Ecommerce Trends That Are Shaping the Way Businesses Sell Online

By Kathryn Casna
 

Digital commerce grew by 12% in Q2 of 2019, while also becoming more efficient. Shoppers’ average visit duration on ecommerce sites dropped to just four minutes and 12 seconds. Not surprisingly in this lucrative and fast-paced ecommerce market, customer expectations are also rising at an impressive rate. Keeping up with ecommerce trends can be challenging, but doing so helps your brand win in the highly competitive ecommerce space. 

To help you stay on top of the latest developments, here are the top ecommerce trends you need to know for both B2B and B2C brands. They include how shopping behavior is changing, the experiences your customers crave, and how retailers are leveraging ecommerce technology to stay ahead of the curve.

 

The Shopping Experience Is Changing

Customer tastes are constantly shifting. According to researchers at Deloitte Consulting, consumers’ preferences today are driven by economic constraints and the “abundance of competitive options available to them, made possible by technology.”

Customers have more power because of those options. For example, “nearly six in 10 are now willing to switch to a competitor with quicker and cheaper shipping,” and customers will often use their phones to compare prices while shopping in physical locations. When they find a better price, a discount, or a coupon online, even if they’re already at a physical store, they may leave empty-handed in order to save on their purchase.

More people are shopping on mobile devices, but how and when they use these devices varies across generations. Keeping up with technology trends and generational preferences is key to staying up to date with ecommerce trends today and in the future.

Generations Continue to Shop Differently

As customer expectations evolve, their tastes are also growing more complex. There’s a clear separation between generations when it comes to ecommerce preferences, especially when customers complete transactions. Among millennials and Gen Zers, for instance, 55% are more likely to make a purchase if it’s accompanied by a charitable donation, while 42% of Gen Xers and 31% of baby boomers and traditionalists (the generation before) are influenced by this option. 

Not surprisingly, 87% of baby boomers and traditionalists prefer to bring their service queries to a brick-and-mortar store. Millennials, on the other hand, are nearly evenly split between physical stores (32%), computers (35%), and smartphones (33%) in their preferences for customer service channels. Meanwhile, all generations prefer purchasing in a store to buying online.

Preferences may differ by generation, but ecommerce retailers that master these three shopper-first mandates are seeing success with customers of all generations: 

  • Make it fresh. Fifty-nine percent of the top 5% of products sold are less than one month old.

  • Be where I am. Customers expect a seamless experience when switching between channels and devices.

  • Give it meaning. Shoppers reward brands that create personalized relationships with them.

Current trends with each generation and their shopping habits are expected to continue. As the Deloitte research concludes, consumers are still driven by three important attributes when making decisions: value, product, and convenience. “This finding is in line with the values that have been held by generations of U.S. consumers.”

B2B Customers Want the Same Ecommerce Experience as B2C Customers

Even with the differences in the sales process between B2B and B2C industries, B2B clients can still have the same user experience afforded to B2C customers: online stores, interactions with chatbots instead of salespeople, online payment portals, and more. Powerful ecommerce systems give B2B clients the same ease of online retail that B2C consumers enjoy, but with built-in capabilities that account for contract pricing, account hierarchies, and other distinctly B2B attributes.

The trend of B2B buyers migrating toward a more online experience will continue. As The B2B Ecommerce Playbook notes, “The customer relationship is no less crucial, but the kind of relationship the customer wants is evolving.” Driven by the ease of shopping online for their personal use, B2B buyers want the same consumer-like ecommerce experiences, and B2B ecommerce sales departments that integrate this trend will see increased sales.

 

 

The User Experience Is Enhanced with Advances in Technology

Customers have more ways to connect with brands than generations before. Artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR), for example, allow ecommerce retailers of all sizes to create memorable, convenient touchpoints.

From a retailer’s perspective, current ecommerce trends present complex challenges that require finesse and agility to navigate. Brands that lean into data transparency and invest in technologies such as mobile, voice, and AI will lead the ecommerce pack. Collectively, these ecommerce trends speak to a broader movement toward a direct-to-consumer (D2C) business model similar to Amazon’s.

 

Artificial Intelligence

AI improves the customer experience — and e-retailers’ bottom lines — during the purchasing process. Over the 2018 holiday season, AI-powered product recommendations averaged 14% higher order value than other sales. Shoppers are becoming accustomed to scrolling through ecommerce sites’ “You may also like…” recommendation widgets.

 

Augmented Reality

Top companies are investing in AR, too, to create unique, useful customer experiences. Amazon’s AR mirror virtually dresses users in the comfort of their homes, for instance, while ecommerce brands such as Gap, Adidas, and Lacoste all use AR apps that allow shoppers to try on new clothing anywhere. While few customers expect to virtually try on clothes before making an online purchase (for now), retailers that invest in up-and-coming technology, including AR capabilities, will stay competitive.

 

 
 

Voice Technology

As ecommerce becomes more popular and easier to use, consumer behavior is shifting. Consumers are adopting other technologies that aid them in their purchases. Voice technology is expected to grow by 127% over the next year, while the use of artificial intelligence will grow by 70%. Shoppers want faster, easier purchase journeys, and many retailers already harness an ecommerce platform to provide that experience.

 

Mobile Advancements

Meanwhile, customers are making more purchases using mobile devices. Mobile and desktop are now neck and neck, each accounting for 46% of ecommerce orders in the first quarter of 2019. Traffic share, however, is much higher on mobile (64% compared to 29% on desktop), which suggests that some shoppers start researching on mobile or through an app, but fire up their computers to finalize a purchase.

Retailers can take advantage of this trend, which was apparent during Cyber Week 2018. More shoppers bought on their phones this year than on any other device, with mobile order share the highest on Thanksgiving Day at 54%.

 

Multichannel Communication

Ecommerce is putting the consumer in charge of retail. Increasingly smarter technology, additional ways to complete a purchase, and a focus on the customer journey help make retail a more customer-centric industry. All of these improvements have caused an increase in the number of channels consumers use to interact with a brand, which in turn gives brands more opportunities to grow.

Customers want to connect with ecommerce brands on multiple platforms and channels, and those channels change and update regularly. Today, your customers may share your Facebook posts, tomorrow they may reply to an email marketing campaign, and next week you may send them a text to update them on the status of their order.

 

Unified Data

With multiple channels come multiple, disconnected sources of data and new abilities, such as the option to make purchases without leaving social media (think Instagram Shopping). All these data sources means it’s more important than ever to collect, organize, and analyze that data. 

On average, brands use 39 different systems to manage consumer data, making collecting and recognizing insights across channels difficult if you don’t have the right technology in place. To stay agile amid an expanding array of channels and touchpoints, retailers need a single system that can consolidate data from many sources. As brands adapt to customer expectations for interacting and purchasing across numerous channels, ecommerce leaders need to be able to use their data to their advantage.

 

Retailers Refocus on Building Trust

Eighty-four percent of customers want personalized treatment that businesses can provide only by collecting and analyzing personal data. A full 64% of shoppers say they feel  retailers don’t truly know them, and businesses will need more and better data to improve that metric.

To achieve that improvement in data collection and analysis, brand leaders anticipate hiring 50% more data scientists by 2021. A full 88% of retail and consumer goods marketers say data helps improve their overall marketing program by allowing them to personalize touchpoints. Many e-retailers can now inject personalization into every step of the customer journey, from targeted email campaigns to AI-powered recommendation engines.

Unfortunately, data collection is a sensitive subject. Data breaches seem to regularly make headlines, and trust has become a top concern for customers. More than half (59%) of customers believe their information is vulnerable, and nearly as many (54%) don’t believe companies are looking out for their best interests.

Customers crave personalized communications but are understandably wary of sharing their information with companies. The only way forward is to foster trust with your customers. Provide transparency about how you use their information and offer the option to control their privacy settings.

 

Retailers Look to Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) and Private-Label Models for Growth

As retailers handle concerns about customer trust, Amazon and brick-and-mortar giants such as Costco are shifting traditional thinking on brand loyalty. Two-thirds (68%) of consumer goods leaders believe customers are more loyal to Amazon than to individual brands. Furthermore, a full 79% of consumer goods companies agree that Amazon has increased consumer expectations.

Meanwhile, giants with their own proprietary brands are driving competition as well. Kirkland, Costco’s private-label brand, earned $40 billion in 2018, an 11% increase from the previous year.

In response to retail giants’ strategies, more companies are embracing a direct-to-consumer (D2C) business model. With this model, merchants sell goods directly to customers, rather than relying on retail intermediaries to bring their products to consumers. In fact, 99% of surveyed ecommerce leaders say they plan to increase investment in D2C sales strategies. This trend is true in a number of industries and business types, including manufacturers, consumer goods, healthcare and life sciences, telecommunications, and more.

 

 

Technology will continue to fuel trends in ecommerce, and so will customer expectations for their interactions with companies. Understanding these trends is the first step in keeping ahead of them. Stay updated on the technology and trends that affect your customers and adopt strategies that keep them at the center of your operations. That’s how an ecommerce brand will stay successful amid the changes and trends.

 

 

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