Opinion: Don't just shift online

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COVID-19 has brought about various changes in people’s lives - most notably, the way we shop today. The pandemic-led acceleration in digitalisation has resulted in deep, irreversible shifts in consumer shopping habits. We can still observe the impact of these shifts today, as eCommerce continues to play an increasingly important role in shoppers’ lives. According to a report by Google, Temasek, and Bain & Company, over a third of 2020’s online commerce was generated by new shoppers, of which eight in 10 intend to continue purchasing online moving forward.

As the pandemic continues to reshape our world, one thing remains the same: humans are social beings who yearn for interaction. With a broader base of online shoppers who are more engaged now than ever before, brands and sellers must ensure that the point-of-sale activity transcends beyond just transactions. It is no longer enough for businesses to simply shift their operations online to meet users. They need to adopt new marketing strategies that effectively support the surge of new customers that expect personalised, engaging, and social experiences (PES). What then, are the considerations for a brand when they’re looking to implement an effective PES strategy?

Catering to the ‘me’ economy with personalisation

Businesses need to ensure that shopping experiences are unique for every individual. For eCommerce players, this is achieved by using data science to build personalised recommendation algorithms that allow buyers to discover products that they may like based on their browsing and purchasing behaviour.

Tools such as artificial intelligence (AI) also serves as an essential element in the future of retail to optimise efficiencies and create personalised experiences. Beauty brands such as L’Oréal use AI-powered digital innovation tools to offer instant, personalised, and professional acne analyses without customers having to visit a physical store; an essential element as more people stay at home.

It’s not just big players that should be using technology to implement effective marketing strategies. SMEs can also leverage online platforms to create unique and memorable experiences for their customers. This goes a long way towards building consumer loyalty.

Engagement is the key to meeting the stay-at-home economy

Today’s consumers are spending more time at home and expect deepened engagement. Businesses can thus value-add by nurturing the customer journey beyond single transactions. Apart from communicating with customers via online chats, brands and sellers can leverage technologies such as games and livestreaming to boost user engagement.

The demand for engaging shopping experiences has continued to grow steadily amongst users, and was further accelerated as local governments stepped up safe distancing measures last year. In fact, conversations around livestreams and gamification of the online shopping experience increased by a massive 1890% on forums and social media since March 2020, according to Meltwater.

Livestreaming provides authenticity and intimacy, adding a human element to marketing which can help retailers cultivate stronger relationships with customers. By consistently creating rich and unique content that can inform and entertain users, businesses can effectively bridge the gap between themselves and their customers. Similarly, sellers and brands can also look to leverage gamification tools on eCommerce platforms as a way to deepen engagement. It is a useful tool that can broaden the way in which businesses conduct consumer outreach and generate traffic to their online stores. 

Innovative tools such as these allow for offline-driven businesses to fortify engagement with their target audiences. The trend of engagement tools as part of the modern-day shopping experience is expected to persist. As such, businesses should look to incorporate this into their online retail strategies, to optimise their offerings for the consumer of today.  

Social: Bringing the human touch to online shopping

It’s no surprise that Southeast Asian consumers are highly social beings. As they turn to digital devices to keep occupied at home during the pandemic, a Facebook and Bain & Company report  revealed that eCommerce platforms and social apps have seen an increase in first-time and continued usage.

As such, businesses need to move quickly to tap onto this trend and weave social elements into their eCommerce strategies. As more people turn to virtual interactions, companies can look to establish or further enhance existing social features to facilitate meaningful interactions between users and the communities around them.

Take for instance Indonesian platform Kaskus, which harnesses the power of a social offering to create shopping experiences that cater to the unique needs of a Southeast Asian audience. Kaskus incorporates a "buy and sell" section alongside its community and news forums, creating an avenue for people to both connect with one another and shop.

It is no secret that successful marketing today is cultivated through a strong understanding of the social attitudes of Southeast Asian consumers - the most engaged user base in the world. For the businesses of today, honing these insights into the region’s behavioural patterns play a vital role in developing effective and sustainable online retail strategies.

Agile marketing is the recipe for success, especially during times of crises

When it comes to marketing during a time of crisis, there are no one-size-fits-all blueprints. To succeed, companies need to keep their ears to the ground and adapt their strategies accordingly, utilising powerful tools that can provide consumers with PES and therefore connect with them on a deeper, more meaningful level.

Marketing teams must also collaborate and adjust campaigns as needed once they are live. It is important to monitor the performance of each campaign closely and gather relevant insights along the way. This allows for necessary adjustments to be made, following changes in local trends and current events.

We believe the most important thing is to always consider the most pertinent needs and concerns of our audience, especially as priorities and habits evolve during moments of crises. The need for a nimble marketing approach has never been stronger than it is today.

The writer is Tiger Wang (pictured), head of marketing, Shopee Singapore.

Join us on a two-day journey at Retail Reset 2021 happening on 4-5 May as we reflect on the changing retail landscape over the past year, and discuss the emergence of new retail trends that marketers should look out for heading into this new era. Sign up now!