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Maintaining the human element in the online world

Maintaining the human element in the online world

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MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, in partnership with ROSETTA AI, recently held a round table event in Singapore on the future of online shopping where discussion highlighted the increasing importance of merging online and offline data and getting the right people to make it happen. 

With markets slowly opening up, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that online transactions have slightly dwindled. According to research by the IMF published earlier this year, on average, the online share of total spending rose sharply from 10.3% in 2019 to 14.9% at the peak of the pandemic, but then fell to 12.2% last year.

However, this doesn’t discredit the importance of online shopping in modern consumers’ lives. A habit born out of the pandemic, today eCommerce has become an integral part of any brand’s existence. Yet, as consumers start slowly heading out and resuming physical shopping, many retailers are still trying to find their footing in the transference of skills between the realm of online to offline.

According to Trixie Khong, founder of online-first jewellery brand By Invite Only, which grew its retail footprint amid the pandemic, the challenge for the brand today lies not just in integrating data seamlessly across both its online and offline presence, but also in finding the right talent to achieve this.

Khong said: “Tech solutions are very helpful for us, but we need to solve the problem of finding and forming teams to adopt and adapt to all the new technology, software and programmes first.”

She added: “What we really need to fix is in bringing every department, be it online or offline, together. There should never just be one person, or department, holding the information for all. For an organisation, that would not be helpful.”

While the responsibilities around deciphering and understanding data often feel under the premise of marketing, Khong says in her industry, equally responsible are the teams from customer service, inventory, and retail operations.

“Getting everyone to talk, and use a unified platform, and understand the data from different angles, takes a lot of time,” she added.

Sometimes manual is the way

For retailers such as Luxasia, which houses many major brands under its portfolio, having open conversations is key – even when campaigns are not running.

“Teams across the organisation will sit down with the performance marketing or media team and try to understand what they are doing so that the messages the brand puts out are not disjointed,” said Manvi Kathuria, general manager APAC, eCommerce, Luxasia.

Of course, that ongoing communication requires a level of dedication that the managers must put in. For several of its brands, Luxasia is also integrating teams by having them sit and work closer together.

“I don’t think we ever have a 100% clear 360 view of every single thing. But we have to manually come together to understand each other, and that process for many brands is still not seamless,” she added.

The need for speed

While it was easy to associate online shopping with a younger demographic in the past, the pandemic shifted many of the older generations online. Today, consumers are heading to stores online for a myriad of reasons – from their tactical buys to casual browsing. Nonetheless, if anything, customers’ expectations for “expediency” have come more to the forefront, said Curtis Bergh, chief commercial officer of Rosetta.AI.

“Online shopping currently serves many different groups of people with many different purposes. It can be tough to cut through the noise and clutter for retailers to best know how to service all of their audiences. With the diversity online, retailers also have to consider delivering different experiences to different shoppers all on one site,” he said, explaining this can be stressful.

And while the market has plenty of shiny new toys promising to deliver with speed, and with personalisation at scale, the simple truth is, these new gadgets must also be simple enough for a brand’s staff to handle – especially in an era where tech talent is in hot demand, but the supply is not.

According to Emily Ong, head of loyalty at Razer Asia Pacific, when looking for solutions, assessing usability in terms of back-end support, along with the front-end experience for consumers, is equally vital.

“I will always look at user friendliness in terms of the back end. If our staff does not know how to operate it fully, then there’s no point because I am unable to use the full suite of benefits,” she said.

Even for solutions, which claim to be plug and play, teething issues will emerge.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s the CIO or CTO who is involved in the process of purchase. As marketers we need to define what we need clearly and ensure the product can integrate properly with what we have, and is easy for our staff to optimise it,” Ong said.

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According to Alice Li, chief operating officer,, this level of domain knowledge must apply to merchants as well, in order for marketers to trust them with their digital storefronts and campaigns. “It’s clear that e-commerce merchants and marketers constantly have to keep up to adapt to the needs and attention spans of consumers online, optimising that shopping journey for them and their different needs to drive sales is an evolving process that everyone needs to pay attention to, in orderto stay ahead of the curve,” she said.

Communicating the right values

What is clear today is that consumers, regardless of purchasing online or offline, prefer to align with brands that have clearly communicated values and bring more meaning to their lives.

According to a 2021 study by Razorfish, 82% of respondents stated that the brands they buy personally (and 75% of the brands their friends buy) stand for a greater mission or purpose.

Research findings say that Gen Z is a driving force behind the call for change and Gen Z is twice more likely than Millennials, and thrice more likely than Gen X, to feel that brands – more so than media companies and institutions – will make the world a better place.

Understanding this need to be purposeful, Fossil is taking more control over the conversations around sustainability, and not just being profitable, said Candyse Yip, head of eCommerce, Singapore and Malaysia at Fossil.

“Our consumers know what is happening in the world and are more conscious about the brands they are looking to spend with. They want to spend or shop with a brand that is making a positive impact on society. So topics such as sustainability will definitely be a core part of our conversation moving forward,” Yip said.

Agreeing for the need to communicate on matters consumers care about was Peilin Lee, head of marketing at Nespresso, who shared that education is very important on that front, and educating consumers around topics such as sustainability also opens up an avenue for brands to communicate with them.

However, brands must also be cognisant of the topics that are on the minds of consumers.

“For example, right now, many of our consumers are worried about inflation and the economy, and so that’s becoming a key focus for them. As a brand, we then need to ensure that we are sensitive to their plights and put their priorities ahead of our agenda when speaking to them,” she said.

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