craig smith, uk country manager, scayle
Image: Craig Smith, Scayle

Competing with dominant new entrants is one of the challenges in online retail highlighted by Scayle’s Craig Smith, who says the “fast user experience” and “ability to match supply with customer demand” demonstrated by Shein and Temu show the “direction online shopping is moving”.

Smith describes himself as “from a retail family”, with his father having built up and sold Evans Cycles. Now country manager at commerce platform Scayle, his 30 years in the industry have seen him work for retail brands, retail tech companies, and as strategic advisor to UK retailers at Salesforce.

Given his role helping retailers to “scale faster and more efficiently” online, we caught up with Smith to ask him about current challenges and trends in ecommerce, and how to choose an ecomm platform.

Here’s what he had to say…

Econsultancy: What are the biggest challenges for online retailers right now? What would your advice be on overcoming them?

Craig Smith: There are many far-reaching challenges for retailers today. These can stem from evolving customer demands to competing with new dominant entrants and partnering with the right tech platforms, and everything in between. My advice on these three challenges would be as follows.

1. Customer demands

First, with more choice and competition comes higher expectations from customers. Retailers need to make sure they’re offering the most convenient shopping experience they can – this means locally preferred shipping options and payment methods, and customisation wherever possible.

2. Competing with dominant new entrants

Second, new high-growth and fast-pace shopping platforms like Shein and Temu are conquering the market meaning competition is fiercer than ever. These platforms have demonstrated an impressive ability to match supply with customer demand via highly targeted advertising and a fast user experience. Retailers should apply these notes to their own brands as it’s a good example of the direction online shopping is moving. That said, it’s still relatively early days for Shein and Temu in Europe and they will likely need to differentiate their strategy if they want to make a lasting impact in this market. Here’s a big opportunity for brands and retailers to leverage their experience to stay ahead in the curve.

3. Partnering with the right tech platforms

And lastly, picking the right technology partners that are driving innovation in the areas aligned to where you want to be. It’s important to pick a partner that understands the sector and invests heavily in feature advancement and enabling innovation within this sector and is therefore able to adapt in this fast-changing environment.

E: What upcoming trends do you foresee taking centre stage in the ecommerce sector within the next 12 months?

CS: Sustainability and ethical practices can get you ahead of the curve with certain target groups as it becomes an increasingly relevant topic for them. We can expect to see other retailers prioritising sustainable practices with regards to sourcing, packaging and manufacturing, in order to show they are making an effort to reduce their carbon footprint. Providing transparent sustainability information directly on the website’s product pages will also become necessary – this is being driven by new EU regulations, which include mandatory responsibility schemes for fashion brands on accounting for their textile waste. Proving sustainability claims with transparent and accessible data is important for brands not to appear to be greenwashing.

Aside from this, most retailers still struggle with the basics. So loyalty programs, social commerce, successful expansion and creating a seamless omnichannel experience will continue to be relevant over the next 12 months as retailers feel the pressures of a stagnant economy and tightening purse strings.

E: What are some elements to a successful ecommerce shop system?

CS: First, brands should look for a flexible ecommerce system that is continuously innovating… it’s essential to adapt to quickly changing market conditions.

Second, look for an ecommerce partner with deep-rooted business and retail expertise so you can work together on an equal footing and mutually share insights. You want a partner who can advise strategically and build the features you need.

Ideally your ecommerce shop system’s team will include experts across the whole retail journey, from shop management to marketing specialists, as well as business consultants who understand the market conditions. They can rely on best practices but also have insight on trends that will not fade within a season.

Third, focus on lowering your total cost of ownership. Big retail platforms constantly manage to improve their profitability and make their commerce ecosystem more efficient by focusing on what helps them grow and increase their profitability. Brands striving for ecommerce success should follow their lead and this can be achieved in a number of ways. For example, third-party solutions should be limited, and only used when they add to a brand’s value proposition. Instead, you should make use of existing features and integrations and focus on what differentiates your brand from the competition, such as unique front ends and loyalty programs, rather than building features that everyone else is using.

E: What’s next for Scayle?

CS: Our goal for 2024 is to revolutionise the way software vendors provide solutions to their customers. The current model is broken – software costs are skyrocketing, but value is decreasing. At Scayle, our mission is to take a consultancy-based approach and act as partners for our clients, providing real value for the investments businesses are making in these challenging times.

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