Online commerce is growing at a rapid pace and keeps changing. What worked just a few years ago might be obsolete by now, and things you’ve always underestimated may turn out to be critical to your success. Based on my observations of recent changes and developments, I’ve prepared a list of, in my opinion, most significant trends in six categories – devices used, user-experience, marketing, costs, security and disruptive technologies.
Each category is followed by an actionable recommendation that will help you stay on top of your e-commerce game and get ready to clash with your competitors and beat them – in 2018 and beyond.
1. Devices – Mobile will be more important than ever before
No matter where I look for data, I always see the very same trend – mobile traffic keeps growing, and the growth is unlikely to stop anytime soon. Of course, we are yet to eliminate desktops, but customers are becoming more and more confident and willing to shop while browsing the web using their smartphones. And the growth is especially evident during high-sales periods.
In 2016, Black Friday and Cyber Monday – two days with extremely high revenues for online commerce (usually topped only by Christmas) have seen an average growth of mobile shoppers of 22.5% year-on-year (19% for Black Friday, 26% for Cyber Monday).
But not only that – Goldman Sachs predicts that in 2018 mobile commerce will bring in more sales than the whole eCommerce market in 2013 – just five years ago. Of course, this is also caused by the overall increase in online shopping. Nevertheless, can you afford to miss a slice of the mobile commerce pie?
Mobile traffic has been growing steadily for the past few years. Stores that do not have a responsive web design are mostly wiped out by now. But having a mobile-friendly site can be not enough – everyone serious about their business has one. What will matter the most? Mobile user experience. You can improve it by:
- Speeding up your site. Host your site on a fast and reliable server. Optimise all scripts that might slow it down (especially on loading) and reduce the size of images.
- Shortening the checkout process. Eliminate some of the forms. Instead of forcing users to open new pages, give them the option to scroll down after each step is completed.
- Simplifying the navigation. Use categories, filters and the internal search engine to help them find products as quickly as possible.
2. User experience – Personalization of every step in the funnel
With the number of competitors already fighting for customers and new stores popping up every day, it is becoming harder than ever to grab the attention of your customers. That’s why from the very first banner that they see, you need to communicate with them in a way they find appealing. Why is personalisation so important? Because customers like it and want you to make their buyer’s journey unique to them:
- On average, personalised display ads achieve 10-times CTR compared to traditional ads
- 59% of customers say that personalisation influences their shopping decisions
- 77% of customers are willing to pay more for products or services of a brand that offers a personalised experience
If you are not doing any personalisation yet, start small – introduce every solution into your funnel one step at a time:
- When doing remarketing, make sure you personalise both copy and graphics
- Use emails that fit the user’s position in the buyer’s journey
- Track visitors’ shopping habits and on-site behaviour
- Introduce smart product recommendations
- Experiment with changing website copy in real-time based on their lead score and past decisions
3. Marketing – Native ads will still be highly profitable
Speaking of personalisation and user experience, it is critical to remember how customers themselves have changed over the past few years. Disruptive advertising is becoming less efficient, and the key to getting the attention of web users is relevancy. This is where native ads come into play.
Thanks to their non-invasive nature, if written well, your site visitors will not even notice how they got to your store. All they will know is that they really want your products. It’s no surprise that the spending on native ads is predicted to reach $22.6 billion in 2018 compared to $11.5 billion in 2015. And there’s one other reason for that – 53% of users prefer native ads over banner ads, and they are 18% more inclined to show a purchase intent.
There’s not a lot I can recommend here other than signing up for one of the native ads network and testing the waters with your very first campaign. There are a few respected ones to choose from such as Taboola, Outbrain and Adblade.
4. Costs – The prices of paid social ads will keep their steady increase
Having a Facebook fan page on its own is no longer enough. Even other platforms that are still quite profitable, even without any investment in ads, such as Instagram and Pinterest will slowly become way too competitive for organic reach to be sufficient. And yet close to one in three customers is likely to purchase from one of the major social networks (compared to 51% of Millennials).
Unfortunately, just in the first six months of 2017, Facebook CPC has increased by 136% (from $0.42 to $0.99) followed by its CPM that jumped by a staggering 171% (from $4.12 to $11.17). And the competition keeps growing. While the ad spend is increasing, the number of impressions stays the same, which means that even the paid space is very crowded.
Because the prices for social media ads on Facebook keep getting more and more expensive, it may be soon hard for new business owners to get a decent ROI or even to start on a small budget. That’s why I recommend optimising the store by testing it with different sources of traffic, before you spend any money on social media ads.
Additionally, if you’re now active on Facebook, it might be worth exploring other social media networks and diversifying the traffic that you get. And once you decide to run Facebook ads, keep these in mind:
- Facebook users are not in a buying mode
- Video ads are excellent for showing your product and sparking interest
- Remember that the acquisition cost is always higher. Build your list from the very beginning
- Use ads that people can engage with to attract those who follow them and cut your average CPC
5. Security – Your customers are more tech-savvy than ever before
The rapid increase in the number of online purchases proves that people enjoy being able to order just about anything they want in a few clicks. But such a convenience comes at a cost. Each time customers make a purchase their personal and payment details get shared with the retailer. Because of that, they are becoming increasingly security-conscious, and might not be willing to shop at stores that they do not perceive as secure.
This means that everything – from your hosting, through the internal processes, all the way to your theme and plugins will need to be bullet-proof. It’s worth noting that 45% of all the attacks on eCommerce stores are the denial-of-service attacks (DDoS) – those will usually cause your store to be unavailable for a certain amount of time.
But, while being cut off will lead to lost revenue, the number of hacking and phishing attacks resulting in a data breach is growing too. And those can cost you a fortune. In fact, it is estimated that such a breach can cause an average loss for an online retailer of $172 per customer record. Not to mention arising image issues. Customers might not be willing to come back to a company that was unable to secure their data. Especially that they have so many other options available at their fingertips.
If you haven’t done so yet, prioritise security at your store. There are a few simple steps that you can do to both secure your website and make your customers feel safe:
- Introduce a quality SSL certificate
- Implement a two-factor authentication (preferably with the use of an external device such as a mobile phone)
- As you grow, delegate security issues to employees responsible for responding to incidents when those happen. This means both securing the site and reporting the problems outside of your store and responding to questions from customers.
6.Disruptive technologies: Voice Purchases, AI Assistants and Virtual Reality
But the changes will be driven not only by the increasing security awareness and changing habits of your customers. One of the main driving forces behind the new trends will be the popularisation of new technologies. While there are quite a few technological developments worth watching, I’ve decided to pick three that I believe can give those who implement them first a significant advantage over their competitors.
A. Voice purchases
Voice-activated Google search is already a thing. Pick up your phone, say a few words and get answers. This way of searching is so convenient, ComScore predicts it will be used in 50% of all searches by 2020. I believe that sounds quite right, especially if you think about the rising popularity of smart speakers, like Amazon Echo and Google Home.
But searching is only one step in the funnel. Some of the web users already use it not just to find but to purchase products. In fact, it is estimated that as many as 20% of online customers have already made a purchase using voice shopping.
While the voice shopping itself might take some time to become a thing, you should already start preparing – especially considering the importance of search.
- Start using longtail keywords that include more natural phrases in your content.
- Create Q&A’s that use as many questions people would be typing by voice as possible
- Stay conversational in your product descriptions
B. AI Assistants
And what about all the questions and answers your customers won’t be able to find on your website – even by voice? This is where virtual assistants step in. I believe that the rapid advancement of artificial intelligence will soon allow retailers to answer all questions of their store visitors with the help of chatbots.
Especially if you consider the predictions – it is estimated that the global revenue from artificial intelligence will skyrocket from $643.7 million in 2016 to a whopping $36.8 billion in 2025. But even in 2017, they are a real convenience that will only become more professional and accurate in the coming years.
If you don’t already have one, introduce an AI virtual assistant at your store. Because it is based on natural language processing, there are a few things which I believe you can do to improve its effectiveness:
- Watch closely what kind of words and phrases your customers use to look for your products
- What are the main issues that they face during their buyer’s journey that are too specific to answer them on the site? See how many of those could potentially be answered by your artificial VA.
C. Augmented and Virtual Reality
Probably the one technological shift that people keep talking about is the growing importance of augmented and virtual reality. While it is predicted that the market worth will reach even up to $150 billion in the next three years, this number is split between software and devices such as headsets. But what interests us, eCommerce retailers, is its impact on our revenue.
And there are already hundreds of excellent examples of the use of both technologies in the online commerce. Let me just mention a few – such as Amikasa, the eCommerce AR app that allows people to design their dream home using furniture from the real brands.
Another worth noting is Sephora’s web app that has given its customers the opportunity to try different makeup looks and the option to match it to their outfit (by uploading a photo). And there’s also Shoptical – eBay’s test of a fully virtual department store (for which they even developed their own VR headset).
Augmented and Virtual Reality are both still in their early development phases. But, just like other successful technologies, I believe they will soon become a must. Especially considering the confidence that both of them give customers by allowing them to see or test the products virtually. And that is, in my opinion, the key to success when implementing any new solution, not just that based on VR or AR.
Don’t think of new technologies as of toys or gadgets. Think about the useful experience that you can offer. Allow your audience to customise their products according to their needs. And, if you follow my advice, I gave in #2, you might soon be able to offer semi-automated, personalised virtual shopping experience. Something your competitors might not be ready for.
Is there something to worry about?
Each time rapid changes happen people are worried that they might be put out of business. Moreover, today’s trends are a lot more unstable, and market changes occur a lot faster than they did just a decade or two ago. Because of that, in order to survive and thrive, you must not only watch the trends but actively adapt and improve your business.
But don’t be scared of new technologies. Some of them are still very young, and it will take a few years before they become popular. In the meantime, some of them will turn out to be just a fad and disappear. While you need to keep moving forward, others have the same thoughts and challenges as you do. So, don’t stress, keep growing your store and focus on what matters the most – selling quality products while providing excellent user experience. In 2018 and beyond.
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