The Future of Shopping - Insights From Gregory Zakowicz
Expert Panel

The Future of Shopping – Insights From Gregory Zakowicz

Oct 28, 2021

Raydiant’s new series, the Future of Shopping, interviews experts and thought leaders with a goal of better understanding what organizations can do to prepare themselves for what lies ahead. 

The following is an interview we recently had with Gregory Zakowicz, Senior Ecommerce Expert at Omnisend

How has consumer shopping behavior evolved over the past 5 years?

The fundamentals of online shopping haven’t significantly changed over the past five years. However, modest shifts have caused downstream changes for brands and consumers—the first centers on online returns.

Five years ago, return policies were a hot topic, especially when purchasing sized products like clothing. Bracketing, where consumers purchased various sizes with the sole intention of returning non-fitting items, became the norm. This put an extra burden on e-commerce brands who not only paid to ship orders but then had to process returns.      

This burden still exists, but consumers now view return policies as a part of their decision-making process. A recent Coresight Research survey found that free returns are one of the top considerations for consumers when deciding which retailer from which to make their holiday purchases. Free returns have almost become table stakes for ecommerce brands.

Second, consumers expect trust and want control. As new marketing channels pop up year after year, established channels like email marketing continue to out-perform their peers. Say what you will, email marketing is a trusted channel. And because it is an opt-in channel, consumers have control over it. They can sign up and opt out any time they choose. This is a major reason why its performance continues to improve over time.  

In 2020, as COVID swept through the country and at-home shopping increased, consumers turned to email marketing for brand communications and product discovery. Email saw increases in all notable metrics during this time, and it continues.    

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about social media. How brands and consumers interact on social media is vastly different than five years ago. Brands now flaunt their personality. They actively engage with shoppers. Most run paid social ads. And many rely on influencers.

While the use of influencers and paid ads isn’t a new concept, the downstream benefits of social’s pervasiveness are that consumers are generally more accepting and aware of paid ads on social platforms. In years past, consumers might just scroll on by an ad. Now, their willingness to identify and engage with content that aligns with their interests, even ads, is part of their overall experience on the platform.    

What are the top 3 trends shaping the ways consumers shop?

Global e-commerce. We can buy anything we want, whenever we want, wherever we happen to be—it’s too easy. Throw in expected free shipping with small or no minimum orders, and you’ve got yourself a consumer cocktail ready for consumption.  

Because of the saturation of e-commerce, there is no real need to go to a store (for most items). Consumers have the means to purchase one-off items whenever they decide they need or want them, whether it’s because they saw a dress they liked or need a new tube of toothpaste. The relative ease of purchasing and feeling of instant gratification can become a conduit to habitual shopping.

Ordering a one-off item online is about as common today as checking one’s social media app.  

COVID’s awakening moment. COVID has awoken in many of us, especially more recently, the desire to feel good and the permission to make it happen. People are starting to focus more on their happiness—whether seeking better working conditions, sending a gift to a loved one, or treating themselves to something they might have otherwise not purchased.

Once reserved for special occasions like the holidays or one’s birthday, this self-gratification should be more of a permanent fixture as people seek to reclaim joy in their lives.

For retailers, this is welcome news as it can increase both average order value and customer lifetime value. It’s been a long couple of years, and people just want to be happy.

Supply chain issues. Supply chain issues that emerged and persisted since the beginning of COVID have given consumers FOMO, resulting in more of a “buy now” mentality.

This trend is reflected in the performance of marketing emails. As COVID settled in and supply chain issues arose, email click and conversion rates accelerated quickly, indicating a move to intent-based shopping.

As the holidays approach and ports are again backlogged with shipping containers, consumers are reminded to purchase products before it’s too late. This sense of urgency messaging will likely be seen across all forms of holiday marketing and beyond.

Those shoppers who use their online shopping carts as wishlists may be better served by clicking the “checkout now” button before it’s too late

What’s the future of shopping?

In most cases, it will look a lot like it does today. This question comes up every time there is a new shopping technology that emerges. From Facebook stores to Alexa-enabled devices, a new form of shopping emerges and quickly reverts to the mean — brick and mortar and e-commerce.

Don’t expect this to change too much. There will always be extensions and nuances of each of these, but I don’t see a fundamental shift occurring in the near term. People will still want a pleasurable shopping experience and customer-friendly policies, and they’ll continue to expect brands to provide those things.

Looking many years out, I think one of the biggest evolutions that will come about will be when shopping meets the metaverse with virtual reality shopping experiences. Retailers may one day have virtual reality store designers just as they do brick and mortar ones, where they are responsible for streamlining customer flow and visual merchandising.

What are 3 actionable steps an organization can take to prepare for the future?

Adopt a customer-first mindset. Building brand loyalty, especially in today’s age, is increasingly hard for companies. But all brands need to try. Consumers have a choice of where to shop, and the next cool start-up is right around the corner—so make them want to choose you..

What this means is brands need to focus on the customer. For the e-commerce shoppers, build post-purchase messaging that makes their purchase experience better. Ask for feedback. Create customer-first policies such as free shipping and returns. Engage with and listen to them on social media. Make sure your staff (online, phone, in-store) is friendly and helpful.  

Adopt technologies and marketing channels, like SMS. SMS is a ubiquitous communication channel, not a medium reserved for select generational cohorts. Brands should begin adopting SMS as a marketing and communication channel.

Brands can use SMS for promotional messages, transactional messages, and customer service inquiries. Like email, it is also an opt-in channel, meaning only customers who want to receive them will do so.

Be relevant. You’ve heard the saying a million times: relevant marketing is sending the right message at the right time for the right consumer via the right channel.

Marketing automation can help companies create enjoyable and relevant shopping experiences. New subscriber, product abandonment, and post-purchase messages can all be triggered based on consumers’ behavior. Taking it one step further, combining multiple channels (email, SMS, push messages) into a single marketing automation is now easy to do, meaning companies can create a channel-specific customer shopping experience.

Using tools to provide a behavior-based messaging experience is now as accessible to small merchants as it is to large ones. There’s no excuse for not doing it.

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