A Deeper Look at Consumer Trends and How Retailers Can Evolve: A Q&A with BigCommerce

They say the only constant thing is change, and this rings very true in retail. Consumers and markets are always evolving, and retailers’ success largely hinges on how well they can keep up. 

To shed light on how you can do this, we caught up with Meghan Stabler, the VP of Global Product Marketing and Communications at BigCommerce. Meghan and her team are continually looking at market trends and opportunities for BigCommerce’s ecommerce platform to help merchants reach consumers and shoppers where they are. 

Meghan knows a great deal about ecommerce and consumer trends, and she shares some of her insights below. 

Let’s dive in!

What are the key distinctions between consumers today compared to shoppers from 5-10 years ago?

If you look back as few as five years ago, ecommerce wasn’t nearly as prevalent as it is today. Many businesses had dipped their toes into the ecommerce waters, but had yet to commit to treating it as a strategic part of their retail strategy. 

In the years since, an entire segment of businesses have sprung up to eliminate the pesky “Big Box Middleman” and the concept of direct-to-consumer (DTC) has now become part of the commerce lingua franca – with it, consumers have adapted to the ease and convenience of buying not only online, but also on social media such as Instagram and Facebook. 

We’ve continued to see a steady upward trajectory in the adoption of ecommerce, though at the start of 2020, it still only represented 16% of total retail sales in the US.

Consumers today are also much more accustomed to conducting research across multiple channels, jumping between Amazon, Instagram, Google and a retailer’s direct-to-consumer channel – and they increasingly expect a consistent brand experience across all channels. 

What are the biggest factors that drove these consumer changes?

Prior to 2020, there were a couple factors that contributed heavily to consumer behavior changes. The first is the simple fact that we’ve seen a ton of innovation in ecommerce as platforms and their partners invested in bringing about more modern ecommerce implementations. Headless commerce, for example, has gained traction over the last several years as a way to create a strong content-first website experience without sacrificing a reliable commerce engine running the backend. 

Beyond the technical advances, we also see a stronger focus on the comprehensive customer experience. Retailers are making their websites accessible across a number of different devices, offering more options at checkout (including financing) and committing to building and maintaining an ongoing relationship with their customers through chat and loyalty tools. Providing these options and personalization tools give merchants a better way to replicate aspects of the in-store buying experience that customers may otherwise feel get lost online.

Once COVID-19 really took hold back in March, consumer buying changed almost immediately. With shopping in physical stores no longer an option, buyers turned online for an increasing number of their purchases, including categories that were predominantly reserved for in-store buying like grocery or furniture. Had the pandemic been resolved within a few weeks, I would have expected buying habits to shift in-kind, but over the course of the year, consumers have become accustomed to the reality of buying online, or buying online and picking the items up curbside. 

What are some of the most common mistakes preventing retailers from engaging modern shoppers? 

One of the biggest mistakes we see retailers make is limiting their presence to a single channel – like their direct-to-consumer website, for instance. In today’s world, full of numerous devices, touchpoints and distractions, it’s critical that retailers create a presence in all the places their customers are. 

For example, there’s been an ongoing narrative in the retail industry that Amazon is the enemy of small businesses and that you need to compete with them, but this is not the case at all. The reality is, 49% of consumers start their product search on Amazon, and if you don’t want to miss this huge base of consumers, you need your products to be discoverable there. While it’s important to have a consistent presence across your website, marketplaces, social platforms, and the like, you can be strategic about the products you sell across those channels in order to drive traffic back to your primary webstore.

On the technical side of things, merchants that are not using SaaS platforms as the foundation of their ecommerce experience are working at a disadvantage. A true on-premise solution is an expensive, dated way to manage an online experience – and requires significant upkeep by the merchant. 

Those that really want to be forward thinking would migrate to an Open SaaS platform like BigCommerce because it enables the openness and customization typical of an on-prem solution while maintaining the reliability, flexibility and ease of use of a SaaS platform. In short, Open SaaS offers the best of both worlds, and helps position a merchant to grow long-term.

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Can you give examples of retailers that are doing a good job 

This year in particular, we’ve seen some incredible examples of our merchants leveraging ecommerce in new and interesting ways to keep their businesses running smoothly.

Apparel brand Thompson Tee had to pivot quickly at the beginning of COVID to address the sharp drop in sales. Immediately, the brand began developing masks for sale using the same material as its existing apparel. Not only did this adjustment enhance its product offering, but it provided an opportunity to give back to the surrounding community – Thompson Tee donated over 30,000 masks to nearby hospitals and community centers, which also indirectly impacts brand awareness.

Boutique ice cream chain Tin Pot Creamery found itself in a difficult situation when COVID caused the company to close its numerous scoop shops. Rather than throw in the towel, Tin Pot turned to its ecommerce site and began selling its ice cream online. Not only did this make it easy for the brand to offer curbside pickup and delivery to local residents, but it opened up a more global base of customers – a change that will continue to benefit the brand even after COVID goes away.

Before COVID, luxury fashion brand Sara Campbell had a large physical presence, but no ecommerce site to speak of. The brand had built its model off providing an excellent store experience, but COVID forced a change. The brand worked with BigCommerce to get online quickly, and have seen an extremely positive response to the digital presence. The change also spurred Sara Campbell to explore new marketing and advertising channels, including engaging customers on social channels. Through COVID, the Sara Campbell team was able to meet a customer need and create a new revenue stream.

Final words

The key to staying competitive in retail is to be where your customers are at. And today’s modern shoppers prefer an omnichannel experience that lets them research, browse, and buy across multiple channels. 

That’s why establishing a strong physical and digital presence is a must. The good news? Having a tightly integrated brick-and-mortar and ecommerce store is easier than ever, thanks to tools like BigCommerce and Vend. 

Our integration with BigCommerce removes the complexity from selling in-store and online. Easily manage sales, customers, products, and inventory from one place, while Vend and BigCommerce stay perfectly in sync. You can even sell on social media and online marketplaces. Choose to display online inventory from one or multiple store locations, and boost your bottom line with insights into what’s really making you money across your channels.

Vend Tip

Are you a Vend user? Get three free months of BigCommerce when you connect your Vend store.

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About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend’s Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She’s also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.

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