COVID-19 pushed e-commerce into a hyper-acceleration mode. For some reason though, Dutch companies are failing to keep up with the rapid pace of developments abroad. It’s time for companies in the Netherlands to up their e-commerce game as quickly as possible, urges Accenture Interactive’s Mehmet Olmez. “Those who fail to act swiftly will likely miss the boat entirely.” 

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Not long ago, consumers would visit an online shop if they were in the market for a particular product. You needed a new lamp, so you’d browse a digital store for one and pop it in your cart. It was simple, straightforward, and we were all just overjoyed that we now had the option to shop from the comfort of our couches.

Over the years, Mehmet Olmez has seen e-commerce evolving beyond this. “We still shop from our living rooms, but the digital shopping journey has become so much more personal and pervasive. As consumers, we are constantly enticed to buy, and buy more. Whether you’re watching a movie, walking through the city streets, or driving to a friend, e-commerce finds you, rather than you finding it.”

Olmez regards this type of ‘in-the-moment e-commerce’ as a critical current trend—one that will only grow in the future. 

The meteoric rise of social commerce 

We can’t understate the impact that the rapid growth of social e-commerce has had here. When we scroll through our timelines on Facebook or Instagram, we are constantly bombarded with promotions, offers, and calls to ‘shop now’. What makes them so effective is their relevance to the user. This is not surprising, of course. Remember, every ad is carefully tailored to a person based on their online behavior. 

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689MN

TikTok has more than 689 million users globally. [Source: Oberlo]

$370MD

In 2021, the Chinese social e-commerce market will surpass the $370 billion threshold. [Source: SCMP]

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While on the topic, it would be unwise to underestimate the power of TikTok in the world of e-commerce. The social network currently counts over 689 million users worldwide, most of whom are from young generations. The platform is forever rolling out new shopping features and is widely regarded as the future benchmark for social e-commerce. 

Chinese e-commerce giant Pinduoduo—literally translating to ‘more and more together’—has quickly made its mark on the Chinese market with an entirely new shopping experience. Pinduoduo invites consumers to purchase items in groups, and in doing so, unlock discounts. Customers see two prices: one if they’re buying the product alone, and a different one (that’s been discounted) if they buy the same item with a co-buyer. Olmez: “In the Netherlands, we’re not yet familiar with this concept, but I expect it won’t take long before this sort of interactive e-commerce makes its way across the waters.”  

The issue isn’t a lack of ambition; it’s a lack of action

The Chinese social commerce market is expected to reach over $370 billion by 2021. This stands in stark contrast to the Dutch market, where the phenomenon is relatively novel. And that’s not only the case with social commerce: Dutch companies tend to be behind most of their international counterparts on almost every aspect of digital commerce and sales.

Why is that? “It’s not due to a lack of ambition,” explains Olmez. “On the contrary, organizations simply don’t understand which steps to take to catapult their e-commerce efforts to the next level.” 

There is no standard roadmap to success or one-size-fits-all approach. Or rather, there isn’t one anymore. Companies of today need to make critical choices and structure their organization accordingly. “Which technology should we use? Which products and experiences should we offer customers? Should we sell products solely via our own online store, or should we make use of third-party marketplaces too?’ These are just a few examples of the sorts of questions many businesses are grappling with.

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Go where the customers are, or try to bring them to you

Online marketplaces tend to be a bit of a headache for companies. “Businesses want to be where the customers are, which is on marketplaces like Amazon, Alibaba, or Dutch bol.com. This leaves companies with a difficult choice: team up with an existing marketplace that’s already successful or build one themselves instead?”

“Obviously, platforms like bol.com and Amazon draw significantly more traffic, but the downside of selling via a marketplace is that businesses have less control over the customer experience and limited access to data. And as we all know, in today’s world, data is power.”

“What’s more, marketplaces use data-driven insights about certain products to ultimately produce and sell them themselves. So businesses are essentially caught between a rock and a hard place. Doing what Nike did—bidding farewell to Amazon and building its own digital marketplace—requires an incredibly strong brand identity.” 

During these unprecedented times, every company is facing different challenges. But what all businesses have in common is that e-commerce has become a top priority for them. “It’s a pressing discussion point in every boardroom these days: How can we improve our digital commerce offering? The steps that companies take now will determine their future. Current times will decide who wins and who fails. Businesses that don’t anticipate the changing needs of customers, and therefore lose market share to competitors, won’t easily recover.” 

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"Companies face a difficult choice: team up with an existing marketplace that’s already successful or build one themselves instead? [...] That's more traffic, but the downside [...] is that you have less control over the customer experience and limited access to data. And as we all know, in today’s world, data is power."

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A Starbucks success story

Several companies have modeled future-proof e-commerce for the rest of us. Starbucks immediately pops into Olmez’s mind thanks to its incredibly successful loyalty app, Starbucks Rewards. The program counts 20 million (!) members worldwide and has unlocked a mass of client data.

In 2019, it generated an impressive 40 percent of all of Starbucks’ transactions in the United States. Leveraging promotions that reach consumers at just the right time and are fully tailored to their needs, the loyalty app has shown just how lucrative data can be if exploited appropriately. Another spark of Starbucks Rewards brilliance was the addition of gamification elements to the loyalty program. By collecting points with every purchase, consumers are incentivized to buy even more. It clearly works like a charm.”  

Zalando’s outfit recommendation tool is another shining example of e-commerce success. Gone are the days when consumers would have to browse through endless categories to find fashion that appeals. Conveniently, the tool uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to suggest a full outfit that suits the customer’s taste perfectly. Last but not least, a list of innovative digital businesses would be incomplete without a Netflix mention. “Simply because there are few companies out there that understand how to offer relevant content quite like Netflix does,” says Olmez with a smile. 

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Dutch companies suffering from ‘analysis paralysis’

Because that’s the crux of it, really: hyper-personalized, hyper-relevant content is key. “It’s never been more important to reach your target audience with the right message at the right time. The only way to do that effectively is to use client data intelligently.”

Why are Dutch companies lagging behind the likes of Starbucks and Zalando? Olmez says it’s a typical case of ‘analysis paralysis’. “Companies are holding back until they have set up the perfect situation. They shouldn’t delay. There is no such thing as a perfect situation. Rather than waiting until they’re ready to start big, businesses need to hit the ground running with a small use case. They can then learn from clients’ feedback and adopt an agile and scalable approach to growth. After all, your clients are your best guides.” 

If Olmez’s advice to companies was summarized in three words, they would be, “Go, go, go!” “Dissect your e-commerce strategy and ensure that the customer experience is prioritized throughout the whole organization and all operations. Today, e-commerce is about so much more than just an online store. Modern consumers want a full brand experience. It matters less whether that experience is offered via social commerce, in-the-moment e-commerce or through digital marketplaces.” “

We know that Dutch companies still have a lot of ground to gain. And that they need to act quickly, too. Because what applies to companies also holds true for our country: if we don’t step up our digital game, we’ll find ourselves left in the dust.” 

Want to know more about what's hot in e-commerce? Feel free to contact Mehmet for a personal conversation.

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Mehmet Olmez is Managing Director at Accenture Interactive.

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Mehmet Olmez

Managing Director Interactive, Commerce Lead EALA

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