‘Mobile first’ becomes a must
The first ecommerce trend for 2017 is an obvious one. This was also one of the ecommerce trends for 2016, predicted at the beginning of the year. I’ve been saying it for the whole of the past year too: think mobile first.
One thing is for sure…Google is doing so. It will release a mobile-first index soon that confirms this.
Unless you are designing every aspect of your ecommerce store with mobile users front of mind, you are potentially losing customers. That means not simply optimizing, but designing your entire store around a customer ‘avatar’ with mobile in hand. Get onto it in 2017 if you haven’t already.
Mobile conversions will increase
This is less obvious. We know about the need to think ‘mobile first’ but there are some surprising statistics relating to sales from mobile devices, compared to desktops.
The temptation is to assume that, because mobile visitors are accounting for more visits, they are also accounting for more revenue. However, Wolfgang Digital found in a study of 80 million website sessions (translating to €230 million worth of online revenue) that although smartphones and tablets accounted for 59 percent of all sessions on ecommerce sites, they contributed just 38 percent of revenue.
It seems that people still prefer using the desktop to actually buy items – especially high-end purchases. This may point to a lack of confidence in the privacy and security risks involved or the actual poor design or user experience of mobile ecommerce sites. Either way, it is something that needs to be address by ecommerce stores in 2017.
Right now people seem OK with the idea of researching on mobile devices and hopping on to their desktops to pay. But what happens when those desktops eventually fail and are not replaced?
Chat bots start to become the norm
Chat is already the preferred communication channel for the younger audience – just check out the average teenager. And people are well used to interacting with a customer service agent online via a chat app.
What’s more – chat works. Users are more satisfied, spend more, and convert better after a chat session, according to MarTech.
The natural next step is replacing the customer service agent with a machine as the first point of contact with the brand. This has already started. Did you know that Facebook currently ‘employs’ around 11,000 chat bots?
Increasingly branded versions of these bots will be ‘employed’ by ecommerce stores, bringing ever-more-intelligent interactions that help with selecting goods, checkout, and after-sales service. Taco Bell, H&M, and Victoria’s Secret are already using bots on platforms like Slack and Kik to make this happen.
If you’re not already interacting with your customer in chat, start now with the Shopify / Facebook messenger integration.
This brings us neatly to the next of my predicted ecommerce trends for 2017…
Greater adoption of A.I.
People are getting more comfortable with the idea of cars being driven by robots. So, the growing adoption of artificial intelligence and ‘personal assistants’ in ecommerce stores should be a no-brainer.
If you’ve ever had trouble finding what you need online then you have probably talked to an artificial personal assistant at some point. Imagine the potential of this to help the customers in your ecommerce store; you may be embracing it this coming year.
Greater personalization of the UX
Generic is definitely out for 2017. We saw greater personalization of the user experience gathering pace in 2016 and it will continue in the year ahead.
Unless you are designing your store to personalize the user experience in real-time, you are being left behind. Already shoppers in some ecommerce stores receive access not only to personal assistants, but to real-time product recommendations according to their unique preferences, geographic location, demographic group, purchase history, and previous interactions.
Each visit should be a unique experience, based on information gathered previously and on the promotions offered at that point in time. Think about how great it would feel, heading to a clothing store that already knows not only your name but your favourite colours and your size, or a make-up brand that knows the complexion of your skin and is offering promotions on your favourite items.
Magento 2 and other platforms are already making this increasingly personalised UX possible.
The growth of contextual shopping
Tech Crunch declared in June 2016 that the ‘contextual shopping era’ had begun. If that’s the case then 2017 will herald a year of growth for this phenomenon. It is personalization of the shopping experience taken a level further.
Imagine being reminded on your smartphone that your three months’ worth of moisturizer was running low; or that you need to re-stock the tea you order online. Basically, contextual shopping uses data that has been gathered from previous visits to make your next visit more relevant; it ‘pushes’ what you need towards you rather than you having to hunt around for it.
Amazon has been offering this quite seamless way of re-ordering products for a while, where you simply click a button, the order is placed and your card is charged; other ecommerce stores will start embracing it and it is likely to become more widespread in the year ahead.
A move towards curated shopping
Closely connected to the idea of personalizing the user experience is the notion of curated shopping.
This is where tailored product lines are created to provide customers with a unique collection not offered by the competition.
AhaLife is one ecommerce company that has embraced it fully, stating that they “scour the globe to find exceptional objects for every aspect of your life. Shop from 1,000+ designers and artisans in 45+ countries.”
More companies are likely to turn to curated shopping in 2017 as a way to differentiate themselves from the competition.
Payment gateways become more advanced
Contactless payment systems using mobile security and biometric technology started to become more widespread in 2016; it’s also predicted to be one of the growing mobile ecommerce trends of 2017. And it’s not just smartphones; more wearables like watches and rings are constantly being developed, so ecommerce store owners need to be prepared to meet these changing expectations.
The benefits work two ways: the customer has a more convenient but secure way of paying for goods; and the vendor not only meets (or exceeds) expectations, but is better able to gather customer data in order to design more personalized user experiences, loyalty programs, and so on.
Brands that get their mobile payment gateways right are in for a major boost as it will bring them much closer to their customers.
Some are even predicting that 2017 will bring about the end of the cash wallet as we know it. That may be overstating it for the year ahead, but it’s certainly going in that direction and there are already certain brands like Kit and Ace (a Canadian company selling technical apparel) that do not accept cash payments.
Shorter delivery times
Think that 3-5 days delivery is acceptable? Think again – customer expectations are changing on that front. What would it do for your store if you could promise same-day delivery?
This is becoming ever-more possible with the rise of drone technology. We’re not at the point where an individual drone delivers the pizza you ordered, but the creation of local drop-off points for goods is becoming more possible. This has the potential to make same-day delivery for orders before a certain time the norm; of course, it doesn’t come for free, but almost a third of consumers would pay extra for same-day delivery, according to a Forrester report.
What a way to set yourself apart from the competition and overcome one of the main barriers to purchasing online – the waiting game!
More one-on-one social selling
One-on-one social selling is not a new concept; in fact the type of relationships formed offline that lead to the best salespeople having the best sales figures is largely down to social selling. It’s difficult to make sales without first forming a strong relationship.
More tools are available now to do that online than ever before.
The social networks have invested heavily in providing people with easier and more convenient ways to connect – Facebook Messenger being a prime example. These same tools can grow networks of customers and help you to raise credibility, build trust and, when done in the right way, promote products and services based on user preferences.
Think of it as another channel for your ecommerce store to connect with your audience – an important channel that everybody’s already using.
Ability to find the perfect fit
An ecommerce trend for 2017 especially for clothing and accessories stores now.
A major barrier to purchasing clothing, shoes, and other accessories online is the fear of ordering the wrong size.
With the growth of virtual sizing apps like Virtusize, this should be one obstacle that is gradually removed. Virtusize works by creating silhouettes of garments that can be visually compared in terms of size and fit by overlaying them on images of the best fitting garments you already own.
Other tools like the one Acustom Apparel uses allows customers to get their body measurements taken exactly by a 3D scan, so that clothing can be tailor-made to fit; meanwhile, Fits.Me and Stylewhile allow customers to create an avatar with their own body types and virtually ‘try on’ different clothing to see how it looks. Shoefitr is a similar idea for ecommerce shoe stores.
As well as helping customers find the right size to increase conversion rates, these tools also help to reduce costly returns and refunds, and to improve the customer experience.
Increased use of predictive analysis
Most ecommerce stores are collecting considerable amounts of data about their customers (whether they are aware of it or not); but most are just scratching the surface of the possibilities available for using that data to increase sales.
Every customer interaction is a new opportunity to gather more information about user preferences; and being able to predict what might come next in the customer journey can give you a valuable edge.
Predictive analysis can be used to identify and target different demographics, predict demand, manage the supply chain better, and tweak marketing campaigns aimed at different segments of your customer database, as well as to tweak your website to improve the user experience. This all helps build loyalty, repeat visits, and sales.
For instance, knowing what other customers with similar profiles purchased next is extremely powerful information. Amazon recognized this long ago when it started its ‘Customers who bought this item also bought…’ prompt. Being able to offer the right product to the right customer at the right time can only increase conversions.
Closer links between ecommerce and social media
Instagram has SHOP NOW buttons; Pinterest has BUY buttons; Facebook is currently testing a SELL feature; and Twitter also added a BUY button.
All this points to the increasingly closer relationship between ecommerce and the social networks.
This is going to continue in 2017 as these networks look for new ways to engage users and to create new revenue streams. Expect the ‘hop’ from your chosen social media network to your favorite ecommerce stores to become shorter this year.
The shift of ecommerce growth to Asia
It’s no longer just the U.S. and Europe driving ecommerce growth. The shift to Asia has begun and will continue in 2017.
The growth of the Chinese ‘middle class’, together with increased uptake of smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices capable of ordering products online is spurring growth in Asian ecommerce that is outstripping that of the traditional ecommerce markets.
China, with an annual ecommerce growth rate of around 10 percent, is driving global ecommerce growth and much of Asia is riding on its coat-tails. Sales in China are expected to double between now and 2019.
What does this mean for your ecommerce store? Well, if you want to cash in from the explosion in Asia, then there are ramifications for the way your site is designed from the language through to payment methods, VAT policies, and shipping policies.
Greater competition in ecommerce
Expect more competition in 2017. Don’t take that as a negative because it needn’t be; if you make the right decisions now you will still have the edge, but the point is that EVERY STORE is improving and new start-ups are coming in because the barriers of entry are lower.
You will need to improve to stay ahead; standing still is not an option.
Some of the big, ‘money-bags’ retailers may have been slow to get up to speed with ecommerce but they are now making bigger pushes to recapture lost ground. They have the resources to potentially knock everything out their path, but not if you stay smart and make the right moves.
All the tools are available for you to maintain the edge – use them!
Increased emphasis on subscription-based models
With the growth of cloud technology, recurring revenue has become the ‘holy grail’ of online businesses. While subscription-based models allow you to generate regular monthly or annual income, at first glance it would seem to apply more to services (everything from software to music platforms) than to products; and to higher-ticket items more than smaller purchases.
However, some ecommerce businesses have successfully converted to this model, notably in the food and beverage sector and the beauty industry and we can expect to see more uptake in 2017.
The customer can spread costs over a number of months rather than paying a one-off fee upfront; for the retailer, customer retention and recurring revenue are obvious benefits of such a model.
Continued dominance of video
Another one that comes up almost every year…and 2017 is no exception. The power of video is still growing in ecommerce because millennials (in the 18-35 year old bracket) are increasingly dominating the market. Video is their preferred way of accessing content, whether on-demand video over TV programming schedules, or video product demos over images and text.
In an ecommerce sense, what better way to demonstrate the features and benefits of a product than a short video? It can be more powerful than a thousand words, if done well.
Ecommerce stores that have not yet fully embraced the power of video should start this year.
Video with a twist: personalized and shoppable
Imagine being able to click on an item you see in a video and immediately taken to a link to buy it. That’s where the technology is heading, though YouTube’s early efforts at shoppable video are not quite as advanced as that yet.
With the ability to program links into video already well established, it’s simply a case of merging this technology with the concept of shoppable video to create more effective, personalized, and direct shoppable video.
The potential for this to contribute considerably to the billions already spent around the world on video advertising is clear: a little like ‘product placement’ in the movies but with an overlaid link to be able to buy what you are viewing.
Continued investment in high-quality content
Do you think that we’ve hit content ‘saturation point’ yet? While some marketers are predicting that there will be some kind of backlash against the sheer volumes of content out there, investment in content is set to continue in 2017.
The point is that the best ecommerce marketers have become more proficient at content marketing the longer it has been around. They focus more on unique, high-quality content that really adds value to customers rather than just providing SEO value.
When done correctly, content marketing can complement advertising to bring more convertible traffic to your ecommerce store – so why wouldn’t you be trying to use it more?
The continued importance of online reviews
Reviews mattered last year; they matter now; and they will matter at the end of 2017.
Why? Well, they generate huge amounts of referral traffic for ecommerce sites because the value of social proof just keeps on rising.
Econsultancy offers some revealing statistics to demonstrate the value of online reviews to any ecommerce store:
- 61% of customers read an online review before they make a purchasing decision.
- 63% of consumers are likelier to make a purchase from a website that has user reviews.
- Consumer reviews are 12 times more trusted than product descriptions.
More interactive customer surveys
Being able to tease accurate information from your customers without it seeming like an intrusion is a great skill for an ecommerce store to possess.
For clothing and apparel shoppers, for instance, style, size, and color preferences are fairly basic must-have requirements if you are to personalize the shopping experience – but they can be difficult to gather accurately.
Customer surveys can reveal such valuable information, if the questions are designed carefully and customers have an incentive to provide you with the right information. Sometimes customer perceptions about their size, for instance, do not actually reflect what they buy…so questions must be carefully formulated to tease this out.
The final ecommerce trend for 2017 is the move towards gamification of the customer experience, as a non-intrusive way of gathering information about preferences.
A good example is from ebags. The site was finding that customers found it difficult to express what they wanted in a bag. Ebags created a campaign within a game that gathered user sentiment about pictures of bags; this information was stored and used to better present bag options when they visited in the future.
Gamification with rewards, prizes, and discounts can be used to improve customer retention too, as this ConversionXL article points out.
Summary: Key threats and opportunities
It’s worth summing up the key threats to, and opportunities for, ecommerce in 2017 because these are what will influence the trends that we describe above; ecommerce businesses will naturally look to overcome the threats and exploit the opportunities.
The Shopify Plus report on Insight and imagination for tomorrow and beyond provides a good overview of this. It is summarised below:
KEY THREATS TO ECOMMERCE STORE OWNERS:
- Lower digital barriers to entry will increase competition
- A reduction in overall customer loyalty as choices become wider for customers
- Aggressive competition that can depress margins
- The ability to source and produce ethically and environmentally friendly goods
- Returns that can greatly erode the profit margins – return rates can be as high as 50%
- Concerns about privacy laws when gathering user data
KEY OPPORTUNITIES FOR STORE OWNERS
- Declining raw material costs and reduced operating costs can increase margins
- The ability to source and produce ethically and environmentally friendly goods
- New Hispanic and AsiaPacific markets will increase their spending
- The increasing ability to profitably serve underserved niche markets that have historically been ignored
There’s a lot to take in above. Many of these predicted ecommerce trends for 2017 are continuations of what we have seen in 2016.
However, if you take nothing else away from this article, it should be clear that developing customer relationships and improving the user experience are the most important aspects of ecommerce for the year ahead. Many store owners are struggling to come to grips with these ‘make or break’ factors.
Many of the trends detailed above fall under that general ‘umbrella’ of enhancing the user experience: more personalized product offerings, more convenient ways of selecting and paying for products, more seamless interactions at every level.
At the same time, greater opportunities exist to use the tools at hand to develop more trusting and loyal relationships with customers.
70 percent of consumers are demanding a more personalized online shopping experience – will 2017 be the year when you deliver it?
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