The eCommerce world is a whirlwind of constant change, and we’re no strangers to that reality. As things continue to move at lightning speed, it has become more crucial than ever for businesses to get up close and personal with their customers to truly listen to their needs. It is more evident that in today’s world, there’s no time for presumption. By really understanding what makes customers tick, what their needs are and by listening to their pain points, businesses can unlock a world of opportunities and set a solid foundation for moving alongside future emerging trends.
To shed light and share insights on this, we had the opportunity to speak with Mei Lee, a respected partner at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and a mastermind of forward-thinking within the industry. With over 20 years of experience working with and growing some of the world’s biggest brands such as Disney, Dyson, L’Oréal, Lazada, Adidas, Alibaba, Conde Nast, and many more.
In this interview, Mei speaks about some of the common challenges that eCommerce businesses face when trying to reach new customers. She shares valuable insights into the evolving consumer landscape and predicted future trends that businesses should keep a close eye on.
Aziza (Host): Are there any major changes or shifts in people or consumer behavior that you’re seeing now that may impact the future of eCommerce?
Mei Lee: I think that question can be answered depending on which part of the world we’re looking at. I think that since I have spent most of my career in the beginning in the US and then I moved to Asia, I traveled in Europe as well and being exposed to more of a global type of environment, I definitely notice a lot of different nuances in consumers in different parts of the world. If I focus on just Southeast Asia, for example, what I’m seeing in this region is extremely robust growth coming up for eCommerce. We don’t need to quote numbers, those are easy to find. But what I’m seeing here is that when it comes to eCommerce, the US is the most mature, Europe I would say is a bit more behind than the US, but Asia is far more advanced…in a different way. Taking China aside, if you look at Southeast Asia, the population is highly mobile. Everyone is actually very trained on eCommerce and comfortable with eCommerce. Being in countries like Singapore, cybersecurity is one of the top fields in Singapore. So, there’s a lot of emphasis on trust and safety and digital security. People generally trust buying online. I would say from a consumer perspective, there are definitely a lot of behavior changes pre-COVID, post-COVID. But in general, there is a general acceptance of eCommerce. That doesn’t mean that offline is going away. In fact, people are actually spending more time going offline shopping and spending time in malls and shops than online after COVID. So consumers are moving towards a place where they value flexibility, convenience, and transparency. We’re no longer in a world where it’s a black box, where things don’t integrate and talk to each other. We’re going into a world where everything is definitely more integrated. You can’t have a single view of the customer. You can’t have a single view of the journey. You can’t have a single view of the entire business, online, offline. Businesses need to cater to consumers who are multi-dimensional, multi-channel, and also have complex expectations.
Aziza: Yes, the complexity in it. I think that’s what’s so interesting because when you’re looking at businesses, brands who aim to target this new wave of customers… We’ve got different needs at this time, the flexibility, the convenience, the trust, and not allowing anyone to presume that they know our needs better than us. Have you seen any common mistakes that are made when businesses are trying to reach new customers, and what kind of advice would you offer in light of those mistakes? Mistakes may not be the right word.
Mei: So, maybe instead of calling them mistakes, we can say, what are some tactics and strategies that companies are using to really be a step ahead of the consumer. As a marketer looking at what other companies are doing, generally speaking, I would say that the best marketers and the best companies out there are actually investing time in consumer insights. They are not defaulting to the general demographic and audience data. They are harnessing their first-party data and going many layers deeper. They’re thinking through the entire customer experience and how it matches with the marketing funnel and journey and how it actually intersects with the different types of platforms a consumer may actually be on throughout this journey. They’re thinking through it a lot more strategically, and all of their decisions and marketing strategies are informed by insights and data. I would say that’s closer to best in class, and of course, the ones that are not are the ones that have a lot more work to do. I would say, kind of to your point earlier, consumers now are so complex, they are everywhere, and we are no longer in a world where consumers have a linear path to purchase. We’re no longer in a world where consumers have single-layer expectations, etc. There are multiple levels of complexities, and sometimes consumers want it all. So how do you actually cut through the noise and get to the heart of what consumers want? How do you get the right set of consumers who are actually supportive and loyal to your brand? I think that’s the hardest challenge for marketers today, even though we have tons of data, we have tons of tools, and we have lots of personalization. It’s almost like we have to go back to the basics because things have gotten too complicated and too crowded. So we need to actually add some filtering to really get the noise out and go back to the basics of what we know, what we’re truly working with in terms of consumer mindset, consumer needs. Who is this person, and why would they actually care about my brand or my product?
Aziza: It’s almost making a full circle in this conversation because maybe there’s some value in marketers and businesses taking the time to reflect, ultimately, as a whole, taking the time to step back, reflect, understand their values as a company, as a business, and look at what they want to go after, the dream that they have for reaching new customers. It’s kind of pulling all of that in and allowing themselves that time.
Mei: Exactly! I think that a mistake that a lot of companies make is really just going through the daily grind. Just writing a bunch of campaigns, churning out a bunch of dashboards, turning out a bunch of reports. I’m looking at so many different metrics like customer lifetime value, CTR, conversion rate, add-to-cart rate, all those metrics. At the end of the day, they’re just metrics. If you purely look at those, they’re great as indicators, but they will not tell you more than simply past actions. So I think there’s a huge opportunity, as you said, for companies to take a step back, reflect on truly which stage of need they are serving the consumers, and how to actually meet those needs in a way that is beyond transactional campaigns and just checking the box on the metrics.
Aziza: Are there any emerging trends that you are looking at now for the future?
Mei: Yeah, so this is my personal opinion because these are my personal interests. The first emerging trend is the marriage of marketing and AI. This is a trend that I actually started looking into five years ago. In fact, I even applied to a PhD program with the thesis of leveraging AI to solve the future of marketing. That was something that I already put my bet on five years ago, so that will continue to be a bet that I will make in the future. I think the way that marketing has been done and how it’s done with technology today has been fantastic. It has gotten a lot of businesses to where they are today and pushed the gap between brands and consumers. But I think in the next decade, AI will definitely change how marketing is done fundamentally and what it even means and how to do responsible marketing with AI in a way that is not invasive. So that’s something that I find super fascinating, and it is something I’m definitely going to continue to pay a lot of attention to as a trend and as a topic to learn more about.
The second trend that I am super interested in is around consumer behavior and consumer activities across borders. I think that a lot of us are focused on selling within our own borders. So if I’m selling something, I focus on selling in my country or in my region. But I think in the future, there will be a lot of activities and cross-border commerce between us, Southeast Asia, Asia, Middle East, etc., to bring the world together through commerce. So a lot of the trends that we see in Asia, I expect will get exported out to the US, and a lot of innovations that come from Southeast Asia, I also expect to leave Southeast Asia and continue to grow and make an impact outside of SE into other countries. So I think there will be a lot of cross-border activities and innovations happening, and that’s something that I’m really excited about.
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