Since the 2015 MITX eCommerce Summit is just around the corner (March 3rd to be exact) this month's guest blog theme will be all things eCommerce. This guest post by Kate Putnam, Business Development Manager at Blueport Commerce discusses how to stay ahead of the curve in the ever-changing eCommerce space.
As a Business Development Manager for Blueport Commerce, Kate manages sales, corporate communications and partnership initiatives. These days, you can find Kate busy with the company’s marketing and sales strategy while writing blog posts and spreading the Blueport story to prospective investors, clients and recruits. She often shares chair space with her Vizsla, Ramsay, who is a regular visitor to the dog-friendly Blueport office. You can follow Blueport on Twitter @blueportdotcom
The Internet wasn’t widely adopted until the late ‘80s and email didn’t even really exist until 1993. Online commerce was rudimentary at best back then. And yet, within the last 30 years, the ever-changing way in which shoppers buy online has grown exponentially, exceeding many expectations. It has become just as important as shopping in stores, and in many ways exists within the fabric of our hearts, minds, keyboard-tapping fingers and wallets. While few may be able to completely predict the future of ecommerce in this digital age, we know it and the technology behind it is going to continue to grow and that there are some things retailers can do to avoid getting left behind.
The State of Ecommerce Growth
According to Business Insider Intelligence: The Future of Retail, 2014, cross-channel retail sales from 2012 – 2017 are projected to grow by the billions. By 2017, 60% of all retail sales will involve the web. For the furniture retail industry – the industry Blueport Commerce serves – online sales of furniture are growing at a rate of nearly 14% and will reach 6.4% of total category sales in 2017. Other sources predict even higher percentages by 2020. Forbes also estimates ecommerce growth at 16% in the US doubling every five years, which creates challenges and opportunities for retailers. These are only some of the numbers available, and they are big and have an enormous upside, especially for the furniture category.
Retailers Must Improve Their Online Shopping Experience
We’ve said this a lot, because it’s true – you need a functional, beautiful ecommerce site that is responsive and works for today’s shopper and – if you can stay a step ahead of the curve – the shopper of tomorrow. A responsive, ecommerce-enabled website is no longer a “nice-to-have.” It’s a must if you want to keep up with the pace of modern retail, in any category. In our experience building fully store-to-online integrated platforms and omnichannel services for furniture retailers, and through our own external research, we can boil this down into the following recommendations:
Adding products and product information to your site easily
Manage inventory across your site and in your stores (if you aren’t online only)
Accept payments securely and keep customer data safe
Make sure you’ve got sales tax down in states where you sell
Offer efficient returns, free or low-price shipping
Provide top-notch customer service
Allow for customers to review and comment
Market to customers to get them to your site
While we can’t possibly list them all, these are just a start to get you on the right track.
Brick-and-Mortar Stores Will Live On
A killer, responsive site with killer features (both of which are necessary), does NOT mean the demise of your brick-and-mortar stores – especially for big-ticket items like furniture. These days, you can personalize shoppers’ experiences online, guide their discovery and help them narrow their purchase considerations, whether they do so online or offline. Bridging the online/offline gap allows furniture retailers to target shoppers with one message seamlessly and easily, no matter how they choose to shop with you. (A little secret is that we help furniture retailers do this with Store-Sync.)
As Blueport President and CEO Carl Prindle said in his most recent post a few weeks ago, online and store retail are inextricably mixed, particularly for furniture, where stores play such a valuable role in the shopping process and shoppers do all their research online. The direction ecommerce is heading in means big things for business in this historically digital age.