The Covid-19 pandemic has required retailers across the globe to rethink their business models – not even pure-play online retail businesses have been immune from the change, according to BigCommerce vice president and general manager for Asia Pacific, Shannon Ingrey.

“It’s been a challenging period; one that is likely to have a lasting impact on the way that Australians shop online and in-store,” he told Retailbiz.

“When it comes to online retail specifically, consumers are more purpose-driven than ever before. In fact, some merchants have reported a significant drop in browsing time. It doesn’t mean that people aren’t buying, they are just better prepared and going into online stores with the intent of purchasing a particular item.”

So it’s time for retailers to enhance their digital offering with images, videos, or improved shipping and payment options, to make the experience as seamless and straightforward as possible.

Expectations of ecommerce have lifted, and technology will be key in delivering differentiated shopping experiences in 2021, simplifying the conversion tunnel and helping retailers to meet their consumers exactly where they are, according to Ingrey.

“Consumers have come to expect a tailored retail experience – one that not only follows the consumer across various platforms but is seamless and unique to their particular preferences. A consumer should be able to leave a retailer’s website on their desktop, open the retailer’s app and pick up precisely where they left off – as well as be provided with their relevant payment and delivery preferences.”

In particular, he noted that technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), which have historically been out of reach for mid-tier retailers, are quickly becoming a new lever in retail success.

“Recent advances have made the technologies more accessible, with the genuine ability to increase revenue for retailers during this ecommerce boom. There’s been a shift in consumer mindset; shoppers are well researched and going into the shopping experience with a predetermined outcome in mind. Technologies like AI and ML are becoming crucial in terms of creating relevance and increasing the size/conversion of the consumer’s basket.”

Looking ahead to 2021, he said we will likely see physical retail storefronts act more like distribution centres or centralised warehouses to move inventory faster and improve delivery times.

“In the longer term, we’ll see retailers shift to a more skeletal or lean business model. Technologies that enable retailers to focus on the logistics, customer service, faster delivery times and a more personalised offering will come to the forefront.

“If the global health pandemic had lasted a month, it’s likely that the retail industry – and Australian consumers – would have snapped back to traditional standards of operation and shopping habits. Instead, retailers that have historically been reliant on storefronts and foot traffic, have had the opportunity to shift their businesses and reduce their physical presence in ways they’ve possibly considered quietly for years. Consumers are now developing new ecommerce habits in line with those changes, and those habits are likely to live far beyond the global health pandemic.”