E-commerce had steadily risen over the past decade, reaching 10 percent of U.S. retail sales by 2014 and 16 percent by 2019. However, from January to April 2020, that figure rose to 27 percent, giving e-commerce 10 years of growth in 10 weeks.
David Vander Dussen, Product Manager at Epson, says, “Online ordering became a huge component of how businesses served their customers.” He adds, however, that skyrocketing e-commerce activity created challenges. Large chains and enterprises that had an online presence weren’t ready for the volume orders for delivery or for in-store or curbside pickup. And smaller businesses and regional chains forced into e-commerce for the first time may have quickly deployed solutions without a solid strategy to try to capture every sale possible.
Foot traffic is now picking up again; however, research doesn’t indicate a decline in e-commerce activity back to pre-pandemic levels. Chain Store Age reports data from Finaria showing the number of e-commerce users is projected to grow another 10 percent YOY in 2021 to 3.8 billion worldwide and will reach 4.9 billion by 2025. E-commerce revenues are also in line with that projection — anticipated to grow to $2.7 trillion in 2021 (approximately 11 percent growth) and to increase to $3.4 trillion by 2025.
Instead of the scramble of the last year to keep revenues coming in, Vander Dussen says businesses are now taking a step back to look at the long game, evaluating the new processes they’ve implemented and are looking for ways to get the most out of their 2020 investments.
Your software users are:
- Analyzing workflows: Throughout the pandemic, some businesses didn’t land on efficient processes to handle online orders, such as printing orders directly to the restaurant kitchen or e-commerce fulfillment center. They may have lacked integration with inventory management or other back-office systems that provide customers with accurate data when they browse, place orders and schedule pickup or delivery. They’re looking for ways to streamline and optimize those new workflows now.
- Packaging and organizing orders: Vander Dussen adds that brick-and-mortar businesses that now primarily interact with their customers online have lost touchpoints they counted on to build customer relationships and loyalty. “They may not just want to staple a receipt to a package,” he says. “They’re making conscious decisions on packaging, how purchases are presented to the customer, how they’re sealed and delivered. It’s an area where they can still add a personal touch.” Businesses have discovered the value of labeling solutions for organizing purchases for delivery or pickup and assuring customers that their orders are complete and correct.
- Adding up costs: Buy online pickup in store (BOPIS), curbside pickup, and delivery, either by in-house staff or a third-party provider, all cost more than selling to a customer in-store. Vander Dussen says finding ways to operate more efficiently and keep costs low are priorities for businesses in 2021. Integrating your software with advanced printer solutions is one way to help your users achieve this objective. For example, Epson’s OmniLink TM-T88VI, a point of sale (POS)-agnostic printer, enables a business to consolidate orders from multiple sources and send them directly to a kitchen, e-commerce fulfillment or pickup station through one connection as well as the POS system. This solution eliminates the need for an additional terminal, which can be particularly important to restaurants and stores that operate on thin margins.
- Capitalizing on hybrid engagements: Some consumers will place an online order but make additional purchases when they arrive at the store. Streamlining pickup and in-store purchasing can make those experiences quicker and easier for customers and may encourage them to make additional in-store purchases in the future.
- Focusing on business continuity: Merchants now have deep, first-hand knowledge of flexible IT environments’ value. Investments will likely shift from on-premises solutions to cloud-based and mobile systems that allow merchants to easily adapt when traditional brick-and-mortar business operations aren’t possible.
Customer Expectations Remain High
Vander Dussen points out that whether customers shop in brick-and-mortar stores, order for curbside pickup or plan to have their purchases delivered, “They have the same standards however they interact — and they’re less forgiving of bad experiences.”
For example, an inventory system not synced with the POS system can result in items listed as in stock on a website when a cashier just rang up the last few in a store. “It’s those kinds of disappointments that can have a big impact,” he says.
Developers have the opportunity to provide their users with new features and functionality that integrate with their current POS or management systems to create high-quality experiences for consumers. Flexibility is key. Retailers and restaurateurs are still working through the best business model and the best processes to support it — so they need software that will adapt as they refine their post-pandemic operations.
Vander Dussen adds that it’s critical to choose POS hardware partners that can support your team with resources, SDKs, and a broad product portfolio that supports the new options from order receipt to delivery. Your partners should offer good presales and tech support, so they’ll be available to your users for help with troubleshooting, customizations and more. Your users will need your partners’ expertise, as well as yours, to create seamless processes that meet consumers’ high standards.
The Developer’s Role in E-commerce
If you work with large businesses and enterprises, your clients probably have a clear idea of the customer experiences they want to create and will turn to you for development expertise to make it happen.
However, if you have small and medium-sized business (SMB) clients who are new to e-commerce and omnichannel operations, they may also turn to you for advice on optimizing CX.
“E-commerce workflows have different points of importance to customer experience than in-store interactions,” Vander Dussen says. “Solutions need to reflect what’s important to the customer at those points in the buying journey.”
“Educate yourself on those new interactions, areas where merchants can improve experiences, and how your solution can enable them,” he says.