‘Commerce anarchy’: what is it and how can retailers overcome it?

With consumer demands increasing by a factor of 10 during the pandemic, new challenges have arisen, including monitoring and maintaining stock levels. So what’s the answer?


Thomas Kasemir, Chief Product Officer at Productsup, investigates how retailers large and small can tackle these issues, and stay relevant to consumer needs…

Modern retail is becoming increasingly complex, consisting of multiple social channels, marketplaces, and product data sources. With so much to manage at once, and limited resources with which to do it, it can be tough to stay on top of everything while remaining relevant and competitive online. 

Retailers are required to almost constantly reinvent themselves in order to remain on top of modern e-commerce trends, and this is causing an industry-wide struggle known as ‘commerce anarchy’ – the challenges faced by retailers when trying to meet high consumer demands (which increased tenfold due to the pandemic). Key issues include inaccurate stock levels, which have been worsened by supply chain problems and the struggle to adapt to a synchronised in-store/online split.

What can retailers do to combat this issue?

Market leaders such as Amazon have dominated the online space with continued success over the years. Given its robust product offerings and accurate product data, Amazon is able to overcome commerce anarchy and avoid the common pitfalls of smaller retailers by sticking to its tried and tested omnichannel approach. 

Therefore, one method to avoid commerce anarchy is to try to replicate Amazon’s omnichannel successes with accurate data proof points and insights to ensure that smaller retailers are able to improve their user experience. In turn, this will lead to more sales and much more positive and authentic reviews, driving new business.

Commerce anarchy has been rife recently, with serious supply chain issues owing to labour shortages affecting several high-profile retailers – and this has had a knock-on effect on the wider e-commerce chain. Even global fast-food chain McDonald’s suffered recently, having to remove its milkshakes from menus across England, Scotland and Wales due to supply chain issues. 

This illustrates vividly that commerce anarchy is not a problem limited to SMEs or MMEs – even global brands face these industry-wide issues. For many customers, it can be frustrating when there is a disconnect between a product being advertised as available and their inability to purchase it. So, what can retailers do to avoid these hiccups in future?

The best way to avoid this issue – even when faced with supply chain difficulties – is to ensure that product data is constantly updated in real-time, setting customer expectations and ensuring that product data is synced across in-store and online systems. Recently, companies large and small, including many heritage brands, have taken note of this issue; dedicated platforms exist to help online retailers manage the product information value chain, and should be taken advantage of so as to avoid the dangers of commerce anarchy.

How can heritage brands compete with newer online retailers?

Boots’ recent move into the speedy delivery market with Deliveroo says a lot about the way in which the retail world is changing to meet increased consumer demand. Brands, retailers, and service providers all share a simple, common goal: delivering compelling offers to buyers; meaning the ability to deliver goods and services to customers across multiple platforms is now more important than ever. 

Many retailers are seeking to combat commerce anarchy by venturing into new areas of e-commerce – and it’s the brave and innovative firms like Boots and its trial of on-demand delivery services that will remain competitive in the long run. That said, jumping on the Deliveroo bandwagon might not necessarily mean instant success for Boots. 

Navigating a new mode of delivery presents its own challenges, so it’s essential that the pharmacy chain pays close attention to the common pitfalls of commerce anarchy, both internal: data, visibility and cost escalation; and external: channel proliferation, competition and regulations. 

It’s clear that many retailers are turning their attention to fine-tuning their product offerings across in-store and online – a crucial step to overcoming commerce anarchy. Boots’ move shows that traditional retailers are open to changing and adapting their business models to meet the high demands of consumers as a result of the pandemic. This move will enable the company to compete with the likes of Amazon, increasing consumer interest and putting it at the forefront of speedy cosmetics delivery. 

Similarly, when GAP closed down all of its physical stores in the UK, it acquired an e-commerce startup to allow customers to virtually try on its garments instead. By enabling the use of augmented reality (AR) to try on clothes, GAP has reinvented itself and will greatly reduce the time and costs involved with consumer returns, while also improving its holistic user experience online. 

The physical high street is changing and heritage brands are taking note. With consumer expectations extremely high, coming up with new ways to better engage with buyers and overcome the disconnect often seen when operating both in-store and online, will enable heritage retailers to navigate the pitfalls of commerce anarchy.

What does the future of commerce anarchy look like?

The pandemic has really illustrated how businesses large and small are confronted with commerce anarchy: data insights, omnichannel integrations and channel proliferation are things that all vendors must conquer in order to remain relevant and competitive. The fact that heritage brands are recognising the value of the online experience demonstrates what a crucial issue commerce anarchy is. 

As we look towards the future of the high street, the key to remaining relevant will be to ensure that vendors can continue to match consumer expectations as big e-commerce players have done throughout the course of the pandemic.

By Thomas Kasemir

Chief Product Officer