As the principles of e-commerce itself continue to mutate, so must your approach to mastering it.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of what’s convenient, and what’s convenient is to just keep doing the same thing when it comes to marketing, customer service, and other aspects of running your own e-commerce store.
While skipping trend research may be one less task on your plate, your business will surely suffer from a lack of relevance.
And since you’ll most certainly want to remain relevant, staying on top of consumer behavior, anticipating their every need, and occupying the same channels as your competitors is of the utmost importance.
To stay ahead of the game, retailers need a plan that delivers fully integrated marketing across a broad range of channels.
With that said, let’s look at 7 trends that all e-commerce store owners should pay attention to in 2018.
Personalization in e-commerce is the real-time tailoring of online customer experience to each specific shopper.
When applying this principle to a site, brands use a variety of known customer data points to serve contextually relevant content and products.
According to BigCommerce, these data points can include:
- Search Queries
- Purchase History
- Shopping Cart Entries
- Social Behavior
- Geographic Location
- Customer Segments
Statistics show that personalization is a major contributor to the success of an e-commerce store. In fact, 75% of consumers like it when brands personalize their messaging and offerings to them.
On the other hand, 74% of consumers become frustrated when content on a website is not relevant to them.
So how can you begin implementing personalization on your site?
Well first, consider the overall readiness of your e-commerce store. In grand scheme, personalization is quite low on the list of user needs.
Shopify provides an excellent graphic about the fundamental building blocks of a successful website that need to be in place before jumping into personalization.
At the very least, your store needs to be accessible on all major device platforms. A widespread issue within e-commerce is that sites suffer from poor performance, and ultimately are abandoned by shoppers who are looking for fast load times.
Next, make sure the content on your site is relevant to what you’re selling. Descriptions, product titles, and like information are what’s to be put under the microscope here.
Make sure that when people see your products they know exactly what it is, and how it relates to their wants/needs.
Finally, your site must be user friendly. If people can’t find the information they’re searching for it won’t matter what you suggest to them. It’s also a detriment if your checkout process isn’t smooth and simple.
With those 3 key building blocks established, your site will be ready to implement personalization touches.
Popular Personalization Methods
This method focuses on consumer browsing behavior and purchase history to serve relevant products/categories/content the next time they return.
For example, if a person visits your sporting goods website and views baseball cleats but doesn’t purchase you’d ideally present cleats and other baseball related items prioritized above all else when they return to encourage click through and ultimately a purchase.
This is possible thanks to the User ID feature in Google Analytics. Thanks to this feature, you can collect data on visitors as they browse between devices and serve personalized content across their journey no matter where they are.
2. Predictive Recommendations
Here, we begin seeing profiles built of consumers displaying similar behaviors and search patterns on a website. This is a big part of what makes Amazon so great.
You’ve probably seen the “visitors who viewed this product also viewed” section when you’re looking at an item.
According to a recent article by Retention Science, product recommendations can increase revenue by up to 300%, improve conversions by 150% and help boost average order value by 50%.
With the help of AI and machine learning, providing customers with suggestions such as these to personalize their experience on your website could substantially boost your overall performance.
2) E-mail Marketing/Automation
As internet advertising continues to grow costlier, e-mail can serve as a frugal way to drive loyalty and engage your customers with unique content.
Even with the abundance of other available sales channels, e-mail continues to drive more revenue than all social networks combined.
BigCommerce breaks down a few reasons why this is the case:
- Building your e-mail list drives top-of-the-funnel connections that turns e-mail addresses into real, loyal customers.
- Receipt e-mails are the most opened bar none and can serve as an opportunity to upsell and drive more loyalty.
- E-mail marketing open and click-through-rates are easily measurable, giving you’re a good understanding of how engaged your audience is.
- You can A/B test your messages to increase overall engagement thanks to easy to track metrics.
- All the above is free unlike most other advertising channels.
- All these processes can be automated, saving you time and ensuring you don’t miss an opportunity no matter when it arises.
Though there are many benefits to e-mail marketing, retailers should avoid bombarding customers with e-mails. This can wind up causing more harm than good.
Instead, send e-mails as reminders of abandoned carts, incomplete transactions, when new products or specials are available, for order confirmations, or to those who haven’t been to the site in a while.
Recipients of e-mails like these view them as a sign that they’re greatly valued rather than just another customer. This type of a response can illicit loyalty and further purchases with your store rather than driving them away with spam.
3) Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality
If the hyper popularity of Pokemon Go taught us anything it’s that the average person is ready and willing to open themselves to the wonder that is Augmented Reality.
And as the technology has transformed from a novelty (think Snapchat) towards a greater mainstream adoption, e-commerce businesses can and certainly should begin to incorporate it into their marketing plans.
In fact, it’s expected that in 2018 171 million people will use VR technology for retail purposes such as virtual tours of shopping centers.
With the boom in technological advancement in smart phones, mobile commerce has begun to take on a much broader definition.
No longer do people just make purchases or scan product reviews on their phone. They’re looking for more. How will this product look in my house? How will this color look on me? Will this color paint match my cabinets?
Essentially, people are looking to have a physical experience with a product without actually owning it.
They want to remove the risk of inconvenience from their shopping. The “what if I don’t like this and have to return it,” thought.
Thanks to Augmented and Virtual Reality technologies, that desire is quickly becoming a reality, as e-commerce businesses of all sizes are beginning to offer them as experiences for consumers.
“In a similar vein to video, VR and AR offer huge opportunities for the e-commerce brand, letting consumers experience products in as close to “real life” as possible before buying,” says Arati Sharma, director of marketing at Shopify, in a recent article published in Ad Week.
IKEA has pioneered this principle and is excelling at it.
With their AR app, IKEA Place, users can project a piece of furniture they’re interested in buying and place it right in their home to see what it will look like in their home.
This provides the end user with a “real life” experience of owning the item without physically purchasing and placing the item in their home.
“With more consumers looking online to buy the majority of their purchases, finding visual ways to show off your product will be critical to making the sale,” said Sharma.
Reports even show that over 70% of buyers would be more loyal to brand who incorporate AR as a part of their shopping experience, according to a recently published piece from Shopify.
The good news is that thanks to companies like Shopify, Google, and Apple, AR and VR technology is becoming more accessible to the SMB market, so you don’t need to have the gargantuan budgets that an IKEA may have to provide your customers with this unique experience.
4) More Mobile Shopping/Digital Wallet Payments
As has been customary for the last 5 or so years, mobile commerce is expected to rise as is its overall impact in the grand scheme of e-commerce.
According to predictions by Statistica, mobile sales will account for 50% of all e-commerce revenue for 2018, or nearly $669 billion dollars worth of sales.
With the realization that mobile commerce will make up such a hefty portion of overall e-commerce sales this coming year, optimizing your mobile site is more important than ever.
Convenience and accessibility are major priorities for online shoppers, so keep that in mind as you build and refine a mobile site that is as user friendly as possible.
A major reason for the boom in m-commerce has been the development of digital wallet payments such as Apple Pay, Amazon Pay and Visa Checkout.
This has been one of the most dramatic changes in the way people shop since the advent of e-commerce itself, and demand for these mobile payment checkout systems has steadily risen since 2015.
5) Voice Search on the Rise
With the growing popularity of smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, experts anticipate the number of transactions made through voice search to increase drastically in 2018.
"Voice apps are becoming more commonplace. The last few years have been about what the user is *saying*, and now it will be more about *why* and *where* they are saying it. Contextual understanding is the next step for voice in order for it to become an integral part of consumers’ lives." - Britt Armour, Digital Marketing Specialist at Clearbridge Mobile
In fact, it’s estimated that 40% of millennials, the generation with the most buying power currently, are already using voice assistance, such as Alexa, to shop online.
These numbers are no surprise considering general adoption of smart home appliances has risen sharply the last couple of years, with indications that as many as 24% of all consumers own one, with an additional 20% planning to own one in the near future.
What does this mean for your business?
According to Justin McKinney, Senior SEO Manager at Wpromote, this means:
"Creating voice-search friendly content to capitalize on this trend before most ecommerce websites take notice.
Three strategies your business can leverage are:
1. Create FAQ content for your brand and on product pages. Survey your customers and read reviews to include information you know potential customers might be searching for. Write succinctly and use correct grammar to ensure voice assistants can read and vocalize the information.
2. Leverage schema markup on your product pages to directly provide search engines with information like product pricing, in-stock status, reviews, and more. You can also use FAQ schema for your FAQ content.
3. Invest in improving user experience on mobile. Voice assistants often send links to the speaker’s smartphone, so it’s critical that when users click on those links that the site loads quickly and makes it easy for customers to complete purchases in as few clicks as possible."
You should be taking the time to optimize your online store for voice search, understand your key customer persona, check out how they interact on your social media channels, and mirror their language, according to Shopify’s experts.
Voice search customers tend to be the most loyal of them all, according to research conducted of Amazon shoppers.
Those who use their Echo device to make purchases spend $1,600 per year compared to the $1,300 per year average of Prime users.
6) Social/Community Marketing
Social media and e-commerce have quickly become attached at the hip, and considering the fact that nearly all internet shoppers have some type of presence on social media it’s no wonder why we’re seeing more e-commerce stores than ever succeeding via this channel.
Visuals are everything when it comes to selling online. If you can’t bring your products to life for shoppers, chances are they’re going to skip over you and find another store.
Social media platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest provide the perfect avenue for retailers to do just that without customers even realizing it.
Part of what makes it so interesting is the fact that, within Pinterest for example, you’re able to click on a picture of someone wearing clothing you like, and each individual article pops up in a small window where you can be directed to purchase.
Not only can social media be used as a useful tool for selling, but you’re able to handle consumers in multiple other stages of the funnel.
For existing customers, social media can be an extremely effective tool for customer service inquiries.
Considering its position as a top, maybe the top, mode of communication customers are choosing when coming to brands with customer service issues, according to Patrick Cuttica of Sprout Social, e-commerce retailers should be focusing a substantial amount of attention on developing a plan for handling it.
Social platforms can also serve as a place where communities of like-minded people with similar interests can connect.
This can bring your existing customers together with potential new customers to share common experiences and even discuss your products.
Engaging them in community discussion can serve as a way to build trust in your company, improve your overall relationship with them, and drive further loyalty.
7) Influencer Marketing
Influencer marketing as a practice is evolving as frequently as general e-commerce.
Although the principles are ever changing, one fact has remained static; influencer marketing is very effective.
Brands that use influencers with highly engaged followers have increased awareness, traffic and sales for their e-commerce site, says Jacklyn Deans, e-commerce consultant and founder of Flash + Color.
One common misconception about influencer marketing is that you need to hire a major personality, i.e. LeBron James, Jordan Spieth, George Clooney, etc.
This isn’t the case, as there are hundreds of “micro-influencers” all across social media that can offer relevance rather than just status.
These personalities have between 1,000 to 10,000 followers for niche subjects, and between 10,000 and 100,000 followers for broader categories, according to Business News Daily.
And just why are these people’s opinion important to your e-commerce business?
Because consumers trust other people’s opinions over almost anything else, according to BigCommerce.
One of the greatest advantages of the internet is that you can utilize word of mouth without having to interact face to face.
Influencers have the ability to reach thousands, and in some cases millions, of people by simply posting on Instagram or YouTube, potentially bringing you a substantial boost in traffic to your site.
With reach like this, business owners typically see great ROI when they work with influencers as a part of their marketing strategy.
As an e-commerce retailer, marketing is one of the most vital contributors to your success on the digital shelf.
Remaining aware of current trends and tailoring your efforts based on them is a major key to remaining relevant in todays hyper competitive market.
And while you may not be able to integrate all of the mentioned aspects into your current plan, you can certainly benefit from the implementation of any combination of them.