It’s no secret that the pandemic accelerated the pace at which ecommerce is growing – particularly here in Australia. Consumer demands and expectations shifted overnight, fundamentally changing the way Australians shop – including shopping online only, supporting local businesses, adopting a renewed interest in health and fitness, ‘cocooning’ by prioritising comfort over luxury and shifting discretionary spending on essential needs and services. As we hit the one-year mark since our shopping habits were upended, we are now better positioned to explore the lessons learned and shifts in strategies, transitioning into a new era of online retail.

In-person retail was hit hard by rolling lockdowns, forcing consumers to shop from home, consequently disrupting the supply chain and adding unprecedented pressure on retailers. Merchandisers were forced to pivot strategies and roadmap, whether it meant bringing their in-store presence online, strengthening their ecommerce technologies, or integrating robust ecommerce solutions to optimise order fulfillment processes and unexpected growth. Couple this with new and rapidly emerging product trends as consumers adjusted to their “new norm” and it’s safe to say retailers had their work cut out for them. Yet, Australian retailers met the inevitably adverse challenges with flexibility and adaptability, capturing the untapped potential of ecommerce growth.

With over 200,000 Australians shopping online for the first time in 2020, it yielded to a new lifeline for online retailers, growing by 44.4% YoY. Let’s explore some of the pivotal changes that helped shape last year’s retail strategies and how they will influence and define this year’s emerging trends. 

Retail revolution: Take it from our customers, technology is key

For many retailers, the pandemic meant that they had to scrap their existing plans and strategies to begin anew – very quickly. Orders piled up, overburdened retailers scrambled to meet consumer demands, and shipping delays yielded unhappy customers. Habits changed, priorities shifted with consumers looking to prioritise essential needs and services, cozy apparel, home and garden and health and fitness.

Brands that reacted promptly and nimbly to the changing consumer demands were fortunate enough to maximise revenue and leverage the industry disruption that sent shoppers online. According to Australia Post, wine and liquor has been a hot favourite for Aussies during the lockdown, with online purchases reaching highs of over 160% YOY.

Take Beer Cartel as a use case study. The successful Australian retailer is dedicated to introducing craft beers from across Australia and the world to local beer enthusiasts. Using Searchspring’s site search, merchandising and category solutions, they were able to optimise the online shopping experience, ensuring that customers could find the products they were looking for in a matter of clicks. And then – spoiler alert – 2020 hit, and while many merchandisers felt the ripple effects and strain from the increase in order demands flowing in, Beer Cartel was able to capitalise on the market rise to thrive and grow.

By offering the frictionless and enjoyable experience consumers desired, Beer Cartel grew its business exponentially. The secret to their high-converting numbers lies in the user-facing optimisation; getting the right product in front of the right person at the right time in this new digitally-led world.

Searchspring head of Asia Pacific, Kate Massey .

2021: The year to invest in personalisation and headcount

The people have spoken: 91% of consumers are more likely to convert if a brand personalises their online experience.With that mind-boggling stat in mind, I suggest retailers start to heavily invest in personalisation offerings. AI taps into behavioural data to automatically curate product recommendations across a site. AI models learn from shopper history, real-time behaviour and preferences to provide the most relevant, curated products on a page. This offers benefits to the retailer and customer simultaneously, including:

  • Driving cross-sell and upsell opportunities – Product recommendations can include complementary items to the product being viewed or suggest similar results with a higher price point. Increased relevance drives an increased potential for a shopper to grow their basket size.
  • Activating return purchases – Recommending alternatives to recently viewed items can help shoppers find exactly what they’re looking for. Additionally, showing items similar to recent purchases can help drive a sale. If a consumer recently bought a tent, they might also be interested in a tarp, or tent mat. When they return back to the site or open up an email from the retailer, these items will be featured.
  • Curate high-performing items – Based on category or site-wide top sellers, retailers can boost their trending products, and highlight them on the top of pages. If floral dresses are trending, those top performers, as well as the specific brands a consumer has purchased in the past, will populate when they visit the merchant’s site.
  • Control which products are displayed in the moment – Retailers can boost recommendations of preferred brands or product lines based on specific attributes. This is beneficial if a shopper shows past affinity for specific brands.

While AI and personalisation is an important piece of the puzzle, it is clear that retailers are not looking to replace their teams and turn over merchandising to AI. Businesses whose growth and ecommerce strategies are becoming increasingly demanding should seek the help of ecommerce experts to strategise and optimise market growth. Unsurprisingly, a recent report names e-commerce specialists among Australia’s most wanted workforce. The pandemic has forever changed shopper behaviour and habits. As businesses grow, naturally so does the need for ecommerce experts. You will also see talent acquisition agencies play a starring role in filling in those gaps. Recruiting firms like eSuite will help high-growth brands find the right ecommerce talent, while providers like MI Academy will power staff training and development.

Retailers shouldn’t have to pick between an ecommerce strategy, and fulfilling the basic needs of their business model: both are required for a successful 2021. As businesses increase headcount, they can better prepare for the next era of digital retail growth, without overextending team capabilities, or losing consumer loyalty.

As we start this new exciting chapter of retail, one filled with lessons, growth, opportunities and high demand for ecommerce experts, I look forward to witnessing how Australia continues to grow and lead the way in a digital-first world. According to Shopify, 56% of Aussies will continue to shop online more than they did pre-COVID, making optimizing the online journey top of the priority list for retailers looking to create best-in-class experiences that drive conversions and keep shoppers returning time and time again. With an aggressive fight for talent on the cards it’s important to get the right technology solutions, matched with the right team, to achieve these growth goals.

Kate Massey is head of Asia Pacific at Searchspring.