Commerce anarchy has descended on the retail world – but it needn’t be here to stay

Marcel Hollerbach, Chief Innovation Officer, Productsup


In a changing retail landscape, mistakes can be costly

A sportswear giant uses Greek-style lettering to spell out the name of its brand, only to be widely ridiculed for using the wrong letters. A major sports and outdoors shop is fined for using incorrect warning labels on its products. An online fashion retailer mails out clothing many sizes too big, enraging shoppers and receiving mockery on social media.

Occasionally, mistakes such as these are to be expected. Consumers know that not every purchasing journey will be a smooth one. But these days, the mistakes are increasing, and shoppers are losing their cool.

It’s hardly surprising. Consumers in the UK, for instance, spent an average of £3,250 each on online shopping last year. Yet failure to manage the complexities of such an economy – and, particularly, the product information value chains that link suppliers with customers – has resulted in chaos and growing frustration for brands and disappointment in shoppers. The situation is now so bad that some have labelled it commerce anarchy.

What is commerce anarchy?

When products were sold in brick-and-mortar stores, life was comparatively easy. Items would be sent from the manufacturers to the shops, buyers would browse the displays and purchases would be made. This process was mimicked when online shopping took off: a brand would have its own online platform, and within that space, visitors would go through a straightforward digital buying journey, purchasing products from digital shelves.

But the advent of multiple channels – Amazon, Instagram Shops and other aggregators and websites – with products from hundreds of different brands has changed all this. Customer experience programmes now have multiple channels. The creation of new paths between different elements of the browsing and buying process, as well as the various parties involved – not only brands and consumers but also service providers – has greatly complicated the online journey.

For instance, an item you sell might feature on your own website, as well as on Pinterest Shopping and any number of retail aggregator websites. In this fractured retail landscape, it becomes much harder to check the accuracy of the product information attached to each item, track how well it’s selling and measure other key data that brands need to configure their processes and deliver good customer journeys. In short, brands are losing insight into their metrics – control of their own products and, ultimately, the customer experience.

The knock-on effects of this are multiple. You waste time and money fixing myriad individual issues, and you start to become inefficient as product data is dispersed across different systems. Your margins drop, your reputation takes a hit and a once-loyal customer base fractures and starts to shift to brands who are equipped to deal with commerce anarchy and who can deliver better customer journeys.

What can be done?

The first thing to understand is that working to solve problems at a hyper-individual level – for instance, correcting wrong product information on a particular aggregator site – is inefficient and costly.

Technology such as Productsup that centralises this work – ensuring product information is consistent across multiple channels and geographies – is essential. So too is listening to customer feedback to better understand the points of friction and what is prompting them to leave your brand for others.

Unless you work on the fractured relationship between yourself and your customers by managing the various paths between product and buyer, this anarchic landscape will continue to reign. Fix it, however, and you can start to reclaim the space.


Visit productsup.com to learn more about commerce anarchy

© Business Reporter 2021

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