Building out a strong e-commerce strategy isn’t just key to resilience in the midst of lockdowns. It’s also a way to future-proof business. As consumers continue to adopt new shopping behaviours, online selling is proving to be the lifeline retailers need to survive and thrive.

That’s the good news.

The even better news is that it has never been easier to accelerate and scale the online side of retailing.

Recent reports indicate that new online buying trends are likely to stick around long after the industry stabilises, which means 2020 is the year to put e-commerce plans into overdrive.

Here are three key steps retailers can take to do just that:

  1. Understand how the buying cycle is changing

The path to purchase has changed a lot these past few months, most notably in the shift to online spending. According to research firm eMarketer, nearly 150 million consumers worldwide will be first-time e-commerce buyers in 2020. Many of them are opting to purchase products they used to buy in-store, from retailers they never shopped with before.

In Australia, the number of consumers placing weekly online orders has almost doubled from pre-COVID levels. Three-quarters plan to continue with those online purchases in the future, and 34% say they’re enjoying online shopping more than the in-store experience.

Not surprisingly, these shifts in behaviour are leading to new consumer expectations.

Recent research shows a growing number of consumers are willing to pay more or switch retailers in favour of those that offer speedy deliveries, free returns and multiple payment options.

In other words…

It’s not enough to simply have an online presence. Moving forward, retailers will need to optimise the consumer experience and ensure they’re making the journey as seamless and convenient as possible.

  1. Accelerate online capabilities

As consumers engage with retailers on more channels than ever before, listing products across a wide range of platforms can be a highly effective strategy.

From eBay to Amazon to Zalando, there are hundreds of global marketplace options for getting products in front of purchase-ready shoppers. Different consumer needs are met on different marketplaces, and expanding your reach is often the best way to keep inventory moving.

The only problem? With hundreds of channels to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to start — or how to make the process of managing multiple marketplaces feasible.

To solve this challenge, many retailers are turning to e-commerce platforms to help accelerate their online capabilities. Because these solutions consolidate multiple marketplaces into one central management system, they can be used to get up and running quickly.

For example, many retailers use e-commerce platforms to keep inventory synced across channels, streamline orders and ensure product data is optimised to meet the unique content requirements of each channel.

  1. Keep excess inventory in motion

Accelerating online capabilities can be especially helpful when addressing excess inventory issues. This is true not only during times of uncertainty, but also when it comes to keeping inventory moving throughout the year.

For example, consider the Australian apparel retailer that’s built up a catalogue of winter coats and cold weather gear. By the time spring and summer roll around, many of those items could still be sitting on shelves. But if the retailer has built up a strong presence on international marketplaces, those overstock items can be turned quickly into in-season sales on channels such as Amazon UK and Walmart.

The more diversified the global marketplace portfolio, the better positioned the company will be to strengthen its revenue stream. When products don’t sell in a particular region, the retailer can focus on pursuing promotions in markets where those same items perform well.

By the same token, marketplaces can open the door to additional offers that keep inventory moving. Bundling related products into single-SKU offerings, for instance, can help breathe new life into lower-performing products and create a competitive advantage on e-commerce marketplaces.

Above all, the most important thing to remember is that agility is key: The faster a business can respond to the new needs of shoppers, the better positioned it will be to survive and thrive. As the retail industry continues to evolve, companies must continually adapt to the changing expectations of consumers. These days, that means any plans to expand e-commerce capabilities should be a top priority.

Simon Clarkson is managing director for APAC at ChannelAdvisor