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E-commerce – it takes a village, by Havas Media’s Houda Tohme

Who does it best? The one where the client doesn’t, writes Havas Media Middle East, managing director Houda Tohme.

Houda Tohme, Managing Director, Havas Media ME

Covid-19 has accelerated digital transformation, bringing forth revolutionary changes in online shopping behaviour, skyrocketing sales and demand for everything from food and groceries to fashion and automotive. This means one thing: online shopping is not only here to stay, but it will continue to evolve at the speed of light. Most digital platforms introduced their “for business” extensions – from customisable Facebook Shop options to the latest Tiktok For Business formats and Snapchat Dynamic Product Ads – all in an effort to meet growing demands.

Throughout the lockdown period, there was a significant shift in advertising budgets towards performance media as brands rushed to accelerate – or, in many cases, kickstart – their e-commerce plays with the aim of salvaging halted revenues due to physical store closures. However, not all online businesses can stand the test of time in the wake of a pandemic.

Rushing to start an online business to capitalise on current trends does not always translate to a brand being ‘successful’ because it’s now online. E-commerce is not only a growing trend, it is a necessity. It is a convenience, and if the process is rushed brands risk having unstable foundations. Many brands have learned this the hard way.

The general playbook is as follows: hire a performance marketing executive (a ‘unicorn’), opt for the most cost-efficient e-commerce platforms, appoint a performance marketing agency that is willing to work for minimal fees (or on a penalty-weighted performance contact) and before you know it your website is online, everything looks great and soon enough the orders should come rolling in.

But do they?

Transitioning from a (typically long-established) brick-and-mortar store to an e-commerce play requires serious effort, resources, and for several (often siloed) elements to coalesce. The mere fact that the business is now online is not enough to drive sales. Many businesses are under the false impression that digital marketing is the main driver of e-commerce sales, and tend to overlook factors that can cement strong foundations.

Every element is an important building block that can make a difference: social media strategy, SEM, SEO, on- and off-page content, let alone the storage and distribution backbone to properly support e-tail. Setting KPIs that make sense for each stage of the journey, whether they are ROAS (return on ad spend) overall or by product line, or returning or new customers, post-click or post view. But it’s not only marketing elements that count. Product variety, product feed, pricing, last-mile delivery, online visual merchandising, UX (user experience), payment gateways, ease and convenience of return policies and the overall customer experience must all be carefully designed to deliver results.

Yet the most important contributor to online business success is a process and team that work in unison towards the same objectives. This starts from the web development team, takes in the performance marketing team and goes all the way to the fulfilment team – all of whom must implement, learn and feed-back to systematically optimise the process. It takes a village.

Saving on physical costs does not mean underspending on online essentials. And, just as you would invest to maintain your brick-and-mortar sales, online sales require a similar, if not firmer, commitment.

As nations ease into the ‘new normal’, the immediate focus will be an economic recovery. However, secondary effects following the shutdown will leave some harsh realities in economies that will take a long while to stabilise and recover. Brands will need to focus on investing in their marketing plans to attract new customers, as opposed to the instinctive reduction. Initiating partnerships with agencies that have a global network will strongarm brands to expand across borders and maintain the quality of output they have invested in the product. Sometimes it’s easier to rebuild from scratch than fix, and there are some risks that businesses can’t afford to take.

If you truly believe in your brand, then you ought to invest in nurturing its digital success.