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"I might be selling frozen pizza or I might be selling dairy products, and pre-COVID, I really didn't care about digital commerce. Now, if someone can't find my product to do curbside or last-mile delivery, I'm losing sales. Literally, no one can trade digital commerce … no one can hide. I think this is why it's become such a prevalent topic across the C-suite." — Jeriad Zoghby, chief commerce strategy officer at Accenture
As the age-old saying goes: In the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity.
When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on commerce, nothing could be truer. Over the last several years, brands have uncovered new opportunities to reimagine their relationships with consumers and have learned important lessons about what it takes to adapt and make their businesses more resilient.
Brands are seemingly on the other side of the crisis, so it’s important for them to understand the best way to move forward. Accenture has conducted global consumer research that may help them plot their next move.
Jeriad Zoghby, chief commerce strategy officer at Accenture, joined a recent episode of the "Unpacking the Digital Shelf" podcast, "No One Can Hide Anymore from Digital Commerce," to share insights from Accenture’s research and what the data says about the best ecommerce strategies for 2023 (and beyond) that brands should consider implementing.
Accenture has been conducting its global consumer research study for the past four years. This year’s survey includes 13 countries, including Brazil and Indonesia, which are new additions. The survey features insights from more than 13,000 respondents across 17 categories, illuminating the differences in commerce across the globe.
"We can see how, for example, the U.S. stacks up against other countries," Zoghby says. "Then, for those countries themselves, if you're a global brand, the uniqueness of each market — because many of them changed very dramatically over the last two to three years."
Accenture’s survey explores the differences in shopper behavior across categories and how consumers use various commerce channels differently within each category. It also focuses on adoption rates for each channel and how sticky and seamless commerce is becoming.
The survey uncovered several trends, particularly around how different demographics use commerce channels. No surprise here — Gen Zers and millennials are all in with digital commerce.
Overall, the survey found digital commerce is ubiquitous, but adoption rates are highest among younger consumers:
Zoghby says the pandemic has rapidly shifted consumer behavior and led to higher adoption rates of digital commerce.
"It got people over the barrier for signing up for things, got them familiar with it, and it basically created adoption rates where there's almost a switchback cost to go back to the old world," he says.
The survey also assessed the stickiness of digital commerce through the lens of subscriptions and reorders. Sixty-nine percent of respondents told Accenture they use these features.
Zoghby says reordering features are particularly interesting for the potential customer lifetime value they offer. Reordering features on digital channels make it much easier for consumers to spend continually with a brand compared to if they had to walk into a physical store and compare them to other brands on the shelf before putting them in their cart each week.
"There's a power to it of stickiness," Zoghby says of online ordering. "It's almost like it's a non-committed subscription model."
Once again, younger consumers mainly use these features. However, there are also discrepancies based on income bracket. Higher-income consumers use reordering features and subscriptions more than lower-income consumers, indicating that some consumers are willing or able to absorb the cost of convenience more than others.
The survey also highlighted another aspect of consumer behavior that should be unsurprising to any brand looking for the best ecommerce strategies to grow their business: Consumers want a seamless experience.
Zoghby says seamlessness is especially important in the grocery category. Today, many consumers will go online and add an item to their cart the minute they realize they’ve run out of something — no grocery list required.
The survey found 45% of consumers under 40 either put items in the basket or buy them immediately. Twenty-six percent of this group actually buy items online the moment they need them.
"Commerce used to be, 'I go to a store, I go to a register, and then go to self-checkout.' We've seen this is the next evolution, where commerce is just seamless and a part of your life. You might just be in another room picking up something and realize, 'Kids [are] out of deodorant.' What do you do? Are you buying it immediately? You may be buying it immediately or putting it in the basket immediately. There's a lot of power in that." — Jeriad Zoghby, chief commerce strategy officer at Accenture
Digital commerce has become a top priority for CEOs, as more executives realize that it isn’t just a disruptive force that poses a risk to shareholder value, but also must be integral to how they operate in the future.
Zoghby says CEOs realize that to be competitive, they have to offer customers more convenience. However, convenience comes at a cost, whether it’s curbside pick-up or last-mile delivery.
Commerce leaders also face challenges managing multiple channels and have to adapt their legacy systems and processes to an omnichannel world.
"They grew up in a world that has dramatically changed in very short order, which means their business model, the way their customer organization is, the way their commerce organization, it wasn't designed for this," Zoghby says.
"They've been iterating, surviving through that rapid COVID transition, and now they're taking a step back and going, 'Okay, that was good, that salvaged me and we did a great job with it. But is it the right model for the future?' Most of them are realizing it's not and it could put their business at risk if they don't fix it."
To survive, Zoghby says it’s crucial for commerce leaders to learn a lesson from their experience with Amazon. When the platform became an ecommerce leader 15 years ago, many brands paid attention to it but didn’t make Amazon their top priority. Some failed because of it.
Zoghby says brands can’t make the same mistake with digital commerce. They can no longer treat it as peripheral to their business or silo it — they must make it a top priority.
One takeaway from the survey is that digital channels aren’t solely performance marketing channels. They’re also brand-building channels.
The survey found that 84% of people have recall of product pages, but only 30% have a recall of TV ads. These figures showcase the importance of having a compelling product detail page (PDP). Zoghby says video makes PDPs even more effective, as it boosts conversions and time spent on page.
"What we found is it can make a substantial difference if the content is there," he says of PDPs.
Zoghby adds that brand teams often don’t think about digital as a brand channel.
"Too often the commerce teams were getting leftover assets because they built all the assets for social, TV, and for other streaming stuff," he says.
"They didn't even think of commerce and realize that not only is commerce a brand-building channel, [but it's also] a unique brand-building channel. The things you can do in these channels are so powerful versus what you can do in some of the other ones. It's not only a shame not to build content for it, you should be building creative experiences for it."
Accenture’s research highlights what consumers now value — whether it’s convenience, a seamless shopping experience, or the instant gratification of buying a product with just one click.
The data tells brands what consumers need. Now, it’s up to them to listen and effectively respond. This will require a shift in people, processes, and technology for brands to scale their operations in a profitable way and meet customers where they are. But if the last three years of disruption have taught anything, brands are primed and ready for this task.
"That's where we're seeing the pivot," Zoghby says. "It went from ‘I've got to survive and win on this channel' — which some are doing well and some aren't — to realizing, 'I need to win long term,' which means I need to win profitable share, not just share.'"