eCommerce is a transforming landscape that is witnessing a phenomenal rise in popularity. Companies are focusing on expanding their digital outreach to help flourish the online retails. Simultaneously, businesses are shutting down their less-profitable branches or eradicating their physical presence, altogether, in favor of e-stores.
The shift from brick-and-mortar shops to online stores has been gradual but imminent. We can attribute myriad reasons to the scalability of the digital platform.
Firstly, online shopping allows customers to buy products and services from the comfort of their homes, without tackling the throngs of shoppers (or getting stuck in traffic) to reach your favorite shop or product. Consequently, 51% of Americans prefer to shop online, leading to an average e-commerce growth rate of 23% per annum.
Moreover, the ease of shopping via Omni-channels has made it immensely convenient for people to start their buying journey on one device and seamlessly, end on another. It is far simpler to launch a digital store and expedite your eCommerce branding efforts on social mediums. A notable social media presence also influences up to 56% of in-store purchases.
Above all, technological innovation has enabled web-stores to offer a personalized customer experience, which was previously only possible through direct interactions in physical stores.
Therefore, 2018 is anticipated to be another stellar year for the eCommerce market. Here is an eCommerce checklist of predicted trends, for 2018, as cited by the experts:
1. AI-powered chatbots
Customers often have queries and qualms about a particular product or service, which may inhibit them from making a purchase. Therefore, websites have started offering 24/7 customer support platforms that provide instant answers and solutions.
While chat boxes are quickly becoming a commodity on web-store, AI-optimized chatbots will be even smarter and more intuitive. The real-time engagements are expected to provide more perceptive answers to user inquiries, which will positively affect revenue generation and brand reputation.
In 2018 we’ll see more companies investing in chatbot services to automate part of their customer service process. The market for chatbots and automated customer service is growing. – James Gurd, The owner of Digital Juggler
He further quoted a Business Insider survey, which expected 80% of the businesses to implement chatbot automation to some extent by 2020.
Another study by LivePerson identified a more accepting attitude towards chatbots and a diminishing distrust of this live-action automation.
Out of 5,000 respondents, 38% rated their perception of bots as positive, 51% were neutral, while only 11% had a negative opinion. However, the statistics are far better than before, when consumers associated the use of chatbots by businesses as a means to cut costs.
2. Intuitive, highly personalized interactions
PepsiCo. was initially struggling with Mountain Dew sales. Hence, they designed an ad campaign featuring skateboarder, Paul Rodriguez and hip-hop artist, Lil’ Wayne that targeted youths between the ages of 18 to 24 in urban areas, and the rest is history.
However, with the advancement in AI software, retailers are set to offer an even more personalized approach to every facet of business transactions. With a deluge of data readily available, companies can provide extremely customized recommendations, introduce user-relevant marketing campaigns and approach the customers based on their behavior and expectations. Customization will not be limited to industry dominators, but even small and medium businesses can adopt it.
Jimmy Duvall, Chief Product Officer of BigCommerce, noted that customers are more likely to favor brands that offer more customer-centric services. These include everything from marketing to shipping to store policies.
In 2018, e-commerce will see much better 1:1 personalization. It’s going beyond just ‘recommended products’ based on everyone else’s buying habits, and instead, giving catered recommendations based on your individual preferences. – Willian Harris, E-commerce Expert from Elumynt
3. Customer-friendly shipping and return policies
With the exponential rise in eCommerce competition, fast shipping service is becoming one of the most prominent variables for a company’s reputation. Thus, retailers are scrambling to offer prompt deliveries to stay above or at least abreast with their competitors. Moreover, customers also want to enjoy their purchases within a couple of days and do not prefer waiting.
A recent study by Forrester shows that 30% of the customers will readily pay extra charges for same day delivery.
Experts believe that the rise in demand for faster and cheaper shipping is set to escalate this year as well. Similarly, consumers are also looking for flexible return policies because products may differ from the online images – resulting in unsatisfied customers.
Katie Smith, retail analysis and insights director of Edited, identified that since consumers expect quicker deliveries, convenient scheduling of time and easy return policies, retailers need to meet demands without compromising the quality of services.000
As a result, numerous eCommerce businesses have started establishing a large network of localized delivery centers to speed up the shipping process.
Also, clothing stores like H&M already offer lenient return policies where they allow consumers to return or exchange their online purchases in-store or by mail within 30 days.
4. Increased reliance on smart tech
By analyzing the past technological trends, it is evident that technology will continue to transform in the coming years as well. Moreover, users are also becoming exceedingly tech-savvy, regardless of age or background. The potent combination of advanced technology and smart users have opened new channels of communications and eased the entire online buying process.
According to Forbes, 40% of millennials already use voice commands to make purchases. The numbers are bound to rise this year as well and are expected to reach beyond 50% in 2020.
In addition to chatbots, and voice assistance, e-retailers can use AI to generate a more enhanced and personalized buying experience.
Virtual buying assistants are intelligent AI programs that understand the exact context of the sentence and offer advice accordingly.
They can utilize information from different sources such as CRM, social channels, and real-time insights to understand a customer’s position in the sales pipeline process as well as interests to suggest ideal products most likely to convert you.
James Gurd believes that while customer experience will not change dramatically this year, it will inevitably evolve. More people will integrate the emerging technologies in their buying process by using voice commands, chatbots, and personal assistants.
5. Continued engagement
Digital media marketing has morphed into an independent advertising platform, which has outpaced traditional marketing. It allows marketers to get creative and intuitive with their marketing campaigns to incur tremendous customer responses.
This year, e-commerce advertising will not only continue to be more resourceful but will also require increased investments to be more efficient.
Brands that find ways to continue to engage their audience outside of just purchase points will start to gain ground because those who don’t will find the expense of bringing people back too great to compete. – Erik Huberman, CEO of Hawkes Media
Therefore, companies should also focus on maintaining continuous interactions with the customers to retain them
Consequently, more brands will focus on producing the highest quality of content to remain relevant amongst the consumer base. Content marketing is most fruitful when it addresses the customer’s pain points and offers perceptive solutions to their problems.
Another expert, Bill Widmer, e-commerce marketing consultant at BillWidmer.com, believes that companies will use content to be distinctive amongst the masses while video content will be the most popular format this year.
Technology is improving all aspects of our lives.
According to Gartner, by this year’s end, digital assistants will be smart enough to identify the faces and voices of customers. By 2020, 85% of the communications with customers will be managed without human intervention.
E-commerce transactions are also poised to improve with the continual advancements in augmented reality and AI. A sales pipeline template can also be used to improve the chances of business success. These creative programs are creating a unique retail environment and customer experience, which was previously only possible in bricks-and-mortar stores.