You might say that technology drove technology adoption when it comes to modern day ecommerce. Technology sales and the consumer electronics industry played major roles in the original commercialization of the World Wide Web back in the 1990s. Sales of desktop PCs, laptops and related gear were prime drivers of online sales, fueling the establishment of the online channel as a viable retail outlet.
Some 20-plus years later, the number of online consumer electronics retailers has decreased, yet the online channel is gaining strength. The dynamics of today’s online selling model, however, couldn’t be more different from the old “frontier days,” when online retailing consisted of web stores accessed on a desktop computer.
Back in 1995 – just five years after the World Wide Web went online – direct sellers such as CDW and The Connection dominated electronics sales by putting their catalogs on web shops where they offered an array of products and door-to-door service. They made computers and related electronics accessible to businesses, government agencies and consumers.
Dell began selling online a year later in 1996, and built-to-order became part of the online sales equation. Internal processes were established to get products online faster than catalogs could be printed and shipped to potential buyers. With higher potential for faster return on revenue, web shops became a major forum for announcing and promoting computer electronics.
In those days, consumer electronics retailers were in control. They chose which products and vendors were given prominent position based on sales volume and market potential.
Consumers had little control over the product mix or timing. The web shop experience mirrored catalog shopping, and user reviews were a novelty. The idea of creating an engaging experience around lifestyle and content couldn’t have been further from the equation.
Fast forward 20-plus years later, and the vast majority of electronics retailers and brands are still approaching online sales the way they did in 1995 – leading with price and trending SKUs. What has evolved, however, is the consumer and the desire for an experience beyond product.
Today’s consumer electronics buyers have embraced a technology-centric lifestyle. They live on smartphones, apps, social media channels and a variety of emerging IoT devices. They move from off-line to online experiences seamlessly and without commitment to any one form or channel. That’s why it is more important than ever for consumer electronics retailers to have a sound multi-channel experience that caters to a ‘commerce everywhere’ mindset among buyers.
In the modern buyer’s journey, convenience and selection are critical, but experience, personalization and even entertainment are also key factors.
The New Formula for Ecommerce
For consumer electronics retailers and brands to compete effectively for online sales, they need to look beyond the traditional “desktop webstore” model and use the technology advances available to them. Modern technology has opened doors to deeper engagement with consumers by enabling retailers and brands to create an experience that keeps their attention, primes them to buy and delivers on their terms.
Three factors are key to developing a modern ecommerce solution:
- Shop at Every Stop. Consumers are more mobile than ever, more social than ever and more unpredictable than ever. Across every touchpoint, shoppers want access to their favorite products and the ability to easily shop with speed, convenience and selection – from researching products and solutions to ultimately making purchases, receiving shipments and getting support. Retailers who provide compelling, highly navigable content and make purchasing an option wherever their consumers stop along the journey – social channels, mobile sites or IoT devices – will satisfy and even delight the new digital shopper.
- Create an Experience. Consumers are spending up to five hours per day on mobile devices according to analytics firm Flurry, and mobile app usage grew by 69 percent year-over-year from 2015 to 2016. Influencer marketing agency Mediakix, has reported that the average person will spend more than five years of their lives on social media, by calculating the average time spent per day on YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter and then projecting those figures out over a lifetime. Social media usage trails only watching television in lifetime usage and came in well ahead of eating/drinking, grooming and socializing. What this means for consumer electronics retailers and brands is that captive consumers are deeply engaged with their electronics devices – the good news; but, they are engrossed in content and entertainment driven by apps and social media. To effectively compete for shopping attention, retailers and brands must first deliver a compelling content experience, especially in the apps and social media worlds, and make these experiences easily shoppable without disrupting that experience.
- Own the Customer Relationship. Many electronics retailers and brands haven’t cultivated personal relationships with their consumers, in favor of leading with product portfolios and pricing strategies. By enabling a commodity selling mindset to prevail – where price and inventory lead – electronics retailers and brands will continue to lose mindshare from consumers who are increasingly looking for content and experience. This age of engagement means that internal IT and marketing teams need to integrate ownership of the customer experience, instead of IT leading the charge for online selling.
A successful online commerce strategy is only as good as the overall retail and brand experience. Marketing teams must have a more integral role in working with IT teams to develop and deploy online commerce. IT teams understand what the technology can create, but marketing teams understand the consumer. Success is incumbent on the integration of these two worlds to deliver the necessary ingredients of personalization both in product selections and experience, engaging content that attracts and holds consumer attention, and the ability to easily move to purchase without disruption of the experience.
So how will you compete?
Kudos to the technologists, the devices and the apps that have fostered our connected, digital society, and in the process, propelled the growth of online selling channels. CE brands and retailers that embrace their passion for technology and innovation can survive and flourish in this new retail environment. It’s time to move off of processes, systems and platforms that do not allow internal teams to be agile and innovative.
The consumer electronics industry is at a critical point. The opportunity now is to lead with strong online consumer engagement strategies, grounded in modern selling technology.