When the going gets tough, sales events get omnichannel: here are various e-commerce strategies to keep customers and e-commerce vendors smiling.

The pandemic had a profound impact on consumer shopping habits and also accelerated retailers’ urgency to expand their digital presence quickly to stay engaged with their consumers and develop alternative sales channels, according to R Dhinakaran, President of the Singapore Retailers Association (SRA).

In the midst of the pandemic in 2020, Singapore’s annual Great Singapore Sale (GSS) event had gone hybrid to capture sales from locked-down residents. This year, with Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) measures in force until June 2021 or beyond, the event has had to turn to an e-commerce partner for survival.

With the help of e-commerce platform Lazada, SRA expects to shore up the GSS amid a changed retail landscape, tapping on both the 6.6 gimmicks used by many regional e-retailers, as well as omnichannel strategies that benefit both vendors and customers.

Taking a leaf from the SRA-Lazada playbook, here are some strategies that other e-commerce plays can build upon:

  • SRA’s members that join the combined platform will benefit from Lazada’s proven technology infrastructure, payments gateway, and logistics solutions with a strong network of third-party logistics partners that help eliminate many costly barriers retailers face when selling online.
  • New LazMall sellers in the GSS will also enjoy 0% commission for their first three months on the platform from the first day they sell on their LazMall store.
  • Besides tapping the high daily traffic that Lazada manages, SRA members that are present on LazMall during GSS can also take advantage of a suite of marketing solutions available to increase visibility while appealing to shoppers. They will each have a dedicated account manager to navigate the plethora of options including LazLive, Lazada’s in-app livestreaming service, flash sales, and the Lazada store.
  • A key feature of GSS 2021 due to the tie-up, is BOPIS (buy online, pickup in store). Shoppers make purchases at a seller’s Lazada store and pick up the merchandise at a physical outlet. This not only provides an additional delivery option to suit customers’ needs, but also paves the way for sellers to enjoy a successful hybrid operating model with both online and offline outlets.
  • The four-week promotion period also taps on new forms of shopper engagement through ‘shoppertainment’ livestreams, games, and voucher promotions that Lazada has made a mainstay.
  • The collaboration breaks down previous barriers that precluded the participation of smaller players in the country. By tapping into a regional omnichannel platform, even homegrown sellers can add to the diversity of products and services to enrich the platform in turn.

During GSS or any promotion periods such as 7.7, the potential surges in sales volumes may create customer service bottlenecks and attract attention from cyber attackers. To address these issues, the following strategies by Lan Wang, Regional Vice President, OpenText, are also important:

  1. Deploy 24/7 incident management and response
    Historically, more than 70% of customers abandon their shopping carts at the first sign of a poor customer experience. Retailers must therefore ensure they consistently provide instant, reliable and secure access to their websites.

    To prepare for the welcome onslaught from online shoppers, establish a team dedicated to round-the-clock incident management and response. They will also have clearly-defined incident management protocols to ensure immediate attendance to incidents such as web traffic overloads or coding errors that compromise website performance. On top of this, retailers must circulate incident bridges and postpone non-urgent scheduled maintenance tasks to ensure they are fully-equipped and ready to handle the increased traffic volumes.

    Peak demand seasons are also prime times for cyberattacks. Successful attacks could render a website and a retailer’s services unavailable for hours, or even days. Preparing for the possible increase in cybercrime requires retailers to monitor spike loads: both trade-related and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.

    Adopt an effective cyber-resilience strategy to ensure swiftly response to recovery from a cyberattack, all the while keeping operations and good service intact.
  2. Set up a web operations room
    Prepare for a peak demand period by setting up a central clearinghouse for all communications within the business. The web operations team plays a critical role in monitoring the entire customer journey and managing any risk to trading or service. A web operations room will allow strong coordination between online and offline parts of the retail journey for customers.

    Members of the web operations team need to be in constant contact with the different service parts of the organization such as marketing, logistics, store operations and call centres. They need to be alerted to emerging issues and have to ensure all departments are working in tandem to combat them.

    The web operations room is also responsible for escalating decisions to the appropriate member(s) of the management team where necessary, and providing reports and updates as required.
  3. Prepare and schedule content on all channels
    The key to taking full advantage of an ongoing demand peak is a well-timed retail marketing campaign that serves up compelling content and is offered across multiple channels to attract and engage customers.

    Implementing such campaigns requires well-planned launch schedules, which should include details around the initial go-live strategy, any scheduled changes, and the takedown plan.

    In order to effectively roll out successful marketing campaign launch plans during any peak demand period, retailers require a content management platform that will allow them to tag all prepared content by location, channel, time, and customer segment. This will help the retailer stay organized and navigate the high traffic volumes. Moreover, these tags will come in handy for processes such as media buying and assigning budgets for keyword searches.

    Competition heightens during any peak demand period. Having a content management platform will also help retailers prepare and launch new offers with greater agility in response to competitors’ actions such as unprecedented flash sales, or when competitors sell out of trending products.

    As with the extra monitoring required on retailers’ websites, employees should also be assigned to pay close attention to social media channels during the peak demand period to spot any issues. Relevant escalation paths should be identified to ensure that all queries or comments are addressed in a timely and appropriate manner.
  4. Prepare contact-center staff
    As the first touchpoint for customer service, contact center staff play a pivotal role in managing inbound requests during peak shopping periods. Contact center team members should be ready to respond quickly and efficiently to every customer outreach, from complaints about missing or delayed shipments to queries about product availability and the retailer’s return or exchange policies.

    There are several tactics retailers should undertake to prepare contact center staff for peak demand periods. This preparation begins with training staff to manage significantly higher volumes of calls. Retailers also need to adjust standard scripts, employ extra service agents and put in place special procedures to reduce escalation.
  5. Increase resources at the distribution point
    Peak retail seasons always call for extra planning, particularly when it comes to distribution. This is especially important during the ‘panic buying’ or ‘bulk buying’ that comes and goes with every announcement of new waves of infections or lockdown measures.

    All aspects of distribution, including the distribution centre, dropship vendors and trunking services, must be adequately resourced to meet anticipated higher volumes. Retailers also need to book and put away extra stock to cater to the increased volumes. Over and above these considerations, additional fulfillment capacity and resources as well as alternative supply sources, should all be tested and provisioned in the event they are needed.

    Also ensure communication and synchronization between distribution and marketing teams, as this will aid in projecting estimated volumes and allow products with higher volume predictions to be moved to front racks for easier picking.
  6. Customer experience first
    Undoubtedly, what used to be a race to the bottom for discounts, in a short-lived peak retail season, has evolved into a more diverse set of approaches to maximize the opportunity of an ongoing retail peak. With competition now stronger than ever, it pays to provide the best customer experiences as much as it pays to offer attractive discounts.

In today’s omnichannel landscape, e-retailers must start actioning both marketing and cybersecurity strategies well in advance—this ensures that all systems and launch plans are in good shape. Only then can they can spend less time resolving issues and more time focused on delivering excellent service during the constant retail peaks amid sales frenzies.