Analysis: So your business has gone online, but is it getting noticed?

It is hard to think of a business in 2021 that has not gone digital, or has not tapped onto online platforms to boost its sales during the trying period of lockdowns and social restrictions. While going online would no doubt have helped businesses tide over the pandemic-hit year, eCommerce marketplaces are getting increasingly saturated. 

A report by Facebook and Bain & Company said that 2020 saw five years of digital transformation packed into one. Initially predicting that the number of digital consumers in Southeast Asia would reach 310 million by 2025 in 2019, the companies’ latest report said that the number will be reached by end 2020. This means almost 70% of Southeast Asian consumers are predicted to digital by the end of 2020, and Southeast Asia’s online retail market penetration has now surpassed India’s, increasing 1.6 times to reach 5%.

But despite having your own eCommerce channels, storefronts on marketplaces and embracing social-selling, there is no guarantee that your brand will be noticed. Setting up an online business is only half the battle won, Alva Chew, founder of ecommerce and SEO consultancy Stridec, told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE in a conversation. To really stand out from the crowd, businesses need to invest in proper digital marketing efforts to create a brand awareness and a following online so that when consumers have the intention to buy, they would immediately choose to look for a certain brand rather than browse the category for the best value alone. 

To gain that brand awareness, Chew emphasised on the importance of having a brand identity. Brands need to have a strong understanding of what their DNA stands for, and be able to project that message seamlessly from offline to online. That is critical in achieving eCommerce success.

“It's not that hard to open an online store and peddle some products," Chew said. But getting people to trust your brand and relate to it virtually the same way they have been doing with your physical retail presence pre-pandemic is where the challenge lies. He added,

Having a storefront doesn't automatically translate to sales.

Additionally, brands must also have control over the traffic and customers they acquire. For brands to scale, they need to double down and make a serious effort to invest in digital marketing activities that generate the greatest amount of exposure possible. “Strategies such as SEO should be a top priority," Chew said, adding that if it fits the character of the brand, having a presence on trending social media platforms such as TikTok is also beneficial.

What to do after onboarding

The most common challenge that new merchants face upon onboarding is in familiarising themselves with promotion tools and features on the platform, eCommerce companies MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to revealed.

“After setting up their online stores, brands should familiarise themselves with the necessary in-app features and marketing tools that help drive traffic, boost user engagement, and increase sales,” Zhou Jun Jie, chief commercial officer at Shopee said. He added that these include features such as discounts, bundles deals, paid ads, flash deals, and more. Operational excellence is also the key to customer retention, Zhou said, adding that brands should build their eCommerce teams and dedicate resources to fulfill online orders. “By constantly reviewing and refining their processes, brands will be able to optimise the order processing flow and provide their customers with seamless shopping experiences online.”

A spokesperson from Amazon Singapore also added that merchants on eCommerce marketplaces need to make sure they are able to keep up with the demands and expectations of online consumers. A good shopping experience for consumers is what defines leading brands online and the factors that lead to a great experience are usually tied to quality products, right pricing strategy and timely delivery. Sellers need to closely look at consumer insights to effectively leverage the platform's resources, the spokesperson added. 

According to a recent Salesforce report titled "State of the Connected Customer", it is revealed that brand experience is paramount in attracting and retaining consumers in this day and age. Globally, 91% of the surveyed consumers said a positive experience makes them more likely to make another purchase, while 78% said they would forgive a company for its mistakes after receiving excellent service. Consumers are also looking to get personalised, seamless, and quick services as part of a brand experience, Salesforce’s report added. With that in mind, it is almost imperative for brands on eCommerce platforms to look beyond having an online presence to cut through the clutter. Brands now have to create a positive and unique brand experience to capture the hearts of their consumers.

Advantages of marketplaces

Just this week, A retail study done by Google, Ipsos, and Sixth Factor, highlighted the benefits of brands selling their products through their own brand website as compared to being on a marketplace. According to the study, consumers in Southeast Asia are willing to spend 20% more on an average order when making purchases on a brand's website directly, as they are more assured of the authenticity of their purchases. Consumers are also willing to pay a premium for products sold through brand websites because they are comforted by the idea that if issues emerge, they can return to the official seller for warranty and after-sales services.

However, there are still merits for brands to onboard eCommerce marketplaces. Google's study showed that while shoppers tend to lean towards brand websites, those who are price-sensitive prefer to make their purchases on marketplaces because of special deals or discounts. These promotions are also often rated as the top reason why consumers choose to shop on marketplaces over a brand website. Additionally, marketplaces can offer brands an opportunity to reach a variety of shoppers. Google's study added that 51% of shoppers purchase from brand flagship stores within marketplaces, as they offer a voice of authenticity and credibility. As such, brands should not neglect the importance of having a presence in marketplaces as well. 

One obvious advantage of starting brands’ digital journey by onboarding an eCommerce platform is that assistance can be provided to navigate the offline-to-online transition. ECommerce platforms such as Shopee, Lazada, and Amazon have in place various tools to assist new merchants in learning the ropes. For Lazada, it has its Lazada Seller Centre, which provides information for new sellers including step-by-step tutorials and answers, to guide on the things merchants need to kickstart their seller journey. Additionally, all three eCommerce platforms provide their own “university”, which are online education portals that provide free training resources to help merchants grow and scale their businesses using their respective features.

As for businesses that are able to invest a little more in their eCommerce platforms, they can also opt to increase their visibility on the eCommerce platforms by utilising the sponsored ads and search functions that each platform provides. For merchants on Amazon, they can buy ads for individual product listings through its Sponsored Products offering. This would result in the selected products appearing on search results pages and product detail pages, helping drive sales and product visibility. Alternatively, merchants could buy ads that showcase their product portfolio. These ads would feature their brand logo, a custom headline, and up to three products. And it will appear in the search results on Amazon’s marketplace.

Meanwhile, Shopee's Zhou said the platform allows merchants to utilise various tools such as homepage banners, Shopee Feed, flash deals, EDMs, and push notifications to market their products to Shopee users.

(Photo courtesy: 123RF)

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