would help drive revenue, even if they if what they were selling was not the main reason a buyer went out.

Now that the buyer is spending more time online and the internet can reach everyone no matter if they are at home, work or on vacation the new main street is social media. But it is not enough to just promote you brand with ads and sponsored posts.

You need to have a personal presence and you need to make it easy to transact within the social experience. Using social will continue to rise according to most experts and the statistics are amazing for how things look today, considering MySpace came on the scene less than 20 years ago. Below are some stats compiled by Hootsuite earlier this year.

(Source)

It will be in the best interest if the social platform and seller to utilize open, standard ways to connect – aka APIs. But not just any API, these connections need to flexible and capable of connecting without custom code.

This again underscores the importance of having a modern, composable eCommerce platform designed to connect in a modern cloud world.

Buying Online will become the experience

Back to the mall one more time. Remember when going to mall meant hanging with friends, going to music store to check out the latest album or heading to Footlocker to check out Nike’s latest new kicks.

All that is gone, but we are still visual and social beings. The experience online needs get better in this area to win. If the experience online is not a good one and your product does not create an emotional bond with buyer, you will lose. But it will go beyond cool websites and mobile apps as technology like VR/AR being to take hold.

According to Goldman Sachs, the market for AR and VR in retail will reach $1.6 billion by 2025.

The fact is most current eCommerce platforms are not ready to meet the unknown future, which is why we are seeing growing interest in the market for headless commerce solutions.

However, companies that want to future proof eCommerce need to think beyond the CMS and Mobile as the head – they need to image a world where everything we interact with can become an interface to transact. That is why you need to consider platforms that have been built from the ground up using open API architectures.

To those platforms, the “head” can be just about anything you can imagine it to be.

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