With a new year upon us, it’s time to examine what is on the horizon for online retail. Where will the eCommerce environment lead us in 2017? What emerging technologies will prove to alter the way in which we conduct business? What practices are now outdated and how will retailers need to adjust for future success?
I anticipate the biggest change this year will be how retailers connect with customers—including the platform, channel, and even media through which different parties interact.
Competing Channels Grow Closer Together
UPS recently examined the purchasing habits of regular online shoppers in their fifth-annual Pulse of the Online Shopper™ survey. For the first time ever, the results showed that slightly more than half of all purchases made by respondents were conducted online (up from 48% in 2015).
However, the greatest legacy of 2016 was not that eCommerce overtook brick-and-mortar retail; rather, that the two grew closer and more organically integrated.
Both brands and consumers are reevaluating how they think about the shopping experience. With eCommerce brands like Amazon and others exploring the physical retail space more and more, it seems likely that we will experience more of a blurring of the line between channels in the future.
The key to excelling during this evolution will be merchants’ ability
Optimal Shipping Convenience Still a Big Deal for Consumers
Fast, convenient, and preferably free delivery was the name of the game in 2016 and will continue to be so going forward.
Amazon still sets the curve with their Prime Now service, offering Prime subscribers free two-hour shipping on select items in more than 25 metro areas throughout the U.S. Leaders in other industries are setting a new standard with things like in-app ordering for restaurant and grocery deliveries.
While it’s impossible for most other retailers to provide this near-instantaneous delivery, the majority of online retailers are making a concerted effort to meet consumers’ growing demand for quick results.
While 2-3-day shipping was once considered “rush” for online orders, this is now becoming the standard. Not only that, but free return shipping is a common expectation among modern consumers.
The time has come when offering such services is no longer considered a perk that will entice shoppers. Rather, fast, economical shipping is now a norm. Merchants who don’t recognize these modern preferences will quickly fall behind.
Apps & Mobile Sites Keep Customers Engaged
Besides shipping, optimized mobile platforms will be the most important driver of success in 2017. Maximizing the customer experience via retailers’ branded apps and mobile sites will be essential components of a winning retail strategy.
Part of the problem is that many websites are still designed specifically with desktop shoppers in mind. That approach is out-of-touch with the realities of contemporary eCommerce, as mobile retail growth outpaces overall eCommerce growth by a considerable margin. Without a site optimized for mobile, retailers will fail to engage their customers, and will ultimately lose business to competitors who can better leverage technology to their advantage.
Though most shoppers prefer to engage with merchants via their mobile site, that isn’t to detract from the value of merchant apps.
Analysis of Branded App Data Offers Customer Insight
Although building an app may seem excessive, time-consuming, and expensive, the strength of branded retail apps is how well they fit into the idea of creating a personalized customer experience.
Intelligence analysis of data provided by mobile apps can expose customers’ product preferences, location, demographics, and behaviors. This data collected and analyzed by the app can put products right in front of the eyes of those who would be most interested in them.
We will find more and more applications for intelligence analysis as 2017 progresses. Broader acceptance of the merits of unique and customized mobile experiences will keep customers coming back to engage over and over.
Product Visualization Essential Outside of Physical Space
It’s been understood for years that customers’ ability to visualize a product in as much detail as possible is a critical contributor to conversions. Now, new and developing technologies are making that visualization process much more tangible and interactive.
Virtual and augmented reality technologies like WayFairViewallow customers to experience the products their viewing within the context of real life in a dimensionally-accurate manner. Going forward, retailers will continue to find new applications for augmented reality and reap the rewards in the form of greater conversions.
eCommerce Never Stands Still
eCommerce trends and consumer preferences create an interdependent cycle. To merely survive, retailers will need to respond quickly when consumer preferences evolved into demands. To thrive, though, retailers will anticipate the direction in which current consumer preferences will drive future trends and respond in advance.
Are you willing to adopt an agile mindset that will position your business for success this coming year, or will you remain static as the competition passes you by?
Monica Eaton-Cardone is the COO of Chargebacks911, the world’s leading risk mitigation and chargeback management firm. She specializes in helping online merchants optimize profitability with risk reduction, agile process design, and revenue recovery. Eaton-Cardone, a well-known author and speaker, is also a long-time member of the ERA who plays an active role in helping advance the organization’s mission. Connect with Monica Eaton-Cardone on Twitter or LinkedIn.