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Crisis reshapes operational strategy: A productive team is behind every eCommerce success story

Everything closed down fast. It was unprecedented. Not much time to prepare as the world entered into one of the severest crises of our times. It is not an understatement to think of this as a global “game-changer.” When was the last time we saw everything around us shut down?

We are starting to reopen, and post- COVID retail is now unfolding. As we begin to open, we are all wondering what life will look like as shoppers and employees. Are we going back to commuting to work, having close door meetings and huddling together to brainstorm, just like we did before?

While the desire to resume a normal life appears universal, we know things won’t be the same. All businesses, especially the ones deemed non-essential, are trying to figure out how they navigate the new rules of social distancing and cut down the cost of doing business while figuring out how to sell more online. It is terrible news for companies who are not facing this crisis with a learning mindset and planning for the shifts needed to survive. It is good news for those who are not wasting this crisis, who are preparing for different scenarios, including worst cases and are already beginning their transformation.

For over a decade, most businesses assumed steady growth in the eCommerce business, some jockeying among competitors and steady momentum towards online growth. As a result of the coronavirus crisis, the march to eCommerce is no longer a marathon but has become a sprint, with rapidly accelerating growth of eCommerce and a shift from retail-first to digital-first.  Retailers are challenged to figure out what to do short-term to build the muscle to ensure long term success online.  This is what we should focus on for now.

What needs to be done, and how it should be done, to optimize the online experience and drive much needed profit? While there are lot of things that need attention, there is one key thing which has a big impact in driving revenue but gets little attention: building operational processes that allow you to become a powerhouse in ecommerce. 

It is about combining strong operational processes with the right tools, which will enable your team to work together without necessarily being together.

As lockdown continues to squeeze online retailers who are challenged to promote and sell new products online, it is important to figure out innovative ways to activate products online. Fashion businesses are a prime example of this, as they are highly dependent on producing branded content (images and copy) which is all created in-house. Lockdown has complicated the day-to-day running of sites with operations and admin staff furloughed and dispersed. The most basic processes needed to keep the stream of new products rushing out to customers have been severely disrupted – with photographers and models housebound and product shoots ruled out.  In coming months, not everyone will be together, and they cannot be for some time. What this means to the businesses: focus on prioritizing operational processes which allow teams to function remotely while supporting them with tools that help them move products online faster. 

What to do immediately: streamline eCommerce operations (people behind the scenes) – a complex problem

How to enable fast product activation, remotely? In a typical online operation, teams have been physically together working on the different steps required to assemble product-related content. Each team has access to different systems, data is managed in different spreadsheets and collaboration happens through in-person meetings, phone calls, emails and chats. This was how things were done before the big shut down, when companies were not focused on eCommerce and did not feel the urgency to evolve their current band-aid processes. But that is no longer going to work.

As businesses are figuring out how to re-open with 20-45% less staff in the same amount of space as before, they also need to figure out what they can do to accelerate their online business. It is a big opportunity which presents complex challenges. It is complex because we need to first figure out how to operationally accelerate the product activation, which helps in selling that one product and impacts product conversion. Second, how to sell multiple products instead of one, which increases the basket size. These two KPIs: product conversion and basket size have direct impact on revenue and profit. Also, customers are expecting their online experience to replace the in-store experience, as they are now more comfortable in their home space rather than venturing out. So, it is important for retailers to raise the bar on how they are presenting product online and how they are merchandising it, even with limited resources.

Going back to basic (product activation) and then merchandising further (outfits)

The concept of a well-merchandised store is not new for brands. They have mastered this art for the stores. Translating this to online experience is a challenge. Very few can do this well. Most online shopping experiences are lacking in telling the product story, which is very important part of the shopping experience. Brands are barely able to pull much needed product information together. The effort required to pull the product information together is no small feat. Typically, it involves 90+ data attributes, 60+ decisions points done by different people in the organization, and multiple team members creating content.

By the time team is done, they have a hard time populating cross-sell and upsell information, which helps in not just selling the product but also increases the basket size if done right. This was one of the toughest challenges I faced very early in my eCommerce career at Anthropologie. Anthropologie store experience is a sensory experience where products are merchandised as part of the story. For Anthropologie brand experience to happen online, playing from the same rule book of in-store experience, we needed to be ahead of the game with visual merchandising online. When a customer walked into the store, they could have a personal stylist helping them with a genuinely awesome outfit.

The ability to showcase styled outfits online was unheard of fifteen years ago. We had to first streamline our operations, so we could provide visibility to different team members on what they needed to work on, prioritized on marketing campaigns, catalog drop and product seasonality. Once we solved the problem of product activation, we wanted to make sure that products were featured in right setting with the right messages. Whether we needed to create a section on the website to tell the story, or email campaign, or feature a separate microsite, we could manage that creatively with confidence and not waste time with last minute changes if product was not yet activated. Our attention shifted to become more creative and offer a more immersive experience of the product than just launching the product with basic information. Creating the perfect outfit out of the hundreds – even thousands – of products that compliment a new pair of distressed jeans is a monumental task. Fashion retailers depend on this as it impacts the basket size.

Crisis surfaces the need for change

As businesses look for a different, hybrid (in-office vs. remote) model and process, it is important to look at innovative solutions which brings team together, to work collaboratively no matter where they are. In coming months and years, this is going to be key to not only surviving re-emergence, it is going to set the new way of working which resonates with people’s need to be safe and provides them with the flexibility to be productive, no matter where they are.

A system like Sweft is needed to get everyone working from the same data, reduce duplicate efforts and help the teams collaborate so they could launch products faster. Now this is more essential than ever. We have walked in your shoes and successfully converted the complexity of merchandising challenges into opportunity which helped driving online success for business. We can help you with our experience and our solution.


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