The Mobile Connect Conference is an invitation-only event that brings together 75 of North America’s most influential and innovative executives in retail. While virtual this year, it was worth every minute.

From lectures to roundtables to one-on-one conversations, Shockoe met with a diverse set of powerhouse brands to hear what they’ve learned after a year navigating COVID. Each organization is tackling different challenges – all of which we should be familiar with – and many that should be atop our agenda as we seek to thrive during our new normalcy. Here are a few of my favorite learnings:

eCommerce has Changed for Good

While we may not return to the highwater mark of last summer’s demand and the strain on 3 PL infrastructure, it is undeniable that eCommerce will never be the same.

Michael Challenger, Vice President of global eCommerce at Wilton Brands, reflected on the seismic impact of COVID inspired buying trends. In the span of three months last summer, his industry saw 10 years of eCommerce growth. While COVID was not the spark, it was certainly the accelerant.

One of Challenger’s statistics stood out to us: in 2019, only 7% of the nation’s top retailers offered curbside pickup. In 2020, that figure jumped to 44%.

How do we Adapt and Capitalize on this eCommerce Opportunity?

Vishal Sagar, director of North American eCommerce for Harman suggested several strategies that we should be considering:

1. Sure Up Logistics

Brands that had solid logistics and tight supply chain processes thrived during the heights of the pandemic. If you have not already sured up your logistics foundation, this should be priority number one.

2. Update Your Omnichannel Strategy

It’s imperative to have a strategy in place where your website, mobile, call center and social channels are working in harmony with your storefronts. 

3. Bridge the Gap While You Build

Sagar noted that half of Harman’s customers are not brand loyal in the best seasons; therefore, it’s easy to lose a sale if inventory is lagging and estimated shipping times are deemed unacceptable. Knowing that improvements would take some time internally, Harmon leaned into Amazon to ensure customer service, logistics, fulfillment, and returns were handled effectively while they sure up their own systems.

How do we Marry Customer Service and Technology?

While Wilton Brands and Harmon share similar stories about the risks of brand loyalty erosion due to COVID, they emplored attendees to double down on how and where they engage with their customers.

Here are my top two takeaways to keep in mind when implementing this merge:

1. Manage Customer Expections

With the explosion of eCommerce in 2020, customers now have the same expectations of a small, one store retailer as they do a big box store. While it may not seem fair, that is one of our new realities. Technology can assist.

While shipping may not be as quick as Amazon, automated notifications should be used to provide updates and set expectations. The key, according to many we spoke with, is ensuring that you set clear expectations. Don’t over promise and under deliver or you may lose the customer forever.

2. Create Headless Content

If your content is not decoupled from a particular output, you are creating more work for your team than is necessary and it is impacting your ability to engage with your customers.

Rob Huffstedtler, Vice President of Alliances at CMS giant SiteCore (and one of my good friends for over 15 years), stated that, “today, audiences consume content through new interfaces with different form factors – think smartphones, wearables, AI-enabled voice assistants, and even virtual reality headsets.”  As a result, “a headless CMS architecture is foundational to addressing these new content challenges.”

Capitalizing on a headless architecture will allow you to ensure you are able to provide the right content to your customers where they are when they want it.

Move Fast, Take Risks

It is crystal clear that consumer shopping is much more digital than ever before and it is not going away. This tidalwave of eCommerce is requiring us to move fast and take risks. Brands need to double down on their investments in both digital technology and human capital with a focus on digital transformation.

Michael Challenger aptly said at end of our time together, “if you are a retailer and you don’t modernize your brand, you are going to die”.

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