The world has been in the throes of a global pandemic for most of 2020 and this reality has dramatically reshaped the landscape for retail across demographics and geographies. From April 2019 to April 2020 there was a 7.1% spike in global internet users, a boom that coincides with an accelerated eCommerce adoption of nearly five years within just a few months. eCommerce is expected to grow by 20% in 2020, according to a Pew Research report.
eMarketer predicts that “US eCommerce sales will reach $794.50 billion this year, up 32.4% year-over-year. That’s a much higher growth rate than the 18.0% predicted in [their] Q2 forecast, as consumers continue to avoid stores and opt for online shopping amid the pandemic.”
That’s 3.4% growth in eCommerce sales as a total of all retail sales where the previous period was 1.1%, a 209.09% increase.
With the continued growth of digital adoption, the door has been left wide open for emerging technologies to test their mettle in a booming marketplace primed for experimentation and discovery.
While the US has been somewhat slow to adopt live streaming as a means to engage customers, brands in China are going full bore with live streaming eCommerce strategies, many of which are incredibly successful.
No category has leveraged live streaming better than Chinese beauty brands, from Forest Cabin increasing revenue by 45% YoY thanks to a quick pivot and tripling loyalty program sign-ups to International Women’s Day, where close to 1,000 fashion, beauty, and lifestyle brands livestreamed on WeChat, creating an 83% spike in traffic.
Recent research from Mintel showed that “about 14% of customers said live streaming or short-video platforms are the first choice when purchasing beauty and personal care products.” An increasingly popular option to connect with Gen Z shoppers.
Augmented reality (AR) isn’t a new technology, but its application in eCommerce is a relatively fledgling deployment with massive potential. From eyeglasses, to ceramics, to fashion, AR has made the moniker “try before you buy” a reality without actually having to leave the comfort of your home.
“…Make it an augmented reality experience and make it viewable in an environment in which users are aware of their surroundings and themselves and forming an even larger connection with the brand. AR shopping experiences receive approximately a 65 to 69 percent higher conversion rate within social apps. That’s tested in a lot of places!” – Kyle Harrington, Hawke Media
According to Arlene.io, AR users stick around for about 75 seconds per session, AR experiences are 72% more memorable than static images and increase purchase conversion rates by 250%.
Returns? Yeah, Returns!
Online returns drive 80-90% of sales and LTV. But consider this: retailers spend upwards of 9% of their revenue on marketing, and 10% of their revenue on returns. Retailers would never spend on marketing without understanding what the potential return on investment is, but they are doing that with returns.
Today’s retailers have a huge opportunity to maximize the effectiveness of their return policies by understanding the ROI of each and every return. With the huge amounts of data out there, online retailers are well-positioned to maximize the upside of their return programs – and minimize the downside – by tapping into data across the entire e-commerce ecosystem. Only then can retailers take action through better data, better personalization, and better return responses.
Example of returns-maximization strategies :
- Where can retailers strip out unnecessary costs from return policies that don’t positively impact conversion or sales?
- Does a generous return policy make sense for every type of product, or only for certain categories?
- Should a retailer over-invest in the returns experience for certain customers?
Just like the best marketing, Atomic believes online retailers should optimize their returns for more sales, better loyalty, and higher profits. This means doing away with a one-size-fits-all return policy and instead empowering retailers to have the right returns response, for each and every transaction.
Atomic has spoken with many online retailers about their returns, and the challenges they face balancing customer satisfaction with huge (and rising) costs. Often we find ourselves suggesting, “Well, why not have different policies for different transactions?”
And it became apparent more and more retailers were breaking away from “the policy” and tailoring returns to support sales and loyalty.
- “Our return policy is a firm 30 days. But we extend it if the customer shopped with us a lot in the past 6 months.”
- “We want to start charging fees to customers we always lose money on. We just need to find them.”
- “We give allowances if it’s a first time customer. Or if they come from Instagram.”
The return policy had turned into an outdated relic sitting on a back page, and retailers are increasingly using different returns for different transactions.
We saw customer service teams doing mental gymnastics as they weighed the potential value of a transaction (and future transactions) with the cost of each return. And they were using data that was cobbled together, incomplete, part anecdotal – slow, painful, error prone, and just bleeding inefficiency.
Atomic saw a huge opportunity for a returns system that could optimize this emerging way of managing returns: bring together all the relevant pieces of data, and let retailers easily understand and act on that data.
Atomic is changing the way e-commerce sees online returns, to reflect what returns actually do for retailers. We saw returns’ impact on both the bottom line and the top line, and believe retailers should tailor returns to each and every transaction.
Our goal: empower retailers to give the right returns, for the right product, to the right customer, at the right time.
What happens when you treat returns like investment? Retailers are not only able to more efficiently manage their costs, but also drive more sales, better profitability, and higher LTV. In fact, our internal studies show the following:
- Increases in operating margin by 3 points.
- Increases in customer LTV by 30%
- Increases in retailer profitability by 11%.
Treating returns like an investment means retailers should optimize returns, not minimize them. And retailers are exceedingly well-positioned to maximize the upside of their returns — and minimize the downside — given today’s unprecedented access to data.
Much like what marketing has evolved to in the past 10 years, the time is ripe for performance-driven returns: targeted, attributed, and focused on ROI.
When we first started Atomic, we wanted to redefine online returns to reflect what they actually did for retailers. We saw firsthand how returns’ outsized role on conversion and loyalty, and thought every return should be optimized at the atomic-level.
What I’m super excited about is that many retailers are already attempting to do this themselves: retailers are breaking away from stated one-size-fits-all policies and using returns for what they really are: targeted marketing tools. Atomic Returns will just give retailers a better, more confident system.