The growing power of e-commerce among small businesses

Here, Rajesh Subramaniam, executive vice president of FedEx Services, tells us how small businesses can capitalise on e-commerce.

In today’s technology fuelled world, customers now demand more flexibility to shop anytime and anywhere through just a click on a phone, computer and even a watch. This is the burgeoning sector of e-commerce and with UK online retail sales reaching £52.25 billion in 2015, it is a sector rife for opportunity for SMEs looking to firmly position themselves on the international stage.

SMEs have always been considered as entrepreneurial and ready to capitalise on the biggest trends. They are also generally less risk averse than larger companies which gives them more leeway to grow as well as harness the power of e-commerce, whether that be through social media or device technology.

In order to reap the benefits of the e-commerce sector and to have an understanding of the changing consumer behaviour associated with it, there are three big megatrends that businesses should be aware of:

Mobile commerce (m-commerce)

Advancements in device technologies and mobile networks are sparking the use of mobile devices by shoppers at every point on the path to purchase. As the mobile shopping experience improves, retail industry observers expect its use – searching for merchandise, making price comparisons, ordering, and paying – to continue to dramatically rise.

Europe has the highest mobile penetration rate, and mobile spending doubled between 2014 and 2015, representing an incredible opportunity for m-commerce.

Social commerce

More than two billion people use social networks, such as Facebook and Instagram. Their popularity has prompted some social networking stars – including bloggers and YouTube favourites – to cash in by accepting advertising on their channels or selling their own products online.

In addition, many social platforms are developing buy buttons and similar technologies to enable consumers to purchase products without exiting their favourite social channels. Facebook, for instance, continues to upgrade its Shopping tab, a service designed primarily for SMEs, who can extend a robust social media presence with easy-to-buy functionality. While Instagram recently announced that brands can now embed external links into their posts.

Omni-channel retailing

Customers expect a consistent and high-quality experience across all shopping channels – in-store, in-app or online. Often, a mix of all three channels plays a role in a single shopping experience – buying online and pick-up in-store for example. While companies focused on an omni-channel strategy retain 89 per cent of their customers, only 45 per cent of retailers are making omni-channel a top priority. Honing omni-channel can be a competitively differentiating factor for SMEs, requiring them to integrate their systems and supply chain to ensure a pristine experience for every customer engagement.

Top tips for SMEs

Shoppers engage with retailers in multiple ways. SMEs must optimise marketing, sales and delivery strategies to meet the needs of consumers – no matter when, where or how they choose to shop.

To grow sales, in-region and globally, SMEs must invest wisely to improve their e-commerce capabilities. We’ve put together a few tips to help you take e-commerce to the next level.

Offer more payment options

Online and mobile payment solutions are keeping pace with the e-commerce evolution, thanks to Apple Pay, Google Wallet, “buy buttons”, and other technologies that make anytime/ any device payments simple and more secure. SMEs who add payment options – and integrate them with their loyalty program – can capture more shoppers who might otherwise delay or forego their mobile purchases.

Simplify checkout

Don’t bombard customers with promotional messaging or ads that may distract them when finalising their purchases. Keep the checkout process simple and secure to provide a quick and problem-free checkout; otherwise, potential purchases could be abandoned.

Market to fit each channel

SMEs need to create target-right, customised marketing and merchandising programs relevant for omni-channel retailing. Some solutions enable SMEs to link with established mobile marketing platforms, a simpler way of advertising and offering coupons than developing an app that could be overlooked among competitors.

Optimising order fulfilment

One of the most important functions SMEs must get right is order fulfilment, a critical touch-point for nurturing satisfied and loyal customers. Key considerations include:

Avoid one-size-fits-all fulfilment

Diverse customers – in age, income, geographies and expectations – demand varied shipping and fulfilment choices. Choose a logistics provider offering a wide range of solutions and the flexibility to handle all facets of domestic, regional and international deliveries.

Consolidate

Inventory and warehouse costs can skyrocket during seasonal slumps, and inadequate fulfilment services can delay deliveries during busy times. Using a scalable logistics provider can help reduce overhead costs by consolidating operations and ensuring the ability to respond to dynamic market changes.

Streamline returns

A complicated process could prompt poor online reviews and customer dissatisfaction. Some logistics providers offer sophisticated, easy-to-use returns processes that reduce hassles, save time, and very importantly, preserve reputations.

If businesses have a solid understanding of customers’ shopping habits and the different ways they now want to do their shopping, SME retailers can achieve considerable growth not just on a local level but an international level too.

Rajesh Subramaniam is executive vice president of global marketing and communications at FedEx Services.

Further reading on e-commerce

Nominations are now open for the British Small Business Awards, the leading event celebrating the brightest stars in the SME sector. Click here to enter, and make sure you get involved today using the hashtag #BSBAwards. Good luck!

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E-commerce

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