There's a cool little town in Maine where the landscape is ablaze with fall foliage, the architecture is steeped in genuine 18th Century charm, and the shops are nostalgic if not inconvenient. Sure, the shops do a well-enough job transporting you for a moment to a time when people had to leave their houses, get into their cars, and go places to buy things. Then lug those things back home to Florida. But the truth is digital commerce makes even brick-and-mortar shops more convenient.

What we know now as digital commerce started to go mainstream with sites like Amazon and eBay in the late 1990s, but it’s still gradually eating up more and more of how we buy goods. In 2023, it's expected that over 20% of all retail will take place online. 

So, it's clear that even our Maine-town shops need to consider adapting.

But even if they wanted to, where would they start? Let's look at the whole process in more detail and see how any retailer, at any stage of digital, can develop a successful strategy.

Adapting to digital commerce

As more of the world's commerce moves online, all players in the retail space — from shopkeepers to suppliers — have to adapt. 

But, accomplishing this is more than just a question of setting up a new online store it requires a new strategy. As smaller businesses find themselves taking orders from all kinds of channels (their website, Instagram Shopping, TikTok Shop, and more), you need a system able to keep everything in order and maintain their level of service. 

So, adapting to digital commerce also requires a bit of reform. For example, to manage order systems and sales data, you should start to utilize order management and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. Similarly, as moving to digital commerce also gives you new channels to communicate with customers, you’re also likely to need a CRM platform to help manage these relationships.

On top of this, doubling down on your digital offering doesn’t mean abandoning your brick-and-mortar store. Instead, it means connecting these two realms as you look into omnichannel digital commerce strategies to make sure customers are able to connect with your brand wherever they are and get the same great experience.

Consumer behavior play-by-play

Traditionally, consumers only arrived and bought from you on one channel. Before ecommerce, some customers came in-store and others ordered from a catalog. But, today, your brand should be spread across many channels. 

This means that any content you put out could be a potential customer's first exposure to your brand. And with 86% of those customers being "channel hoppers", they could visit you on several channels before they make a purchase.

This means you need to think about the entire customer experience. Whatever message you're trying to get across, it needs to be consistent across every touchpoint. 

You need to think about what kinds of customers will be on which platforms and how to get them to where they want to go. That will involve some old-fashioned market research and digital tools like tracking links to determine which parts of your online presence are the most valuable.

Advantages of shifting to digital commerce

Retailers who don't have at least one foot in digital commerce are missing out. If you commit to an online presence and everything a digital strategy requires, you can get unparalleled insight into your customers' behavior. On top of this, it opens up your business to a multitude of different ways to interact and engage with your customers. 

The more you develop your digital strategy the more feedback you’ll gain and can begin to be proactive when it comes to the neesd of your customers. Rather than reacting to external changes like the rise of click-and-collect, you can anticipate those trends and take advantage of them early.

Essential elements of a successful digital commerce strategy

A successful digital commerce strategy is all about iteration. Rather than deciding what works and sticking to it, a data-driven approach will help you to keep optimizing towards better performance. Let's see how this affects everything from your marketing efforts to your online checkout.

Market research

Before digital commerce, market research was something businesses only needed to do periodically. Now, with modern data analytics, they can be doing it constantly and in real-time.

A modern digital marketing strategy is built on knowing your potential customers better than your competitors. Between your own website and the third-party tools you use, you're collecting plenty of data.

Audience analysis tools, such as Google Analytics, can help you get more out of the data you're already collecting from across your website and from your online and social media marketing campaigns. On top of this, you can also conduct A/B test to see what digital strategies work best for your audience. 

As you discover more about your best customers, you can develop more effective strategies for targeting similar audiences to promote your product to the right people. By leveraging this data you’ll also be able to begin to work towards creating a more personalized experience for your customers, which is tailored to your business. 

User-first website design

When online shoppers have so many other options, they won’t tolerate a bad website. Not only does the site have to look good on desktop and mobile devices, it has to be accessible to all users.

It’s important that the site loads quickly and is easy for anyone to navigate as this will affect both your customer’s experience as well as how your search engine rankings. This is where user-centered design comes in. Rather than doing something that looks nice, a digital-native retailer has to put users and testing at the heart of their online operation.

That means analyzing where your customers are getting lost on the site or what tasks they struggle to complete. If people keep adding items to their cart and failing to check out, there's something wrong with that buying journey. If a page isn't getting as many conversions as you'd like, it’s time to test some new options and see if your content can be improved.

Smooth checkout and payment process

A smooth checkout and payment process is essential for a good ecommerce site. Without it, customers will abandon their carts, and you'll lose out on that purchase. Tactics like advertising your returns process at the checkout and having a live chat option can help get customers over the finish line to making a purchase.

If your checkout process is quick and easy, with extras such as offering monthly payment plans on big purchases, it might be the reason they come back to purchase again.

Digital marketing that speaks to your customers

Your digital marketing strategy should revolve around what data tells you about your customers. Your market research, CRM system, and on-site analytics can all help here.

Top-of-funnel marketing to potential customers will always be tailored to the platform rather than the user. Still, once a customer is in your system, you can run many more personal promotions.

Customers can be automatically sent discounts on birthdays, personalized product recommendations, and remarketing ads for products they considered but didn't buy. By leaning into personalization and testing, you can find out what works for certain customer types and apply those lessons to all the other marketing you do.

Data analytics and KPI

As we’ve covered, moving to digital commerce means even more of an emphasis on data analytics and optimizing performance. But, with so much data from across your entire business, it can be difficult to organize it in a meaningful way. 

Many retailers are turning to ecommerce ERP software and other business overview tools. Tools like this allow you to store and report on data from your entire business, from sales to inventory to your finances. This means that you’re able to make more informed decisions and build better digital strategies that align with your brick-and-mortar store. 

Keeping an eye on your data and performance means that you can get the most out of your digital commerce activity and make sure that your strategy continues to contribute towards your overall business goals. 

On top of that, as digital commerce gives you access to a new wealth of data, you’ll be able to dive into specific products and their key performance indicators. This means you can investigate why performance might be dipping in certain areas as well as determine trends that can help you plan stock in the future. 

Creating a seamless online shopping experience

With so many ecommerce sites to choose from and a tendency towards a shorter customer attention span online, it’s crucial that you create a seamless online shopping experience. This helps encourage more sales as well as return purchases.

For those who are unfamiliar with your brand, a seamless shopping experience also helps to promote a better sense of trust for your business and products. As consumers are increasingly more wary of ‘dodgy’ sites and inaccurate product descriptions, you want to make sure that any of these fears are allayed. 

On the other hand, for those who are already familiar with your brick-and-mortar store, you also want to try and build an online strategy that seamlessly connects all of these experiences. This means making it easy to complete a purchase wherever a customer chooses and making sure they benefit from the same level of customer service whether in-person or online. 

A good mobile experience

Retailers are expected to be available on all ecommerce channels, and all devices at all times. This means a first-class mobile experience is non-negotiable.

Since customers can't reach out and touch any of the products, good visual commerce is key. That could mean great photography that shows the product from all angles.

Increasingly, it could mean using technologies like mobile AR to let customers see the product in their own space. This is becoming more common in furniture retail, where the purchase depends on how the piece looks in the home.

Calibration and personalization

Gathering customer data means nothing if you're not using it to improve their experience.

By bringing together data from your CRM system, sales analytics, and ERP in retail platform, you can begin to implement a more personalized shopping experience for your customers. This will help you individualize your marketing, and product offers and create a personalized omnichannel experience. 

This not only makes customers more likely to purchase and improves your ROI, but it also keeps customers interested in what you have to say, even if they don't always make a purchase.

Overcoming implementation challenges

Navigating a shift to digital is hard for any company. Any number of challenges could come up, but in general, it should go something like this:

  • Begin with a clear vision of what you want and what it can do for your customers.
  • Find experts to help you achieve that vision, whether hiring new staff, consulting with a digital agency, or talking to an out-of-the-box software provider.
  • Onboard employees into the new system, but make sure they're comfortable giving real feedback. A big part of digital transformation is continuous learning.

Embracing the future of retail

While digital commerce continues to shape the future of retail, it's crucial for small to medium-sized retailers to evolve. The digital realm may seem daunting, but it's not an all-or-nothing game. By adopting data-driven strategies, iterative design, and personalization, even these quaint shops can find their footing online.

This approach not only modernizes their operations but also extends the shop's unique experience to a broader audience. So, whether you're an 18th-century charmer or a modern retailer anywhere else, embracing digital tools can help you serve your customers in ways that are both innovative and authentic.