The past couple of years have proven to be a very interesting and challenging time for retailers operating all over the world. Fluctuating restrictions on business combined with a customer who’s apprehensive about physical brick-and-mortar experiences, both the result of health and safety concerns related to the COVID-19 global pandemic, have served as a backdrop to an industry that’s currently rife with uncertainty and disruption. It’s also, however, been a time representative of innovation as merchants everywhere shifted and pivoted to keep up with the demands of a rapidly evolving retail landscape. It’s an evolution that’s been driven primarily by an accelerated digitization of the industry, prompting many retailers to develop or enhance their online offering amid a sharp escalation in ecommerce sales. Canadian merchants have, in general, risen to the challenges that they’ve faced extremely well. And, according to Chris Sheridan, BD and Sales Enablement Lead at Square, the increasing assurance with which retailers are operating online is helping them meet consumer needs and fuel further growth of the retail omnichannel ecosystem.
“Back during the beginning of 2020, when the pandemic first hit, retailers realized very quickly that they needed to ensure that their website was equipped to handle an influx of online customer orders,” he reflects. “But what that primarily meant during the initial months of the pandemic was enabling the online placement of pickup and delivery orders. They were by far the two most popular fulfillment channels, particularly when in-store operations were closed or limited. And they continued to gain momentum and adoption throughout the two years that have followed. However, the way retailers responded at the onset was very operationally-focused, and rightfully so. But today, after experiencing a lot of success rolling out and developing curbside pickup and delivery service, what we’re seeing is a higher level of confidence among retailers in managing these channels and fulfilling all of the online orders, which is in turn leading to greater experimentation and an expansion of online channels.”
Expanding retail ecosystem
One of the Canadian retail industry’s trusted partners, Square has served as a critical support for merchants attempting to navigate through the current challenges and optimize their omnichannel offering. Its suite of hardware and software tools, including an array of in-store and online commerce solutions, has been pivotal in equipping its clients with the capability of competing and thriving within today’s economy and to continue growing to satisfy the expectations of an increasingly digital consumer. And, just last month, in an effort to simplify the fulfillment of local deliveries for merchants, the company launched Square Online and On-Demand Delivery, leveraging the reliable courier services of DoorDash. It’s all part of the overall support that Sheridan says Square is proud to provide merchants, adding that it’s an incredibly exciting time to be partnered with the industry. Retailers across the country have really started to ramp up their ecommerce capabilities, he explains, deepening their understanding of ecommerce and beginning to capitalize on the opportunities that are inherent in emerging sales channels.
“There’s a much broader awareness of ecommerce now among those operating within the industry,” he says. “Retailers no longer view the website as a separate entity from their in-store operations. A new retail world has developed over the course of the past couple years, and all channels, whether physical or online, are being given the same level of priority. They’re understanding now that each is an extension of the other, which is an incredibly powerful realization for retailers to make. It really shows how intensely they are focused on the consumers’ experience in-store as well as their experience online. And, now that the infrastructure has been built, the retailer mindset has shifted to contemplate whether or not they are leveraging the full power of the available channels and explore ways to grow them. Considering this perspective, retailers are now seeing that social channels provide a very natural next step to the evolution of ecommerce and their businesses.”
The rise of social commerce
Indeed, channels such as Instagram, Google Shopping, Facebook, TikTok and Snapchat are all presenting viable, potentially lucrative, streams of revenue and growth for merchants within the industry. And, given that it’s where the majority of consumers spend their time, researching, sharing and now increasingly shopping, it makes, as Sheridan points out, perfect sense for retailers to leverage these channels in order to tap into the rise of social commerce and complement their existing ecommerce offering. He believes that social channels may end up serving as the next big opportunity for retailers. And, if recent social statistics are at all accurate, he may just be right. According to Statista, there are now 31.8 million active users of social media sites in Canada, representing a penetration rate of 83 percent, standing Canada as one of the world’s most connected populations.
“The potential posed by social media sites when it comes to the promotion and selling of product is immense,” he asserts. “It’s where much of any retailers’ audience is gathering all the time, finding ideas and inspiration. It’s a great place for brands to represent themselves and to direct consumers to their catalogues and offering. They present a fantastic way for retailers to extend their core set of online fulfillment channels of shipping, pickup and delivery by expanding into social selling and bolstering their online ecosystem with the inclusion of more channels. It’s an expansion and evolution of the online world that’s really been made possible by the way retailers have matured and built confidence in managing volumes through their existing channels, resulting in their desire to leverage additional channels and grow further.”
Challenges and opportunities
Although the recent trajectory of online retail sales has been impressive, there remain obstacles in retailers’ way. Disruptions to the global supply chain has created instability across the industry. And, of course, an ongoing retail staffing crisis also threatens to stunt any growth that those within the industry might be vying for. They are impediments that are currently wreaking havoc throughout the entire retail enterprise. Despite these challenges, however, Sheridan believes that there are still significant opportunities available for growth if merchants are concentrated and focused on the right areas of the business.
“The more channels that a retailer launches, the more focus needs to be paid to properly managing inventory,” he says. “Having tools in place that can help merchants track inventory in real-time, providing them with alerts that signal low stock or sold-out items is extremely important. It’s definitely an area in which data and analytics are helping to better inform decisions and create greater efficiencies. Marketing is another critical piece of the retail operation that’s been dramatically impacted by the expansion of the online world and the amount of data that’s generated. With so much information about what the customer is looking at buying in-store and online, marketing has been able to evolve to better promote all of the channels at a retailers’ disposal and drive awareness of them, enticing customers to use them. In addition, rewards, such as gift cards and loyalty program points, can be earned and redeemed around pickup and delivery orders and applied across all fulfillment channels. Retailers that can get tighter controls on their inventory, leverage marketing to engage consumers in the online world and create that consistent experience across channels will position themselves well for omnichannel success going forward.”
Supporting growth and success
As the digitization of the world around us continues unabated, retailers continue to tweak and develop their online capabilities, enhancing the service they offer and shopping options that they provide their customers. Their efforts are lending to an expansion of the channels available to consumers through which they can engage with and make purchases from their favourite brands, transforming the retail environment toward a simpler and more seamless way of transacting. And, as the industry propels forward into this brave new world of retailing, exploring the seemingly endless possibilities that it presents, Sheridan says that Square will be there every step of the way to support merchants and help them reap the benefits of a growing omnichannel environment.
“Whether retailers across the country realize it or not, they took a massive step toward achieving a truly omnichannel presence when they launched pickup and delivery in 2020. At Square, we want to help retailers understand that it’s possible to go omnichannel, positioning them well to pursue the opportunities that are abound online. The confluence between all of the different channels that are available today and the data that can be generated around consumer behaviour and sentiment is extremely powerful. And there seems to be a growing awareness among retailers of the ways they can leverage everything in front of them in order to continue their progress, moving toward the creation of meaningful and lasting growth for their organizations.”
For information concerning the ways Square and its suite of commerce solutions can help your business optimize opportunities for success and growth in an increasingly digitized world, visit squareup.com
Retail Insider partnered with Square for this sponsored article.