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Importance of Customer Centricity in Modern eCommerce

During my recent visit to IRX I was able to drop into the talk presented by Benjamin Muir of Unsociable. A talented Gen-Z marketing expert, his view of social commerce made me think about the growing complexity of customer centricity.

The rise of the influencers

Traditional retail sounds so simple. Build a brand targeting a particular customer segment, find a premises near the segment, put up some bill-boards, maybe some radio ads and wait for people to walk through the door.

The first phase of eCommerce disrupted this model, you were no-longer competing with companies within driving distance, suddenly your rivals were national if not global. Fighting for the best store location gave way to fighting for search engine ranking and adverts moved away from the interacting with customers’ physical journeys to interacting with their online journeys.

A new reality is already here. While the “one true metaverse”® may take a few decades to arrive, online communities are rapidly growing in maturity. Rather than browse search engines to navigate to discrete sites, your customers are spending their time on social platforms such as Instagram and TikTok. They are also increasingly fickle, relying more upon the advice of influencers reflecting their own interests and world view, than holding any form of brand allegiance.

In trying to understand these changes, two core principles appear to remain valid, “know your customer” and “be where your customer is”.

Know your customer

It sounds like a simple question, who is your customer?

You may have a strong idea of your positioning, but how does this look from the customer’s perspective? Are they fighting through a confusing experience to find products relevant to them? Does your social content interest them? Are the influencers you’re partnering with driving the right customer segments to your sales channels? Are they even truly your customers, or are they the influencer’s customer?

In reality, it is likely your customer is different at different times and on different channels. A one size fits all approach is unlikely to work.

Modern marketing, e-commerce and customer service teams need a joined-up strategy to cope with this complexity. They also need the processes and tools to constantly evolve their approach through plan, do, check, adjust (PDCA) cycles.

Be where your customer is

If they ever were, your customer is no-longer on your website.

A few loyal customers may pass by occasionally, but most are busy elsewhere enjoying life. You need to go to where they are. Traditionally this may have been popping up in their inbox, probably still valid but be honest with yourself, how often have you junked or unsubscribed from a brand? Notifications? Not the worst idea, but you’re now the equivalent of that annoying friend who constantly interrupts in an attempt to make the conversation about them — you have to be a really useful friend, or you may end up ghosted.

Your customers are instead looking through Instagram or caught up scrolling through TikTok videos. Easy right? Create some interesting content and put a link to your website? But this is like forcing them to leave a festival to get food, there is a lot of inertia to overcome. Better to sell it there and then. The rise of social commerce isn’t just a rise in marketing complexity, it’s a rise in channels… You are omni-channel, right?

Sure there are commissions, but would you rather get 90% of 100 sales or 100% of 10. If you don’t sell, you’ll probably end up with a 20–30% clearance sale anyway.

TikTok is a social marketplace, but don’t forget there are many other marketplaces around, be picky. Are there more powerful brands which you can create synergies with? e.g. ASOS, B&Q, Superdrug. Or are there opportunities to maintain a high-margin position on your core channels, while selling fragmented and slow-moving lines on value attracting marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon?

How to get ahead

  1. Think omni-channel. Social commerce and marketplaces are new and exciting places to go to meet your customers.
  2. Develop a holistic customer engagement strategy for each channel, who is on there? What content do they respond to? Which products should we position for them? How do we support them?
  3. Don’t assume that your existing people, processes and tools are enough. Each channel will bring its own challenges, make sure you have the resources needed to execute and evolve your strategy accordingly.

A final word of caution

The lure of social commerce and marketplaces is strong, but unless customer centricity is in place for your existing sales channels, you may struggle to succeed.

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