The year 2020 has been big for “un” words: unprecedented, unknown, unforgettable and (of course) unending.
Adore Me Vice President of Growth Labs Camille Kress noted in an On The Agenda conversation with PYMNTS CEO Karen Webster, PayPal Vice President of Global Pay Later Products Greg Lisiewski and BigCommerce Vice President of Payments Mark Rosales noted that in times that have become so radically uncertain overnight, the single most important thing brands have learned is to be resilient and adaptable. In a world where physical commerce went on hold eight months ago — and where there are still scores of known unknowns about what comes next — the brands that survive are the ones ready to pivot along with the environment.
“I think there are a lot of things that 2020 taught us for sure,” Kress said. “We learned resilient businesses were the ones that knew how to adapt to the new consumer needs [and] all the new commerce contexts. Those are the businesses that will still be around tomorrow and the year after that.”
It’s a sentiment the panel robustly agreed on, noting such firms learned to center the customer journey and focused their attention on what they could do to make the lives of their customers easier in such difficult times. And that change in focus among brands, BigCommerce’s Rosales noted, has changed consumers. They now expect a high level of personalization and are very likely to carry on in that expectation even when the wonderful day comes when COVID-19 is no longer a threat, but an unpleasant memory. They aren’t just looking for brands to connect with — but for brands to make those commerce experiences easier end-to-end, from finding the product they want to paying for it at the end.
What it points to, PayPal’s Lisiewski noted, is a digital shift well underway and gaining speed. And, if the data on the subject is to be considered, the shift is unlikely to reverse course anytime soon. It’s not that consumers will never return to stores; the panel unanimously agreed physical commerce will always have patrons. But, Lisiewski noted, the landscape that we emerge onto after the pandemic simply won’t be the same one we left behind.
“The continued adaptation of mobile payments combined with the flexibility [of] buy now, pay later-like offerings have really gained massive traction online in recent years,” Lisiewski said. “I think all of that will be the future of retail even as the pandemic comes to an end, something that hopefully happens sooner rather than later.”
Preparing For The Immediate Holiday Season Future
There have been trends in changing consumer patterns for the last six months of digitization, the panel agreed, that speak to just how changed the consumer base really will be going into the holiday shopping season. Buy now, pay later (BNPL) options have exploded in terms of merchant and consumer interest on the BigCommerce platform, according to Rosales. Adore Me, Kress said, has seen a rapid uptick in interest when it comes to its monthly curated subscription box program, which allows customers to try a selection of hand-picked items (chosen based on the consumer’s data profile) and only pay for those they choose to keep.
Both trends, Lisiewski noted, speak to a broader pattern on display during the pandemic — wherein consumers are looking for more ways to “spread out a dollar and manage their cash flow.”
That’s something panel members said they all believe will be an even more prominent feature of holiday season spending as it unfolds over the next several weeks. The pandemic has certainly caused an unspeakable amount of economic disruption this year, and that has taken a bite out of the customer’s budget and rightfully inspired some concern in merchants that consumers aren’t going to turn out to spend this year. But, Kress noted, while the situation is going to be complicated when it comes to holiday shopping and what consumers actually choose to do, people will still be looking for gifts.
“People want to feel better and enjoy at least a little bit of a nice, normal holiday season,” she said.
But, Rosales said, being ready to capture the customer during what will likely be a rather different holiday shopping season is going to require quite a bit of thinking differently when it comes to preparation. What BigCommerce is focusing on now, he said, is working behind the scenes with merchants to “make sure that we’re ready for any eventuality.”
Do they have a holiday campaign ready to promote cross-channel? Do they have BNPL options in place? Can they manage ad spend in a way to better reach their target audience? Are they using the apps in the BigCommerce marketplace to build a more holistic, elegant and attractive end-to-end experience for the consumer? Those are the questions the firm is asking to make sure its merchants are ready to start snapping up whatever conversions are there to be captured.
Because, Lisiewski noted, while there is much that we don’t know going into the holidays, we do know that right now what is driving a lot of behavior in the market is uncertainty about what comes next. It’s why consumers are saving more, it’s why BigCommerce is preparing merchants for every scenario it can imagine, it’s what is pushing people to pay off their credit card debt. What merchants can do, and what PayPal is pleased to help them accomplish, he said, is to figure out how much of that uncertainty they can take off their customers’ plates in a responsible way, as a comfortable consumer is also one likely to convert this holiday season.
A Glance Ahead To 2021
What will this all look like when the pandemic period is over for real? The panel agreed as a unit that they could not offer a rock-solid set of predictions — although they had some fairly strong guesses. Consumers will go back to stores, but the physical channel may never regain its dominance in the sector given the volume of consumers who’ve discovered they like their digital behavior patterns better than the old ones. BNPL options for consumers won’t be rare or something they have to seek out merchant-by-merchant when they shop, the panel agreed, because there will likely soon simply be a ubiquitous option at the point of sale.
“At the end of the day,” Lisiewski concluded, “the question is how to put the customer at the center of the experience. And you can do that if you work directly with consumers or as we do at PayPal, we can do it on both sides by helping make the lives of merchants’ easier by making it easier to convert sales. I think we’ll continue to see that grow as we are looking at 2021, at least at some point as the pandemic becomes something that is no more. That’s what I hope for as we enter 2021.”