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This year it’s not what you sell, but how

Toys ‘R’ Us, Pumpkin Patch and Payless Shoes. These were just a few a handful of the numerous retailers that fell victim to tough market conditions and went bust in 2018. The inability to compete with global retailers and the rise of online competitors were cited as contributing factors to their demise.

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It’s a cautionary tale. The rise of e-commerce, offering easy and personalised shopping, is setting a new standard of convenience for Australian consumers. E-commerce is not a fad and isn’t going away any time soon. And it’s expected that a large amount of future e-commerce activity will be conducted through the giant that is Amazon. This recent festive period, the company claimed it had a “record-breaking holiday season,” and that customers had purchased millions more Amazon devices compared with last year.

It seems Amazon can do no wrong. In November, it backflipped on its controversial decision to stop shipping Down Under from its US store. The original decision was in response to online GST changes which required overseas businesses to collect the tax on products under $1,000. Now the product flood gates have well and truly opened with Australian customers able to select from amazon.com, complementing the over 80 million products available on amazon.com.au. The timing was certainly interesting – just before the Black Friday frenzy and with Christmas around the corner.

The bar has been raised

As the local marketplace continues to evolve, so too does technology which is making the shopping experience more convenient than ever. As such, consumer expectations have also changed. Responsive support, fast shipping, and generous return policies have become the norm. To compete against the likes of Amazon this year and beyond, retailers need to invest in providing a remarkable customer experience that meets (and ideally exceeds) the expectations of the modern consumer. This means making products available across more channels and delivering a seamless, omnichannel customer experience. That’s right from the browsing stage through to purchase, delivery and being available to answer any queries along the way. The goal should be to create a frictionless customer experience that will encourage repeat purchases and grow your business through customer reviews and recommendations. Delighted customers are the most powerful advocates for your brand and word of mouth has become a more powerful and cost-effective channel than sales and marketing.

Let’s get personal

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Consumers have changed. They access your content from multiple devices. They come at it from a number of different channels. And, perhaps most importantly, as their experience with your business grows, their needs and interests change. And yet, most marketing still treats them all the same. When it comes to personalised and frictionless online shopping experiences, not all retailers are going to boast the technical capabilities of a giant such as Amazon. However, going back to basics can go a long way. As a business grows and priorities shift, it’s easy to overlook the importance of improving personalisation in your existing marketing channels — a one-size-fits all email isn’t going to resonate with the modern buyer the way it might have five years ago.

The goal of personalisation isn’t to engage with one audience of many, but to engage with infinite audiences of one. As you grow, you collect more data, and that data is invaluable when it comes to creating personalised — and as a result, more effective — marketing campaigns. When you responsibly use customer data to tailor your marketing campaigns to meet consumer expectation and hit your business goals, it creates a win-win situation. However, ‘responsibly’ is the key guardrail here. There is a fine line between using data in a way that benefits your customers, and simply abusing it for your own gain. The guiding principle here should be to do the right thing by your customers — ultimately, you should be asking yourself: am I using this data in a responsible way, to improve the customer experience? Or is this completely self-serving?

Giants such as Amazon may be here to stay, but thanks to technology it’s never been easier to start a successful e-commerce businesses. Over the past few years, the number of affordable tools and technologies available to small businesses has exploded, meaning it’s not just the giants who have the ability to build online experiences that delight the modern, convenience-obsessed consumer. All in all, the future of e-commerce is bright, and ultimately, how you sell is becoming more important than what you sell. For that reason, businesses that prioritise a frictionless shopping experience and commit to doing the right thing by their customers, are the ones that will grow better in 2019 and beyond.

James Gilbert, APAC Director, HubSpot