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International relations and humanising eCommerce

International relations and humanising eCommerce

30 Mar 2021
Ben Sillitoe, Journalist, Sillitoe Media

In March 2021 alone, two of the UK’s largest retailers announced major international eCommerce plays with Marks & Spencer expanding online to 46 new markets, and B&Q revealing plans to launch physical and digital channels in Saudi Arabia this autumn.

It shows digital development and 2021 UK retail plans are not restricted to home market, and several eCommerce Expo sessions highlighted the key challenges businesses face when operating across borders.

From Avalara and Vertex’s presentations on the new tax implications for cross-border trade as a result of the Brexit transition period coming to an end in 2020, to Balkan eCommerce’s tips and advice on navigating the new landscape, there was much guidance to tap in to. They implored businesses trading into or out of the European Union, in particular, to ensure they are up to speed with the latest regulations.

Businesses were advised to stay informed and understand what is required from them in each territory to avoid any surprise levies for their customers receiving their goods be they commercial partners or end-consumers.

Richard Asquith, vice president (VP) global for indirect tax at Avalara, explained: “If you’re moving goods into the UK from EU or vice versa import VAT is due on B2B movement – previously it had been zero rated.”

End-to-end eCommerce expertise

Expo delegates were able to tap into insights and best practice on email marketing, search engine optimisation, building consumer trust, and developing omnichannel strategies. There was also some future gazing, as the industry considered “What’s next?” after a difficult year.

Ben Taylor, head of omnichannel commerce at Publicis Commerce, commented: “Stop thinking about ecommerce as execution and conversion and think about it as a central part of strategy from the off.”

Ajit Sivadasan, VP & general manager at Lenovo, suggested businesses need to move away from a transactional-based sale to “a relationship-based sale” and advocated building communities through loyalty schemes and other engagement work.

He said: “If you’re going to get into the process of doing this, which I think is really important, you have to have the right people, the right thinking, and you need to have the right framework in terms of how you acquire customers, how you keep them, how you drive that community, how you drive engagement, and what’s the content strategy.”

Hannah Thorpe, managing director of Verkeer, said people are buying from brands for two factors: warmth and competency.

“Make sure you’re smashing the product and you can fulfil and deliver no matter what format that needs to be, but also make sure you’re pushing out messaging that really shows your warmth as a brand, shows your relatable, and shows you’re putting your customers first because that’s what will keep them coming back,” she noted.


 

A final thought...humanising eCommerce 

Reflecting on a year when businesses operating both stores and eCommerce shifted significantly to serve shoppers in new ways, DHW Digital’s Williams said the use of shop and sales staff in the online world will help humanise digital commerce.

The emergence of hybrid roles where traditional shopfloor salespeople become more engaged with the digital world, in the way Currys PC World, Aspinal of London, and The Perfume Shop connected store staff to online shoppers in 2020 through video link-up, is “a great way of adding the human element to online”, he noted.

Use of influencers on social channels is another way of doing this, but eCommerce Expo panellists spoke of the need for authenticity in this arena.

Zalando’s UK & Ireland marketing lead, Melissa Weston, said her marketplace deploys influencers that “stand for something we believe in too”. Only Curls’ Carter said the foundations of her business were built by connecting with likeminded people on Instagram and collaborating with them to promote products.

Mark Haslam, managing director of Loud Mouth Media, remarked: “Anyone can be an influencer if you give them x amount of pounds but when it matches up to your company’s core values or your client values that’s the difference.

“There’s probably a better word than influencer – I think it’s just role model.”

Isabelle Baas, managing partner at Starcom UK, said brand-to-consumer communication has “got to feel natural” – and the pandemic has underlined the importance of that.

As eCommerce emerges from the health crisis as a bigger piece of the total retail pie, showing humanity will be a requisite for future success. And so many of the sessions at eCommerce Expo showed just how that can be done.

View all the 25+ hours of sessions, discussions and panels on-demand here

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