Digital Solutions

Ruwandi Perera hopes a socially distanced holiday will be digitally rewarding this season

It’s been quite a year… and to plan for the holidays seems risky – because who needs another cancellation? We’ve been deprived of the human touch, literally; yet, 2020 has witnessed the rise of digital technology, which has touched everyone from CEOs of multinational to grandparents.

For a nation of risk averse traditionalists, many of whom preferred to stay in line to pay their bills rather than opting for digital bank transfers, Sri Lanka has come a long way in a span of 10 months. People are going online to shop for groceries, pay bills, channel doctors and browse the net for instructions on how to colour their hair or even bake a cake.

So it is unsurprising that many are turning to digital retail, which could be among the highlights of the month.

Several digital gurus and online retail specialists have identified e-commerce trends and consumer behaviour patterns that will take centre stage in December. Globally, consumers may not be looking to spend as much as they did in past years but there isenthusiasm for online shopping.

With months of practice, consumers are looking at multichannel online purchase options on websites, e-commerce platforms and social media channels. As more shoppers actively search for goods in cyberspace, retailers are upping their game with updated websites, digital coupons and promotions, price slashes, customised offerings and fast turnaround times.

Consumers are displaying interest in mobile shopping given its convenience and ease of browsing. Although there’s a trend of people reverting to browsing on desktops – mainly due to working from home (WFH) – the number of purchases through mobile commerce is on the rise.

While the thrill of shopping and joys of endlessly wandering around malls may not exist online, the advantages for customers are numerous when shopping digitally. With easy access to shopper reviews, price comparisons and 3D or video displays of items, the selection phase of online shopping is relatively easy and more rewarding.

Given the added benefit of safety, not having to travel and seamless payment options, in addition to the ability to avoid over-shopping or opting for unwanted impulse items, consumers are in for a win-win scenario.

The downside mainly stems from unstable internet connections and occasional loading errors; but for the most part, consumers appear more satisfied with online purchasing.

Consumers who engaged in holiday shopping overseas will switch to Amazon or eBay, or local suppliers and small-scale home-based business ventures. With many shoppers wanting to feel good about their purchases and uplift local businesses, there is a trend for holiday shopping to include Sri Lankan made gifts.

Charity will also be made easy this December thanks to digital platforms and collaborative spaces. Campaigns to help less fortunate groups and worthy causes would attract more donations, thanks to increased reach and easy transfer of funds no matter how small or large.

From the outset, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of digital technologies along with the need for digital enablement. In the case of online shopping, this translates into the efficiencies of last mile delivery.

The main challenge for online retailers is ensuring product availability and timely deliveries. Out of stock products and delayed shipping often cause dissatisfaction that’s more severe and damaging than not maintaining a digital portfolio.

When it comes to holiday shopping, delayed gifts are a no-no. With delivery firms expected to exceed capacity this month, retailers must be prepared to ensure seamless transactions and on time deliveries if they are to pursue e-commerce – and succeed.

For consumers, this means having to shop early and avoid last-minute gift giving unless you are ready to settle for grocery gifts, which would be risky if you’re planning an eleventh hour shopping spree.

December is a month of getting together with friends and family – another aspect that’s been taken over by digital communications in the guise of video-conferencing.

With people unable to travel, there will be many virtual meet ups and internet parties where instead of gathering around the dining table, friends and family will converge on digital platforms to spend time together.

Virtual carol services, digital lighting up of Christmas trees, more home delivered goodies over restaurant dining and video-conferencing – all you may need this Christmas is more data.

So swap that mistletoe for sanitizer and hang up your holiday masks because it’s going to be a socially distanced Christmas and countdown to 2021!