During the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, ecommerce has accelerated right across the globe – to the extent that Econsultancy.com believes it’s a trend that’s hard to ignore. This is particularly since consumers shopped with increased frequency online out of necessity, writes Graham Jarvis.
Subsequently, lockdowns and stay-at-home orders also forced brands to rapidly change their strategies. Companies that hadn’t paid much attention to e-commerce and to m-commerce, or were only just beginning to embrace digital transformation, now found themselves having to transform their operations to both stay afloat and compete with rivals. Growing mobile commerce also spurred on the growth of mobile payments.
Strongest trends in 2021
According to Econsultancy.com’s ‘Stats roundup: the impact of Covid-19 on ecommerce’, “App Annie’s State of Mobile 2021 report has revealed that the total time spent by Android users in shopping apps globally came to more than 100 billion hours in 2021. This is up from just under 85 billion in 2020. This means that the amount of time spent in shopping apps globally has more than doubled since 2018, when Android users spent 48.7 billion hours using retail apps.
App Annie’s report also reveals that fast fashion apps, social shopping apps and “mobile-savvy big-box players” saw the strongest movement in 2021. Traditionally, big-box stores are defined as hyperstore, supercentres, superstores or megastores. They typically have a physically large retail establishment, and they are usually part of a chain of stores. In terms of ‘big-box players,’ it also refers to the company that operates the store. They tend to be split into two categories: general merchandise, such as Walmart in the US, and stores that specialise, such as Home Depot. Big-box brands like these often have an online commercial presence.
In May 2019, a few months before the pandemic was formally declared by the World Health Organization, Digiday wrote a blog, ‘In an Amazon vs. Walmart world, big-box retailers plot their futures’ and commented:
“Big-box retailers are competing in a landscape dominated by Amazon online (although it’s making progress in offline retail, too) and, increasingly, Walmart offline. The bar is continuously being raised on expectations around delivery windows and options, customer experience and interesting inventory. The industry is seeing through a shakeout, as nearly 12,000 stores could close this year, and many are caught in a Catch-22: Cash-strapped retailers need to improve stores, make new hires and offer new perks to customers, but that costs money they don’t have, as sales fall.”
Strongest regional growth
Returning to App Annie’s more recent report, and Econsultancy’s stats roundup, the three regions that saw the most growth in shopping app time on Android were Indonesia (up by 52% year-on-year), Singapore (up 46% YoY) and Brazil (up 45% YoY).” Furthermore, “The State of Online Marketplace Adoption report, by Mirakl, which surveyed 9,000 global consumers on their online shopping habits, found that 70% believe online marketplaces, are the most convenient way to shop, with two thirds saying they prefer ecommerce sites with online marketplaces.”
Will online trends continue?
Anil Malhotra, CMO and Co-Founder of Bango (AIM: BGO) – a company that is listed on the London Stock Exchange and a provider of unique purchase behaviour technology, asks whether these trends will continue. Or will people move back offline to complete their shopping in stores, rather than via their mobile phones or PCs? “So far, the evidence Bango has seen shows that choice becomes habit, and new users seen during the pandemic continue to engage online,” he reveals, before explaining: “The pandemic forced many consumers, who were not necessarily inclined to shop online to do so, and the data suggests this shift is unlikely to reverse. Customers have grown used to the ease and speed of e-commerce and m-commerce and don’t show signs of moving back to a physical retail experience.” As customers spent more time indoors throughout the various lockdowns, they either continued to subscribe to online services, such as Netflix and Amazon, or took up new subscriptions to keep themselves entertained. Those that signed up during this period have largely continued to subscribe to these services.
“Interestingly, back in March 2020, Bango examined online consumer spending after the outbreak of Covid-19. The company says it “analysed payment data from countries initially impacted by the outbreak of Covid-19. Data from Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong provides an insight into the likely shifts in consumer behavior in European and North American markets, as governments and businesses respond to the outbreak of Covid-19, adopting “stay at home” policies.”
A summary of the findings is found below:
Bango finds that consumers are continuing to move towards to e-commerce and m-commerce, and in the US mobile consumer spending is up 30% in 2021, compared to 2020. Malhotra says, “This shows that it is not just hours spent online, but cash spent online which continues to grow.”
Key mobile and ecommerce lessons
So, what have been the key mobile and e-commerce lessons that app developers, merchants and payments providers have had to learn during the pandemic, and to what extent these lessons will shape their sales and marketing strategies going forward? Well, Malhotra stresses that a seamless customer experience is key because online shopping enables customers to shop around more easily than they can, by visiting physical stores. An inviting and easy-to-navigate customer and user experience (UX) is therefore crucial to ensure that customers go from looking up items they’d like to buy, to completing a transaction by making a payment to purchase their chosen goods, subscriptions or services.
Price is also a key decision factor. Consumers often make decisions based on price, compared to the overall offer, deciding whether there are more incentives to make a purchase from source A or B. Within this comparison is the consideration of how quickly an ordered can be fulfilled, and with some transactions, customers are concerned about the services that are being offered to support them. Service quality forms part of this analysis, as people want to be treated well, to the extent that most of their expectations are met.
Part of this customer and user experience equation is the prerequisite to offer customers flexibility in terms of the payment methods they can use to complete their online shopping transactions. Malhotra says a great customer and user experience can be achieved by using data to improve or offer the best experience. This should include payments data to analyse customers’ behaviour and transactional preferences.
“With more insights, not only can merchants or app developers target paying customers, they can also target customers with more relevant content, better offers and so on to keep users engaged and attract new ones,” he explains. Bango also finds that subscription model has accelerated hugely throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and the value of bundling subscriptions has become increasingly apparent to merchants and payment providers alike.”
Malhotra adds: “Data insights can be used to better target consumers, taking into account what a customer has purchased to offer them related or complimentary products. For example, if you bought headphones, a Spotify subscription might be of interest. Alternatively, you may have searched for headphones, which you then went on to buy, yet you still receive ads for headphones based on your historic search data.” He adds better targeting of offers and ads can be achieved with tools, such as Bango Audiences.”
Shift towards online payments
Inevitably, with the shift to m-commerce and e-commerce, there has been a shift towards online payments. Even in physical stores, digital payments have increased at the expense of cash. Online commerce itself strips away much of the friction that customers often experience with offline, traditional shopping, as it makes it much easier to find products and services, easier to shop, and easier to pay and receive products.
Friction can, nevertheless, arise online in diverse ways. Malhotra explains: “If the checkout and payment experience is awkward or prolonged, it creates friction. Payment platforms then enable one-click payment to provide frictionless UX – think Amazon, Spotify and Bango for individual merchants (versus marketplaces).”
“On the telco side, where previously telcos may have managed some payment connections themselves, it is time and capital-intensive. Pressure mounts to continue delivering new growth, outsourcing to a platform provider like Bango is a better solution. Coupled with the fact that bundling third party subscriptions with their first party services is proving a great customer acquisition and retention tool, connecting to a platform with hundreds of merchant connections is increasingly appealing.”
Bango therefore claims it is seeing growing demand for its platform licensing solution because of the growth in m-commerce and ecommerce.
Increasing pressure on app stores
Talking about the app developer perspective, the company finds that there is increasing pressure on app stores to open up the payment routes. This is because app developers want to regain some control over the way they acquire and monetise their users. As for online merchants, they are exploring alternative payments to give users a simpler check-out journey with one click, direct carrier billing (DCB), and wallets – negating the need to constantly enter personal and payments data. such as one’s debit or credit card details. These alternative payments also offer “access to users who may not have credit cards or bank accounts and bundling offers similar benefits to the merchants, as it does to the payment provider, increased user acquisition and retention,” says Malhotra.
Du: 20% segment re-engagement
Organisations that have had to change their payments, and which use payments data insights to better target users and customers, include du, the leading UAE mobile operator. Bango says it used Bango Boost to identify and target relevant customers with a DCB re-engagement message. “Within two weeks of launching the campaign, 20% of the segment had re-engaged and made at least one purchase with carrier billing.” Baseil Zaki, Head of Value-Added Services, Devices & Loyalty, du Consumer Services, therefore, comments: “The success we have experienced with the latest Bango technology is significant.”
So, key to changing payments is the ability to use payments data to create insights to acquire more paying users and customers. Post-pandemic, the battle will be to attract and retain them with the best user and customer experiences. Together, insights and great UXs will enable merchants, app developers and payments providers to capture the growing m-commerce and e-commerce opportunities and ongoing online success.
Graham Jarvis, is Lead Journalist – Business and Technology