The COVID-19 pandemic supercharged a revolution in the retail industry. Whether it’s the way people shop, the platforms they use, the integration of technology or the expectations of customers; the industry is changing by leaps and bounds.

Even as we take tentative steps towards a post-COVID-19 world, the current situation in Victoria reminds us the battle is far from over and that the shopping behaviours established during the height of the pandemic are here to stay.

So, what do Australian retailers need to know about the trends driving the industry and how they can best keep up?

Now is the time for social selling

It’s crucial that retailers understand how they can combine new technology and conversion to create a better experience. Social media is a significant touchpoint for customers – engaging and selling to them directly via those platforms can simplify the path to conversion.

TikTok is a key example – with over 1.6 million active monthly users in Australia, the popular #ForYou page is a fantastic tool for retailers to use to attract new customers. Tools like Vop allow brands to enable customers to shop via TikTok, removing an unnecessary step of leaving the app to purchase in the conversion process and optimising the user experience – both of which are key for retailers in the crowded ecommerce market.

The use of social media platforms in selling opens up opportunities for retailers allowing them to reach new shoppers regardless of their geographical locations, meet customers on their journey and maintain the user experience.

Customer experience is everything

In order to survive – and thrive – during what is a difficult time for businesses, retailers must proactively look at the ecommerce strategies available to them to connect with customers. Considering and delivering on the expectations of consumers will ensure that the shopping experience drives brand loyalty and repeat sales.

From delivery to payment options, every step of the consumer journey should be considered. Buy-now-pay-later now accounts for 14% of all online transactions in Australia, according to the BigCommerce State of Ecommerce report. Most popular in younger demographics, used by 18% of 25-34 year-olds. The technology is quickly becoming a standard of ecommerce – one that will live far beyond the pandemic.

Australians now have the world at their feet when it comes to online shopping, but with that range of choice comes greater expectations. This can include the expectation of free returns; in fact 62% of online shoppers indicate they would switch retailers to access free returns. Similarly, product reviews – 58% of shoppers read product reviews before buying and 47% read retailer reviews before shopping.

Sustainability builds consumer connection and drives conversion

Despite competing priorities, sustainability remains a major consideration for consumers, with research showing that customers, especially younger generations, actively seek brands with values that align with their own. The same research found that 52% of millennials and 48% of Gen-Xers feel it’s important that their values align with the brands they use.

Retailers can use sustainability practices to connect with their audience on a deeper level, building long-term customer relationships and brand loyalty. As the demand for home delivery increases, choosing to incorporate sustainable options for package and delivery can become an additional selling point.

Where to next?

While 2020 has presented retailers with countless challenges, they are likely to be ongoing – the Australian recession, in particular, will result in shoppers tightening their purse strings. It’s now more important than ever for online retailers to tune in to customer needs; understanding where they can meet them on their journey to drive additional sales, focusing on the customer experience and ensuring that broader business values are communicated to drive brand loyalty and customer relationships.

It’s vital that retailers ensure consumer needs and the customer journey are front of mind. Online retail  cannot be a “set and forget” process – it needs to be assessed and updated in line with consumer expectations to drive long-term relationships and a successful business.

Shannon Ingrey is vice president and general manager for Australia and New Zealand at BigCommerce