It saddens me to inform you that we have not yet reached the future in which a Replicator can create any object for us out of thin air. But we do enjoy a service that our forefathers could only dream of – online shopping. While there are limitations, like same-day delivery for remote areas, e-commerce has opened up a world of opportunities for businesses and consumers alike.
In the United States, the second quarter of 2022 saw an increase of 2.7 percent from the first quarter of the same year, according to a report by the Census Bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce in August. E-commerce sales in the second quarter of 2022 accounted for 14.5 percent of total sales.
Meanwhile, Shopify predicts that online sales worldwide are expected to continue rising and, by 2026, world retail e-commerce sales are estimated to exceed $8.1 trillion, while the overall e-commerce share of retail sales will reach 24 percent.
Closer to home, online services are an added feature that help businesses stand out from local competition. While more consumers are taking advantage of online offerings, e-commerce has the potential to expand a business’s reach far beyond our humble shores.
One does not necessarily have to be a tech expert to be successful at e-commerce. It may be surprising to know that many of the components of being successful in a brick-and-mortar store also apply to e-commerce.
The first thing a business should do to be successful at e-commerce is to reach the customers where they are. This is not a new marketing strategy, but the difference is that customers are online. The rule of thumb has generally been that a potential customer sees an advertisement three to five times before they act. A well-planned digital marketing strategy and having a presence on multiple social media and other digital platforms, expand a business’s reach to customers. With so many platforms available to engage with customers, how businesses communicate with customers is important. The key is to be consistent and authentic.
Next, a business must be prepared to meet and exceed customer expectations, just as a business would in the traditional setting. It should be noted that customers now have unique expectations for shopping online. Online shoppers are experienced and sophisticated.
Customers expect speedy, or at least reasonable, delivery. To guarantee this, a business should weigh its options.
Take for example the challenge online shoppers on Guam and the CNMI face. At some point, we’ve all been disappointed when we placed an item in our cart on Amazon only to find out shipping is not available upon checkout. This issue arises because some orders are fulfilled by Amazon directly while other orders are fulfilled by third-party merchants.
Some merchants choose to ship orders in-house instead of using Amazon’s fulfillment service. Although Amazon acknowledges that Guam and the CNMI are domestic destinations and lists the standard shipping times as three to five business days, some of its merchants are not knowledgeable and decline to fulfill orders to Guam and CNMI under the misconception that they are international destinations. Other retailers besides Amazon merchants have similar policies and miss out on this market segment.
Shipping larger products, such as furniture or appliances, involves more logistics resulting from ocean freight policies with their own sets of processes and fees. The CNMI and Guam have their own Customs offices, so anything that comes to the islands must be inspected and approved. The true is vice versa, anything that arrives in a U.S. port from Guam or the CNMI, must be inspected and approved by the federal Customs office. In this sense, Guam and the CNMI are treated like different countries due to their distance from the mainland U.S.
With this in mind, a business must decide which market segments are ideal for its goals and consider how it can best meet customer expectations for delivery.
Local businesses might want to consider hybrid consumer experiences in which customers buy online, then pick up in-store. This way, customers get the ease of shopping online, while the business also encourages people to visit the store. Same-day pick-up would be ideal in this situation to satisfy customers’ expectations for quick service.
Improvements can be made by taking advantage of customer data. Online platforms and social media make it easy to access data about what customers want. Likes, shares, comments, link clicks, and more can all be leveraged to inform your business and marketing strategy.
In the competitive e-commerce market, building a long-term relationship with customers will give businesses an advantage. One repeat customer may bring in more revenue and be more valuable in the long run compared to multiple customers who make a single purchase.
Customers need a reason to keep coming back, such as a loyalty program, online exclusive promotions, and even subscriptions. Again, customer data comes into play to offer customers a personalized experience with offerings like suggestions based on a customer’s previous purchases, location, language, and other available information. To do this, businesses can encourage consumers to create an account on the online store or website to provide product recommendations more accurately.
A crucial way to succeed in e-commerce is to minimize any interruptions to the ease, convenience and security of shopping on a platform. This is especially important for the local market which could easily find it more convenient to stop by the store instead of ordering online and waiting for the order to be ready. A great deal of people shop online using their phones. Data from DataReportal shows that up to 60.1 percent of the dollars spent on these online purchases was attributed to mobile devices, indicating that consumers feel increasingly comfortable with the ease of shopping on mobile devices. This calls for a website optimized for mobile phones and a streamlined purchasing process.
The technology for online shopping will continue to improve, from recent augmented reality tools that allow users to visualize furniture or other items in their home to chatbots of the future that are powered by artificial intelligence so advanced the consumer may not know it’s not human.
Staying informed of the latest trends and being willing to adapt will help businesses compete and even succeed locally, regionally, and even globally.
Jay R. Shedd is executive vice president of Citadel Pacific, the parent company of PTI Pacific Inc. which does business as IT&E, IP&E. He has more than 30 years of experience in the telecommunications industry, business development, sales and marketing.