More haste, less speed: E-commerce strats keeping pace with consumer shopping habits

March 17, 2021 | 15:35
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As e-commerce continues to boom in 2021, brands need to step up their game to keep up with new changes in the market.
more haste less speed e commerce strats keeping pace with consumer shopping habits
Mitch Bittermann, executive vice president of e-commerce Asia for TMX

In Vietnam, the favourable population demographics and a willingness to adopt technologies have resulted in a 16 per cent growth in the digital economy from 2019 to 2020, and this is expected to continue with the government’s national digital transformation program.

Alongside consumer trends accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, these factors are powering the growth of e-commerce across the Vietnam and the region. According to Bain & Company, the Asia-Pacific accounts for more than two-thirds of global online retail growth, with e-commerce in Vietnam is projected to reach $29 billion at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 34 per cent by 2025.

The rise of online shopping has seen brands incorporate e-commerce strategies to complement traditional retail models to capture a share of the online consumer wallet. It will also be no surprise that online sales continue to rise as a share of total sales.

However, the proliferation of online channels and marketplaces has made grabbing a piece of the pie incredibly competitive, and brand’s existing short-term e-commerce models have become complex. We are entering a period of reset as e-commerce strategies are revisited to align with long-term objectives.

Establish a strategic presence on channels

While brands are accustomed to adapting fast to capture online trends and shifts in consumer behaviour and spending habits, there is more to e-commerce strategies than meets the eye.

In the early days of online shopping, brands had a few key channel options to build their digital presence, namely or a marketplace such as Lazada, Tiki, or Sendo, to name a few. Today, there is a buffet of channel options for brands to choose from with extensive commerce, marketing, and distribution capabilities and, more importantly, consumer reach. This makes the decision about which channel is the right fit harder for brands to assess.

The crowded marketplace has resulted in brands taking a scattergun approach to building a presence across a broad range of marketplaces while maintaining a offering. Taking time to assess which channels suit business objectives is imperative for a sustainable e-commerce model.

Importantly, channel decisions need to look beyond consumer traffic data. Consumer demographics, such as age, gender, and spending power, is another important consideration. In addition, the marketing strategy of the marketplace needs to align to the brand’s business goals. For example, promotional driven marketplaces will generate high sales volumes but result in low margins as the price development is a race to the bottom.

Last but not least, brands need to constantly watch and evaluate emerging channels as shoppers gravitate towards new and different online channels. Social commerce, in particular, is one to watch. According to iKala, in the first half of 2020, social commerce channels in Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam experienced a doubling of orders, and three times growth of gross merchandise value, compared to the prior year.

While the current gross merchandise value generated on Instagram, Facebook, Line, and Zalo is not massive, these channels are experiencing a rise in traffic as they introduce new e-commerce features. This means brands should be evaluating the relevancy of social commerce for their business today.

Fulfilment and logistics

For consumers, a smooth shopping experience is key to building trust and loyalty in brands. This means that beyond the online experience, the speed and ease at which they can receive the goods they have purchased is critical.

Assessing the fulfilment and logistics options at the same time as making channel decisions is imperative to ensure a seamless outcome for consumers.

In particular, the suitability of a "fulfilment by the marketplace" model or a third-party fulfilment provider is a key piece of the e-commerce strategy puzzle. In a nutshell, if a brand plans to offer products on multiple marketplaces, third party providers such as aCommerce, Urbanfox, or SP eCommerce, who can fulfil multiple channels out of one inventory stock are best placed to deliver goods to consumers efficiently and effectively.

Alternatively, brands can provide individual inventory stocks to different marketplaces or adopt a marketplace’s multi-channel fulfilment offering but this can result in the headache of transferring physical stock between channels in the event merchandise is not selling. These models can become cumbersome and see different stakeholders’ sales interests influence decision-making, such as the marketplaces themselves.

Agility in long-term planning and strategising

Previously, e-commerce strategies have had two-to-three-year horizons. This was logical when online shopping was in its infancy and the landscape was ever-changing.

However, as the marketplaces become more established, consumer loyalty towards brands is solidified, and online marketing and distribution are embedded into retail business models, businesses need to be making decisions for the long term. Sustainable e-commerce strategies that are designed to deliver against clear business objectives and goals are underpinned by 5-10 year thinking.

Gone are the days when agility and speed is only achievable through short-term strategies. Today, future-focused plans are also able to adapt to consumer trends and advances in technology, while maintaining core channels.

While the e-commerce boom is expected to continue well into the future, this next period of accelerated online growth will be telling. As consumers, we will start to recognise the brands with sound strategies that are resilient to shocks while being agile enough to accommodate supply and demand.

Ultimately, a brand’s ability to stand the test of time will hinge on solid e-commerce strategies that enable them to maintain a presence and remain relevant to consumers.

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