It would be easy to lay the blame on Covid 19, but it’s more accurate to say that consumers have changed their purchasing habits from the weekly shopping visit to online shopping over the past few years.
Consumer behavior over all ages has adjusted from wariness to almost complete acceptance of online stores and ecommerce websites, including the ability to do a voice search on a smart speaker.
Looking at the rapid growth of virtual stores, estimated at between 12 and 24 million, it’s still moving forward, evolving, with new advanced technology that will attract even more consumers.
Physical stores that haven’t considered the ecommerce industry will simply disappear in time. Contactless and international, it shows how consumer demands are changing, and it just keeps gaining popularity.
Let’s take a look at the future of ecommerce trends that will make life easier for both businesses and their target audience, with my top five and an honorable mention.
AR and VR (augmented reality and virtual reality)
Let’s face it, most people would prefer to physically check out an item before purchasing it, by going to brick and mortar stores.
One of the biggest drawbacks of online shopping is the inability to try on the clothes, check out the coffee table or see how new artwork would look on the wall.
How many purchases did not live up to the description on the online store and were returned?
Immersive technologies such as VR and AR allow online stores the chance to show a three dimensional view of a product.
Virtual reality will allow the consumer to look all around the product from different angles. Augmented reality will be able to show the customer what a jacket or dress looks like when it’s worn.
An online shopping experience such as this is a huge plus for growing customer loyalty to a product or brand.
When a survey says that over 70% of consumers would be more inclined to use an online store with virtual reality technology, it shows that ecommerce businesses need to offer this option.
Augmented reality, in its junior stage of development, will be able to offer a totally new shopping experience as it matures and finds its way into the mainstream.
It won’t just be for big business either, as smaller companies will see the potential and get on board. And AR will help reduce the return rate, the ‘not what i expected’ experience.
The popular store Ikea has an augmented reality app for consumers to view how new pieces of furniture will look like in their place, removing the need to drive to a store.
Mind you, their meatballs are worth the drive!
Big data and personalisation
Data collection isn’t new, it’s been going on for many years, but the future of data harvesting will form two distinct groups of consumers, those who share data and those who don’t.
Analytics help ecommerce companies respond to positive and negative aspects of their products, and they get a lot of data from feedback and reviews.
In addition, they can learn about consumer habits and provide a better, more personalized shopping experience to improve customer acquisition, as well as finding out what products on online channels are considered valuable.
Data science is very useful for finding hidden patterns in purchasing and helping businesses make decisions about content marketing and sales channels.
Following social media channels like Twitter and Facebook about particular products and companies can uncover meaningful information about sentiment, trends and demographics, all important aspects of marketing.
McDonalds uses its big data analytics on waiting times, menu orders and sizes with the intent of constantly improving operations and strengthening customer retention throughout its vast empire.
Regulations about Data collection
Europeans have the General Data Protection Regulation that controls the amount of data a person wishes to reveal, and US companies that do business in the EU must comply with the regulation.
In some cases, US websites who have not complied with the GDPR will have a static page that explains why the EU user cannot browse the site.
Europeans are somewhat reluctant to share personal data around the ecommerce landscape, while, on the other hand, people from the UK don’t seem to mind too much and are more than willing to share their data..
So, in short, companies will use their big data to create more personalised services to sharing consumers, for example suggestions on products found on search engines.
Trust is a big part of sharing personal data. Although many are concerned about how retailers use their data, they would be quite willing to share it with a company or brand they trust.
For many, it will be a pleasant experience to feel connected to a particular brand but for some, it will feel like an invasion of privacy.
Subsequently, content marketing strategists are in two minds as to how big data will affect the personal touch that companies are striving to achieve to retain customers.
Eventually, it will come down to consumer choice as to whether they align themselves to brands for a unique shopping experience or choose different online marketplaces.
Remember the late night TV shows like Home Shopping Network and QVC? Call now to get free extra bits!
Well, it’s gone digital with video and live shopping. We’re talking about a social commerce event where a presenter livestreams selected products to an online audience, who, in turn, can interact with the presenter and also make online purchases.
Various payment options are available, with major retailers and brands investing in this type of online business are finding their sales doubling or tripling over the average.
Instagram live, Tik Tok and Amazon live are just three of these social media platforms, and more are starting up. Major brands are signing up famous names, celebrities and influencers to present and sell their products on video platforms.
The groups of people who have grown up with online shopping have taken to livestream easily, and the US market share is predicted to be around $25 billion by next year, according to research by Coresight.
TalkShop.live is being used by numerous celebrities, such as Dolly Parton and Matthew McConaughey, to sell their branded products and books, and the checkout rating is well above the average conversion. It is proving to be one of the biggest trends in digital commerce.
Unfortunately it is blocked for EU customers, maybe due to the data regulations above! But for US consumers, even if you miss an event, it will be available to watch in your own time with the added ‘purchasing tabs’.
Not limited to big names and influencers, there are several free livestream shopping platforms available for small business owners and individuals who are adept at digital marketing.
What was originally a platform for clothing, fashion and kitchen aids has grown to all sorts of products, from baseball cards to watches, artwork, comics and way more, with its social connections and interaction with the presenters and online retailers.
I recently had the dubious pleasure of calling my bank to update some details, and was put in the usual holding pattern for a few seconds, when on came a perfectly clear voice who asked if he could help me.
It was only after the second question that I realized ‘he’ was a chatbot.
The giveaway was the slight delay in the response. I was absolutely amazed.
I would have been quite happy to have the chatbot engage in more conversation, but after a few questions and answers I was redirected to a human intervention.
Talk about a downer. I was actually disappointed.
Chatbots are not new, but the technological advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing in the ecommerce industry are astonishing.
They are becoming a powerful tool for building customer relationships, to reach new consumers and interact with them intelligently.
More than half of people polled said they were more than satisfied with the overall experience.
The customer experience (CX) is something that businesses try to improve with each new iteration of chatbot technology.
At the moment, the main focus for chatbots is to address customers quickly and try to direct them to the correct department or agent for completion, cutting resolution time.
In the future, it is possible that machine learning chatbots will be able to provide over 75% of answers to most queries.
This will allow customers to make reservations in restaurants or make booking a complicated multi-trip flight easy, offering an unrivaled shopping experience.
The industries that presently benefit from the use of chatbots are finance, healthcare and travel.
Chatbots save these industries up to 50% in support staff costs and allow key workers to concentrate on more specific tasks.
There are downsides of course, particularly involving strong accents, but that is the same for human interaction as well. Mainly, the problem is misunderstanding requests.
However, normal conversations are easily handled, and the chatbot can learn the intent of the customer with artificial intelligence and machine learning.
I can see chatbots becoming more like personal assistants in the future, to help customers find their way through an online store, and even suggest products related to their shopping patterns.
More companies will adopt this line of assistance, adding to the customer experience and drive sales, instead of using chatbots solely as first responders to telephone calls.
Personally, I would be quite happy to speak to a chatbot if I had a problem or complaint, or even buying an item (not an expensive one – real human please).
Mobile commerce is simply any transaction completed using a smartphone or tablet. With 24/7 internet access and complete portability, users are able to shop, buy and pay on the go.
Mobile phones are now the most important devices that Gen Z and Millennials carry, and these two groups are mostly responsible for driving ecommerce sales.
Not only them, but Generation Alpha, born after 2010, are responsible for shaping social media channels and have more purchasing power than you might expect.
They are rapidly becoming the new influencers and consumers in the digital world and are a huge customer base.
As Gen Alpha is starting out in the middle of the ecommerce business, their customer lifetime value will be considerably longer than older online shoppers, bringing additional profit to those businesses they support.
Most shoppers use apps to buy online instead of visiting a website. In other words, they tend to avoid using browsers, and go straight to the app.
Many e commerce sites have not yet optimized their websites for mobile, and because of this they are missing out on a huge chance to attract new customers and increase sales.
They seem to rely mostly on social media, where advertising costs are getting increasingly expensive.
The value of having a good mobile presence cannot be underestimated. There are two ways to approach it, a native app and a progressive web app.
Building a native app is time consuming and relatively costly, as it needs to be built and developed from the ground up and needs to meet customer demands.
The development team can use Flutter for example, Google’s open source kit that works seamlessly with both Android and iOS platforms, or a combination of languages for each.
The app then needs to be submitted to the Play store and App store to get approval for listing, and in fact can be rejected if the app does not fit into the store’s culture.
If online communities embrace it, it will open up new marketing channels for the business and potentially drive ecommerce sales.
Progressive web apps (PWA)
These apps are designed to run inside a browser on a smartphone, not a separate app, but they appear similar.
They are cheaper and faster to build because they work on both of the major smartphone platforms without any bother.
Because they are browser-based and not standalone, the PWAs can use App store optimization to help people find them easier, and also use SEO strategies to increase performance and engagement.
Therefore, visibility is much greater than that of a native app in the initial stages.
They do not have to go through the authorisation and approval processes in the Stores as they are completely separate.
They are also much faster at loading on the screen, and can be used offline, by using background processing and caching.
At the present moment, PWAs lack several features that Native apps do well. They cannot use geofencing, where push notifications are sent to users if they are within a digital boundary.
PWAs are not able to interact with other phone apps, such as the calendar, making calls, and screen lock to name a few.
There is more security in Native apps, which are able to implement many features such as multi factor authentication.
PWAs have the https protocol, which is perfectly good but unable to add other security extras.
Try one and build the other
Due to the speed of delivery and cost, it makes a fair bit of sense to go for a PWA first of all, to get the information and the products out there in the ecommerce market.
Once it has proved itself and has attracted attention and income from the consumers, maybe it would be a good idea to go native and develop a unique app for the ecommerce world.
Back to Mcommerce
Coming back to Mcommerce, one of the difficulties many people have is using the tiny keyboard. I really don’t understand how youngsters can type so quickly and accurately!
I frequently make mistakes with messaging apps, which is not so bad, but it would be catastrophic if I made a payment to the wrong address.
There are two solutions that are or will be available to people with chunky thumbs like me.
Alexa’s voice search function has been around for a while, and I’m sure it’s a very good service for purchasing on Amazon, but voice commerce and voice technology will grow to allow any e commerce site who wishes to implement it.
Tied to a courier service for ease of dispatch, for instance, a consumer will be able to do a search, choose and view a product, buy it with a variety of payment options, and have it delivered to their home, without any human interaction.
One click shopping
Once again, perfected by Amazon, one click shopping will be a real plus for Mcommerce, and will grow in the market to provide top quality services using different channels.
To avoid using the smartphone keypad, consumers can go to their preferred virtual stores on a desktop PC, laptop or tablet, make a purchase and fill out their details. Larger keyboards and screens mean fewer mistakes.
With all the details stored in a secure location, online shoppers can simply search and shop on their smartphones.
With one press of a button they will be able to make a purchase, from anywhere and at any time, offering an unrivaled shopping experience.
Of course, this all adds to the huge amount of data already held by the e commerce businesses.
Honorable mention for going green
More and more businesses are focusing on eco-friendly products and packaging in the physical world, and therefore this focus needs to be transferred to the e commerce market.
Consider the many companies that promote their sustainability online, due to current events and climate change, and they are getting a lot of good PR out of it, reacting to customer needs.
Gen Z again
Gen Z’ers are pushing the boundaries by choosing refurbished goods over new, such as clothing and furniture, that can be purchased on social media platforms and websites such as Etsy.
They check the shipping distances to minimize environmental impact, and recycle as much as they can.
For them, it’s not about saving money, but looking after the environment and community building, and they appreciate brands who exceed the minimum legal requirements of e commerce.
Using biodegradable or reusable packaging, reduced shipping distances with a shorter supply chain and sponsoring eco-friendly and sustainable projects will strengthen customer loyalty.
While none of the trends listed above are new, they are all in stages of massive growth that will be with us for a number of years, making our lives easier, healthier and more positive about the ecommerce world.
Generation Alpha takes the ecommerce market for granted, as it is all they have ever known. However, it is still sometimes looked upon with mild disbelief by older consumers, and perhaps a little caution.
But all the surveys and polls seem to indicate that people in general are getting used to the abundance of ecommerce stores available online, and in turn, will drive the technology further forward by consumer demand.
Customer loyalty to brands will increase the levels of personalized shopping, and major retailers will benefit from using AR and VR online shopping.
Other smaller ecommerce stores will try out different sales channels like live-streaming videos to push their products, and more online stores will use chatbots to guide customers and help with purchases.
Ecommerce businesses will make their websites more mobile friendly, and attract more organic traffic.
Physical stores must branch out into the ecommerce market as soon as possible in order to survive the next decade.
With the huge choices online, it’s a grim prospect for a physical store, and they cannot compete with prices offered by online stores.
I really don’t have the ability to imagine what the next big thing in the future will be, but businesses should focus on what the consumers need against what they already have.
For customers, there’s always more to come. That’s the future of ecommerce.