E-Commerce Excellence: Four Tech Benchmarks You Must Meet To Be Competitive In The Digital Marketplace.

As if the delivery truck caravans in our neighborhoods and the cardboard stacks in our garages weren’t proof enough of a pandemic-fueled e-commerce boom, look at the data: Online retail sales for the third quarter of 2020 were nearly 40 percent higher than for the same period in 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. And Statista predicted that by the end of last year, global e-commerce sales would reach $4.2 trillion and make up 16 percent of total retail sales.

These numbers will likely increase as the world battles another COVID-19 surge that has sent us home to wait, work and shop. Is your company’s technology on point to meet this constant and rising demand from virtual distributors and customers? If you can answer “yes” to these four questions, or if you can at least see “yes” on the horizon, you are in the game and maybe even ahead of it.

WHAT ACCESSIBLE TECHNOLOGY LOOKS LIKE

It’s personalized. When we log into our Amazon accounts, we don’t have to remember the name of the masks we bought last time because Amazon has conveniently kept a record of our purchases and lets us purchase them again with just a few clicks.

Amazon and other leading online retailers go to great lengths to know what we want and even what we didn’t know we wanted. They do this through sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) tools that help them learn and leverage individual shopper preferences and predict future purchases. AI must be part of your tech strategy this year if it’s not already. Analysts at Juniper Research predict that online sellers will spend $7.3 billion on AI by 2022.

Technology that makes shoppers feel seen and taken care of has a direct effect on your top line, say e-commerce experts at BigCommerce: Personalized e-commerce site experiences have been shown to have a strong effect on revenue, with one study finding that such sites saw a 25 percent revenue lift. Recent data also shows personalization efforts can reduce bounce rates by 45 percent.

It’s optimized. We all know what responsive websites are—they rearrange content to be effectively displayed on whatever screen (mobile, tablet, computer) someone is looking at. But take this a step further: What customers see when they login to their account on your site should feel familiar to them and be different than what distributors see. For example, a customer should see the latest products and content that helps them learn about what those products can do for them. The distributor view would include product info, too, but also content relevant to business building and customer recruiting.

Regardless of the audience, pay particular attention to how well your mobile interface works, because according to Statista, 73 percent of e-commerce sales will occur on mobile devices by the end of 2021.

WHAT A SCALABLE SYSTEM LOOKS LIKE

It’s big and small. They work just as well for one-to-one marketing—when a distributor is talking directly to a friend and sharing a product—as they do for engaging hundreds through social media or other platforms.

It’s fluid and integrated. Your website talks to your back-office systems, which communicate with your mobile app and your selling system. All of this technology also should easily be able to grow as your business grows.

It translates well. Not all cloud platforms are created equal. If you’re doing business internationally, make sure your platform meets the privacy laws (General Data Protection Regulation in Europe, for example) in the countries and on the continents where you’re doing business. Also, make sure your technology supports the languages of all of your customers and distributors and that the content in those languages is easy to find.

WHAT SIMPLE TECH PROCESSES LOOK LIKE

Most distributors are not internet marketers or e-commerce experts. That doesn’t mean they are not capable of learning a few skills, but you want them to spend most of their time creating relationships and selling. Your systems (mobile app, business creation and operation tools, etc.) should not require highly specialized knowledge or experience to use.

Take a “McDonald’s approach” to creating the tech tools that distributors use. They should be easy to learn and work the same way, reliably, every time. Think about it the way journalists are taught to write their stories, which is to write them so that the average middle schooler or high schooler can understand them.

On the flip side, make it as easy as possible for shoppers to move through your system. Of course, one of the most important shifts in our industry in the last few years has been to allow customers to purchase products without signing up to become a distributor. If you haven’t embraced that concept yet, that needs to be your first order of business.

Beyond that, consider the journey a prospect takes from browser to buyer, and make it as pleasant as possible, especially at the point of purchase. One of the biggest challenges for online retailers is cart abandonment when shoppers get to that last step and then bail because the checkout process is onerous. According to some research, the average e-commerce store loses between 75 percent and 83 percent of its sales to cart abandonment. So, make sure your transaction process is easy, quick and secure—and consider allowing shoppers to:

 Check out as a guest, without creating a profile or an account; (Capture them as a lead and consider creating a lead program for your field).

 Opt-out of marketing emails.

 Choose from a range of common payment methods, including alternative options like PayPal and Apple Pay as well as credit cards besides Visa and MasterCard.

For customers and distributors, connecting with someone at your company when they have questions should be easy, too. When you have a question about a product or process, there’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to communicate with someone who can help. Whether it’s an email address, a phone number or a live chat—provide clear, accessible user support options.

That being said, shoppers are all about getting automated answers to easy questions because of the presumably faster response time. One study found that more than 60 percent of customers report that they actually prefer it when websites, apps or chatbots answer their simpler inquiries.

WHAT MEANINGFUL DATA LOOKS LIKE

It starts with Google. From basic demographic and geographic information about your website visitors to such metrics as click-through rate, cost per lead and cost per acquisition, Google Analytics is critical. They help you understand who comes to your door (and where they live, what they like), who comes through the door, and who spends money while they’re there.

It gives you deeper insights. Collecting data and knowing how to navigate and act on the data is the difference between just having information and gaining valuable knowledge.

For example, are you collecting data that tells you the average number of first-touch pieces (product samples, videos, texts, calls) a distributor needs to share in order to enroll a new customer? If your system doesn’t match activity data with transactional data, you’ll never know—and you’ll never know how effective (or ineffective) your sales system or its components are.

It distinguishes correlation from causation. If your data analytics are strategic, you will be able to tell when you’ve acquired a customer as a direct result of a certain marketing campaign and when a campaign simply coincided with that new enrollment.

RESOLVE TO UP YOUR TECH GAME

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that things can and will change quickly. Those who are prepared to pivot reap the benefits, and those who are not prepared scramble to catch up.

Most of you quickly went virtual last year when the pandemic forced us to keep our distance. You probably discovered technological capabilities you didn’t know you had, and you also probably learned where your systems are vulnerable or lagging. Make 2021 the year you invest in and build on your areas of tech strength and address your tech challenges aggressively.