Whether as retailers or consumers, we’ve all experienced the evolution of ecommerce channels that’s taken place in the past few years, accelerated further by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Organisations that have been able to rapidly respond to new trends, opportunities and behaviours have found themselves reaping the rewards of increased agility and innovation, and are now looking to sustain these efforts to maintain customer satisfaction and loyalty, and support long-term business growth.

Exploring the current and future ecommerce landscape

To explore how retailers have pivoted to digitally transform the way they operate and support the demands of a continuously growing online customer base, Box UK Managing Director Benno Wasserstein recently hosted an online discussion alongside Richard Seaward, Head of Strategic Development at Sinclair Group, and Chris Wiseman, Managing Director at Wessex Garages.

Covering topics including how to replicate the in-person experience through an online purchase journey and the ways people, processes and technology can work together to drive value, the conversation provided a fascinating insight into the current and future ecommerce landscape within the automotive sector, with practical advice for retailers across a wide range of industries looking to move forward with their own digital transformations.

Watch the recording

Key insights from the discussion include:

The digital shift is not new…

While both Chris and Richard agreed that COVID-19 accelerated the swing towards digital, they were also keen to emphasise that this shift had been occurring long before the pandemic hit. Richard highlighted how in the automotive sector in particular he’d seen less and less reliance on traditional marketing channels such as radio, television and print media, and a much wider focus in areas such as social media, paid online listings and other digital touchpoints.

Chris spoke about the opportunity the pandemic provided to reset, and action previous discussions around increasing Wessex Garages’ online presence. With the volume of calls and online enquiries quadrupling virtually overnight the organisation urgently needed to build their capability to deal with these, and now have a team of ‘online navigators’ dedicated to assisting customers in their journeys.

Benno added that this is a trend seen across multiple industries, reflecting on his experience working with clients at Box UK, who have been driven to make changes at a faster pace than ever before, to revolutionise how they serve their customers and deliver value back into the business.

… But face-to-face still has a key role to play

The automotive sector is a space where face-to-face interaction has historically been key, adding complexity to digital transformation plans when it comes to reflecting and replicating this experience online.

Chris spoke about the importance of letting the customer dictate how they want to interact with a retailer, and being able to respond to this effectively – requiring a constant focus on the customer experience and an understanding of the journey each customer wants to take.

Richard used the analogy of the customer walking a tightrope, where they may wobble at some point to the left or right. They may want to step off and visit the showroom, or phone up to check a finance agreement, and the organisation must be there to meet them across both digital and physical channels.

People and process are central to the customer experience

Working within people-driven businesses, it was crucial that both Richard and Chris keep their team at the heart of operations, even as they ramp up their digital activity. Richard also stressed the importance of putting the right processes in place to support effective customer service, particularly as organisations build their digital capabilities and rely on people to fill the technology gaps.

Looking ahead to the future development of the industry, Chris commented that there is an aim to deliver an end-to-end purchase journey without human interaction for those customers that choose this journey – although with a significant number of customers still wanting at least part of the experience to be face-to-face, they won’t be getting rid of showrooms any time soon.

Technology can support a joined-up approach

With the focus on delivering an exceptional customer experience, Chris highlighted the importance of choosing technology that supports this aim. For Wessex Garages, key innovations over the past 18 months have included overhauling their enquiry management system to a more modular architecture – centralising information storage to support seamless customer journeys, and providing more detailed insight into the campaigns and tactics that are resonating with the audience.

Richard confirmed that creating a joined up ecosystem has been a key priority, and that his current role was specifically created to support Sinclair Group in this aim. They are currently preparing to test an initiative to streamline the process of capturing, storing, and sharing relevant data with the customer, to reduce the number of people that need to be involved in the process, and helping increase trust and control across their audience.

Retailers must start with the fundamentals

When asked what advice they would give to other organisations about to embark on a journey to create or enhance their online presence, Chris and Richard both emphasised the importance of defining what kind of business you are, and building out the right people, processes and technology from there.

Richard commented that the biggest impact will likely come from the changes you can make structurally to your business, and the importance of aligning technology and recruitment decisions with what these changes may look like both now and in future.

Chris advised against following anyone trying to tell you how a customer operates online, or what the standard sales process should look like – this will be unique to your organisation and your customers, and will need to be driven by what happens in reality. This requires flexible, future-proofed systems, and an adaptable approach to recruitment to provide the capabilities needed to support customers in their journey.

The outlook

Benno brought the discussion to a close by looking to the future, at Wessex Garages’ and Sinclair Group’s plans to continue to elevate their digital estate as we move out of COVID-19 restrictions and back to some form of ‘normal’.

Chris spoke about the disruptive impact of the pandemic forcing retailers to explore the online space further, and the need to continue to invest in people and systems within this space. For Wessex Garages this includes upskilling colleagues and getting them brought into the journey, which he describes as “fun, phenomenally exciting… and keeps us on our toes”.

Richard also referenced plans to continue to develop Sinclair Group’s online capabilities in terms of how they market themselves online, how they meet the customer online, and what that experience looks like. He spoke about the real period of change occurring right now, which retailers are going to struggle with if they just sit back and let it happen – whereas those who can grasp the opportunities digital technologies offer have the chance to enhance the business and deliver the experience the customer wants, without it getting excessive in terms of costs.

Having helped our clients introduce new offerings, move into new markets, and launch time-sensitive campaigns through a rapid and iterative approach to development, we understand the need to move quickly to changes in the retail landscape, particularly in the fast-moving ecommerce landscape. Find out more about the wide range of projects we’ve delivered over the years, and get in touch with a member of our team to learn how we can help you take the next step in your journey.