Blurring the Lines Between Online and Offline: In Conversation with Robert Rand

eCommerce today is not what it was a few years ago. According to a report by McKinsey, we saw a digital transformation of 10 years in just three months during the pandemic. As a result, more consumers are now online and better options are available for them in terms of digital solutions and eCommerce websites. In such a scenario, it is hard for new retailers to stand out and deliver a customer experience that matches and exceeds the customers’ expectations.

To address this issue, let’s talk with our eCommerce expert of the week, Robert Rand, to find some invaluable insights about the situation and the road ahead. Let’s get started.

Let’s tune into the conversation.

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Who did we interview?

Robert Rand is the Director of Partnerships & Alliances at JetRails, a mission-critical eCommerce hosting service. Robert has over a decade of experience in helping merchants benefit from sound eCommerce and digital marketing strategies, assisting organizations of all types and sizes to grow and succeed via digital commerce. Robert is also the host of The JetRails Podcast.

Let Us Quickly Get To Our Expert’s Point Of View.

Question 1: What exciting projects are you working on right now?

We’ve had some great new case studies from clients like Zanders, a B2B eCommerce website built with Magento that had been struggling with technical issues. The project is full of many B2B eCommerce challenges that our team is navigating carefully and getting there gradually. The results so far are very positive.

I believe, in a world where eCommerce needs to be highly performant, especially during traffic spikes and surges, we’re seeing more and more rescue projects. These involve merchants that are struggling with hosting challenges that they’re unable to address successfully with traditional hosting providers.

Question 2: What potential do you see for the eCommerce industry as a whole?

In the early days of eCommerce, simply having a site was enough. In today’s market, eCommerce merchants are competing with behemoths like Amazon, along with much larger numbers of small and medium-sized competitors. The challenge is no longer simply attracting shoppers. It’s delighting them.

In relative terms, consumers don’t simply want to be handed a sandwich. They want a pleasant dining experience that they’re excited to post about on social media.

In web hosting, we’ve seen a much bigger focus on speed, scalability, and reliability. However, we’re seeing tech partners driving innovation that’s just as important. Bolt has created a one-click checkout that’s so fast you’re surprised that you’re already done making a purchase. Gorgias is pulling customer service data from all major communication channels into one unified dashboard, speeding up and vastly improving customer service experiences. The examples go on and on.

By focusing on shoppers and their needs, eCommerce merchants are bringing more and more of the positive aspects of traditional retail shopping experiences to online shopping… without the drawbacks of having to travel to a store. They’re blurring the lines between online and offline shopping.

We’ve also seen major strides happening in B2B, allowing manufacturers, wholesalers, and distributors to move more of their business online. This includes addressing more complex rules, from catalogs and pricing to payments and shipping.

Question 3: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in post-pandemic eCommerce trends?

In the first year of the pandemic, we saw a lot of businesses, including B2C and B2B merchants, moving more sales online. They had to contend with increased traffic, demand for curbside and in-store pickup, and other shifts.

By and large, we’ve seen the eCommerce community meet those needs. Now goals have shifted from capturing shoppers, to retaining them. After all, it’s a lot more cost-effective to retain shoppers than it is to replace them.

While merchants are still dealing with necessities, like fraud prevention and proactive security measures, these businesses are looking at everything from loyalty programs to SMS campaigns to keep shoppers coming back. They’re also reinvesting into tech from live chat to order processing and returns management – ensuring that shoppers are happy with their post-checkout experience.

As old marketing technologies, like tracking cookies, fall by the wayside, we’re also seeing more focus on first-party data, and new advertising channels with better targeting and higher return on ad spend.

Question 4: What industries do you think will take the biggest piece of the pie due to this surge in eCommerce?

We saw the biggest surges in categories that were in high demand. That included everything from home decor and home fitness, to personal electronics, food, and cookware.

Many shoppers have now become accustomed to shopping online for everything from vaping products that they would have bought from a local bodega to equestrian supplies that they would have otherwise bought in person.

In many cases, manufacturers began selling goods directly to consumers, cutting out local retailers and other intermediaries.

While some purchases will return to in-store experiences, many of those will remain hybrid, with shoppers using eCommerce websites and apps to purchase online and pick up or return at a retail location.

When it comes to commodity purchases, It would be hard to imagine shoppers returning to traditional retail shopping after 2-years of online purchasing. Pretty much anything that shoppers don’t feel the need to experience in-store with their senses prior to purchasing will continue to see strong demand online. (ie. If they don’t need to touch the merchandise, they’re just as happy to skip the trip to the store and buy online).

It’s actually easier to predict which industries will see a resurgence in in-person shopping. For example, supermarkets and other sellers of fresh food are already seeing some shoppers reverse from buying food off of a website or app, and return to stores to pick their own fresh produce.

It’s fair to expect industries like apparel, which may require trying on items, to be more of a mix. There’s something to be said for ordering lots of shoes in your sizes from a service like Zappos, and returning the ones you don’t want, vs. running from store to store trying to find a good fit in stock. It’s important to remember that many consumers were already shifting away from malls and other in-store experiences before the pandemic.

Question 5: Any specific technology trend where store owners should consider investing?

During the pandemic, Google rolled out their Core Web Vitals tests to help merchants improve website experiences. We’re seeing forward-thinking eCommerce merchants working closely with their web developers and with hosting teams like ours to make sure that they’re getting great scores on these tests. This is partly to get better SEO rankings and Google Ads results, but it’s mainly for better customer experiences and conversion rates.

This is an example of a great opportunity to ensure that your store has a solid foundation for success.

Wrapping Up

For this chapter, we interviewed Robert Rand, a leader, consultant, and well-known podcaster in the field of eCommerce and digital marketing. In this conversation, he mentioned the blurring lines between offline and online experiences and how retailers are trying hard to provide an unmatchable experience to their customers. He also shared numerous examples to support the statement. Hope you find this conversation insightful!

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