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How can European ecommerce businesses thrive in post-pandemic times?

By Michael Schweidler , EMEA Marketing Manager

Last updated June 22, 2021

The meteor strike that was COVID-19 at the start of 2020 sent shockwaves across the retail industry. As lockdowns went into effect in countries throughout Europe, it led to the rise of ecommerce as online shopping started to surge.

A report published by McKinsey looking at the grocery shopping preferences amongst consumers in the EU-5 (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom) during the pandemic revealed just how much of a surge there was. For instance, in April 2020, the demand for online groceries more than doubled in Italy whilst in the United Kingdom, Tesco’s online-grocery business went up to 16 percent of total country sales in the first quarter of 2020, from about 9 percent, according to the McKinsey report.

Tesco with Zendesk

Tesco is an example of a retailer that has enabled slick and seamless internal communication among its suppliers, Technology, People Services, and Security Operations through working with Zendesk. The relationship that started in 2015 has prepared the retailer to flex and scale during peak periods such as this.

Now that we’re emerging from the wreckage with lockdowns beginning to ease, it’s predicted that some consumers will continue with their pandemic shopping habits. As McKinsey’s report reveals, those EU-5 consumers who tried online grocery shopping during the pandemic have found that they enjoy it and will continue to use it. As a result, it expects the share of online sales to continue growing at a faster rate than it did prior to COVID-19.

This move to online shopping has also further accelerated the continued embrace of mobile devices and digital consumption channels. New buying models have also emerged including contactless payment, contactless delivery, buy online pick-up in store or curbside pickup and on-demand delivery, and these will likely continue to evolve.

With these major changes on the horizon the retail industry is being forced to adapt as digital channels become increasingly adopted. In fact, it is estimated that there will be a 160% future increase in ecommerce purchase from new or low frequency users.

Invest in your purpose

With this move to digital, traditional retailers will now have to compete with dominant ‘apex predators’ – e-commerce players, like Amazon and Alibaba, that during the pandemic have become even stronger and better prepared to capture more of the global retail economy.

But smaller companies can still be mighty in the retail space. One of the themes in the McKinsey report revealed that consumers increasingly value retailers and brands that have a purpose. For instance, in Italy, net sentiment toward brands with strong values and purpose reached 49 percent in June 2020. And across France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom, about one-fourth of respondents see brands’ values as important. That sentiment has remained true through September 2020, with 18 percent of respondents buying more sustainable and eco-friendly products, and 12 percent report buying more from brands based on their purpose than they did at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Focus on ecommerce and omnichannel solutions

The adoption of digital is only set to increase and as the borders between the physical and digital worlds continue to blur, how do European firms attract and engage with their consumers? Key is to invest more in the e-commerce customer experience and offer integrated omnichannel solutions.

With customers increasingly demanding personalised experiences, retailers must connect all their customer data and leverage it to build the best customer experiences that offer personalisation, as well as value-added buying and servicing experiences. To lend a helping hand, AI chat bots can assist in recommending relevant content, completing transactions like a return or order status, and knowing when it’s time to pass a customer to an agent.

With the prediction that traditional department stores and physical retail spaces will continue to decline in our post-pandemic world, a fierce battle is due to commence, particularly among rival luxury marketplaces, on- and offline. Crucially, this means that all channels are the channel of your brand. Currently, most retailers are organized by channel, including retail stores, ecommerce, call centers and social media, which are often separately managed. However, with today’s customers expecting no channel boundaries, all channels will need to be integrated to offer consistent customer experiences and support.

In these different channels, as well as providing an immersive and engaging customer experience, retailers must also give their customers the ability to communicate and also opportunities to purchase. It’s about meeting customers where they are on the channel of their choice. This includes popular social and messaging channels like Instagram messenger, FB Messenger and WhatsApp.

As customers continue to work from home, some indefinitely, they are demanding entertainment at their fingertips, a seamless shopping experience both online to off, and perpetual newness from their favorite brands. Retailers need to adapt now to this post-COVID digital age to deliver this to them.

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