Alongside new technologies come new eCommerce trends. These trends cover the way in which the eCommerce ecosystem is evolving, as well as the way in which it is impacting the real world experience consumers have when they visit a retailer in-store. Before going into detail on each, here are the ten biggest eCommerce trends to stay on top of in 2018:
- Research Online, Purchase Offline
- AI Insights
- Growing Importance of Physical Experience
- The Rise of Mobile Checkout
- B2B eCommerce
- Voice Search
- Photo Shopping
- Augmented Reality
- Amazon’s Continued Growth
- Decline of the Internet Browser
As consumers are changing the way they discover and purchase products, retailers need to integrate eCommerce into their marketing strategies to drive both online and in-store sales.
1. Research Online, Buy Offline
Retailers are now able to more accurately measure how their digital efforts are translating into sales. The ROI of digital ads has been fairly vague in the past, but the new ROBO (Research online, buy offline) model is much more reliable. The tools available through ROBO combine:
- Mobile devices.
- Social media.
- Real-time inventory.
- Advanced analytics tools.
- Geolocation/mobile tracking.
- ERP, CRM and POS systems.
With these, retailers can track which ads led consumers to visit in-store. For example, Matalan used ROPO to discover that every £1 spent on AdWords translated to £46 in sales (£31 of which were in-store).
2. AI Insights
Marketers are always trying to more closely define their target audiences, and Artificial Intelligence is helping with this. The idea of marketing to an entire generation is becoming more distant, as AI allows marketers to understand consumers on a nearly 1:1 basis.
Retailers’ strategies will shift away from marketing to large, pre-defined groups such as “Millennials”, and start to utilise AI to target on a much more refined basis.
Overall, this will create a much more personal experience for consumers, allowing big brands to connect with individual consumers in the way that SMEs are able to. The positive brand experience a consumer has when a shopkeeper remembers their name can now be achieved by multinational corporations.
Netflix, for example, has moved away from geographic segmentation, instead deciding to divide its users into “taste communities“, in which users display similar viewing preferences.
3. Growing Importance of Physical Experience
The ways in which brands interact with customers, in physical, on-site settings, are increasingly important. These experiences are changing to prioritise the digital, combining:
- In-store experiences.
- Product demos.
Pureplay merchants are able to utilise the versatility and depth of online shopping but must understand the consumer’s desire to interact on a local, physical level. It has been found that Millenials actually prefer to visit a physical shop at some point in the buying journey. Rather than viewing online and physical as separate platforms, retailers are merging the two in new formats – primarily through digitally-focused in-store events.
The physical space is being treated as a way to improve customer experience, rather than as a place to actually sell merchandise. For example, Nordstrom’s 3,000 sq/foot store stocks no merchandise; instead it focuses on customer services and brand experiences such as tailoring.
By understanding that it is much easier to develop a positive brand identity in person, retailers are able to form a relationship with consumers, subsequently driving online sales further down the line.
4. The Rise of Mobile Checkout
For a long time, the checkout process was the biggest challenge mobile eCommerce faced, but it’s now becoming its greatest asset.
As technology has advanced, paying via mobile has become more and more simplified. Features such as fingerprint and facial recognition have seriously boosted the percentage of purchases made via mobile. The convenience of such features means that mobile checkout is likely to overtake desktop checkout as the consumer’s preferred method of purchasing.
For example, in 2017, 10% of Starbucks orders were made using their mobile Order & Pay app, with many stores being overwhelmed due to the popularity of the platform.
Moving forward, mobile checkout is starting to reinvent the physical shopping experience; Amazon is currently prototyping their “Amazon Go” store, in which customers can simply shop and walk out of the store, paying later via mobile.
5. B2B eCommerce
The B2B eCommerce sector is witnessing significant changes. The expectations of a B2B eCommerce customer are changing to more closely resemble the B2C sector, due to a number of factors:
- Decreasing average age of B2B buyers.
- Impact of mobile.
- Optimisation of eCommerce technology.
Functionality and seamlessness are becoming the priorities for B2B transactions, as customers are starting to discover products online as well, rather than from catalogues or through sales calls.
B2B retailers are drawing on the knowledge and experience of B2C retailers to put the customer at the heart of the buying experience; as a result, this is resulting in an overall increase in orders long-term partnerships.
6. Voice Search
Digital assistants are now familiar sights in homes. From checking the weather to building a shopping list, smart devices such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home are becoming more commonplace. ComScore projected that 50% of internet searches will be made through voice by 2020. Furthermore, research shows that voice searches are usually motivated by an intent to act, more so than text searches.
With this in mind, retailers are changing the way they communicate to more effectively reach their consumers. We’ve written a full post on how marketers can optimise their SEO strategy for voice search here.
One of the biggest challenges within eCommerce is relaying in-depth product information in simpler terms to optimise it for voice search.
The role of voice search in eCommerce is only going to grow, as more and more agreements are being struck between huge corporations and the makes of digital assistants.
7. Photo Shopping
No, we’re not talking about the Adobe software. As well as voice search, many consumers are using image-based search to discover new products.
It is becoming standard for mobile devices to utilise image analysis automation, meaning that consumers are able to take a picture of a product, and then use this to find it online, or find a similar product.
This opens new doors for retailers, as it removes several barriers between merchant and consumer. Implementing photo shopping compatibility will soon become commonplace in digital strategies. This will allow retailers to really focus on the quality and number of images they produce, allowing them to reach new markets. One huge advantage to this is that language is no longer a barrier, allowing retailers to expand their reach internationally. Another key benefit is that the product can be discovered without its name being known.
As with voice searching, consumers who discover a product through image-based search are far more likely to act on their discovery.
8. Augmented Reality
Augmented Reality (AR) is developing at an astonishing rate and is being utilised by retailers to allow consumers to visualise products in context before purchasing. This is particularly relevant for homeware products. This technology takes out the guesswork for the consumer, as they can actually see what a product looks like in their home. This is helpful for smaller items, such as kitchenware, as consumers can see whether products fit with the aesthetic they’ve already established, and how much room it would take up.
However, where this really benefits the retailer is in larger products, such as bathtubs, fridges, etc. Being reassured that these larger products are right for the consumer’s home before purchasing is leading to more sales and an overall better brand experience. In the past, consumers may be put off from purchasing these items in case they didn’t fit in with the rest of the home. Not only are these products more expensive, but the delivery/returns process can be unnecessarily stressful, creating a negative brand experience.
There are already over 1,000 apps with AR features, and companies such as IKEA are developing their own, to allow consumers to experiment with their products and see what they would like in context. One of the most popular AR apps, Houzz, reports that its users were “11 times more likely to purchase and spent 2.7 times more time in the app”.
9. Amazon’s Continued Growth
It should come as no surprise that eCommerce giant Amazon is continuing to expand, and should be a serious element in every eCommerce business plan. Significantly, Amazon is growing as one of the leaders in online advertising, behind only Google and Facebook. Many merchants sell exclusively through Amazon, and new advertising infrastructures are constantly in development. Brands are required to consider SEO for within the eCommerce platform itself, as the competition to rank on the site continues to grow.
As mentioned, Amazon is trialling “Amazon Go”, and is developing a serious physical presence, implementing hundreds of stores to create a new customer experience. This was boosted by the company’s acquisition of Whole Foods Markets, which also catapulted Amazon into the grocery/food sector.
In terms of statistics, 55% of Americans begin their product searches on Amazon, whose sales represent 44% of all eCommerce sales in the US; in second place is eBay with a comparatively small 7%.
10. Decline of the Internet Browser
Many of the factors listed above are geared towards improving the experience for the consumer during the eCommerce process. However, as a result of these new technologies, the need for the internet browser in this process is diminishing. Of all the eCommerce trends, this one is probably the most significant for retailers, but will be the least noticeable for consumers.
The rise of mobile apps, voice and image searching and AR interfaces means the browser will no longer be the first point of call for consumers searching for a product online. This is mainly due to the increased convenience the other methods provide.
This is a significant change in the consumer journey, and retailers will need to understand that their products are being discovered in new ways. Overall, this change will be a positive one, resulting in a much more frictionless means of transacting, with a more user-friendly journey from product discovery to purchase.