5 eCommerce trends to watch in 2018

It’s the new year and mobile optimization for eCommerce is so 2017. If you haven’t done it already, what are you waiting for? Looking forward, what can we expect for eCommerce merchants and buyers? 2018 is shaping up to be an exciting and innovative year for the eCommerce space! We’ve put together five trends you’ll want to watch.

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Brick-and-mortar renaissance

Despite many doomsday predictions that the rise of eCommerce would lead to the demise of the brick-and mortar-store, recent studies show that not only is physical retail here to stay, it’s coming back stronger than ever.

According to a report by Goldman Sachs, 85% of all retail sales in the US are still made in physical stores and the physical retail industry employees a staggering 15 million people in America. Therefore the economic impact of physical retail and its potential reach are enormous. Recognizing this considerable avenue for sales, more and more eCommerce stores that were purely selling online now have a physical presence.

Take maternity and children’s clothing retailer JoJo Maman Bébé. Starting purely as an eCommerce brand, they made the transition into the physical space after repeated requests by customers for the option to try on clothing before making a purchase.

While eCommerce cuts down on cost for rent and staff, physical stores give customers a chance to come into contact with products, to see, feel and try them. This increases the likelihood of making a purchase. And it’s not just JoJo Maman Bébé that has gone from online to offline, eCommerce giants Amazon and Alibaba now have physical retail stores too.

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Another concept that is quickly gaining popularity in physical stores is “Click and collect”. Click and collect services offer the benefits of both online and traditional retail, allowing customers to place orders easily from their homes and collect it from a physical location at a time of their convenience, and without paying for shipping or waiting days for a delivery.

So offline channels will survive or even thrive in 2018, not just in spite of technological advances but because of them. Physical stores will be managed more efficiently than before by relying on intelligent supply chain solutions to better everything from manage inventory and order management to last mile logistics and keeping their books in order.  

As Goldman analyst Matthew Fassler astutely observes, "The retailer of the future will likely be a retailer of the past — just the most efficient version therein."

The disruption of B2B eCommerce

With more than half of B2B buyers making half or more of their purchases online in 2017 and statista predicting the global B2B eCommerce market would be worth "US$7.7 trillion, the disruption of B2B is well under way.

More and more B2B sellers are investing in eCommerce technology to provide the same easy ordering, frictionless experience that online retailers enjoy. Online wholesale stores will become increasingly discoverable through search engines, price negotiations could take minutes instead of days with in-app messaging and the actual ordering process could be done virtually using virtual catalogs and payment gateways.

Leading marketplaces, such as Amazon, have already begun to erase the lines between retail and wholesale shopping. Their B2B offerings provide the same solutions that retail shoppers enjoy to their business customers as well.

With the average age of a B2B buyer placed at under 35 and 89% of buyers already starting their vendor selection process by searching for B2B businesses online, the once slow-moving industry looks like it will evolve at breakneck speed in 2018.

AI and the customer experience

Ever chanced upon an eCommerce store to be greeted moments later by a virtual salesperson? In the same way that a salesperson in a store endeavours to make customers feel welcome and attended to, virtual assistants make online customers feel that help is just a click away.

In the beginning, online chat support was managed by actual people, usually staff on a support or sales team that monitor traffic to the store and engage with users.

Next, we progressed to chatbots, programs with a pre-set database of questions and answers. Of course the problem with chatbots is that they cannot carry out a conversation or engage with a buyer outside the parameters set up for the program.

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Then came the rise of AI in our everyday lives and with it, solutions like IBM’s Watson. IMB’s Watson Customer Engagement AI uses data to fine-tune and personalize offers and messages at every customer touchpoint, resulting in in-depth engagement and increased conversions.

Watson can enrich customer interactions, make useful product recommendations based on data-driven insights and even preempt disruptions to your supply chain. Watson is your most proficient, efficient and effective salesperson working tirelessly to optimize your online sales so your team does not need to be online round the clock.

As marketing thought leader Seth Godin writes, “Artificial intelligence does a job we weren't necessarily crazy about doing anyway, it does it quietly, and well”

This is just one of the many ways that artificial intelligence is beginning to change the way we engage with customer experience in eCommerce. AI is also impacting the way customers search for products, changing the way businesses market products with predictive solutions and even changing the way people shop in physical stores with autonomous robots. With these and a dozen other developments, AI will certainly impact the eCommerce experience in 2018.

Amazon makes leaps

In early 2017, Wall Street firm Needham predicted that by 2021 Amazon would make up 50% of all US eCommerce, so it's safe to say we can keep expecting exciting things from the eCommerce marketplace giant this year.

One of the big guns in Amazon’s arsenal of game-changing features is Amazon Prime. In 2017 Amazon hit 85 million Prime subscribers with 80% of Prime members shopping on amazon.com at least once a month. Not only that, sales on Amazon Prime Day alone generated $1 billion in revenue.

Amazon has been expanding its offerings to all corners of the globe, with Amazon’s Marketplace launch in Australia and with Amazon Prime Now arriving in countries like Singapore. With Prime becoming available in more countries, there is no doubt we will continue to see this expansion in 2018, both geographically and in terms of developing new features, to bring even greater market dominance to Amazon.

Other cutting edge developments include Amazon Go, Amazon’s cashless, checkout-free shopping experience and Prime Wardrobe, a try-before-you-buy service that solves a pain point many online buyers face when purchasing clothing.

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Voice commerce

The adage “Ask and you shall receive” just became the motto of eCommerce. Only, with the recent developments in voice search technology, we should modify the phrase to “Ask and you shall receive- instantly”.

Analytics company comScore predicts that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be voice searches. With the launch and growing popularity of virtual assistant speakers like Home; Google’s voice activated speaker and Amazon’s Echo, voice search is already changing how we shop.

Uses cases for eCommerce through voice search technology are numerous. You could potentially do everything from making online bookings for concerts and plays, to ordering food deliveries, to discovering and purchasing movies and music- just by asking.

So how should businesses prepare for this change in consumer behaviour?  One way to prepare your business would be to adjust content on your landing pages and ad copy to account for high-value natural language searches. Natural language shows intent more definitively than computer searches.

For example, if you are searching for hotel deals on your laptop you might type, “Hotel deals Paris” but if you were asking the question out loud you might say, “Hotel deals in Paris in December, near Gare Du Nord”. Is your content optimized for the increased level of specificity required by natural language?

Voice commerce looks set to grow in 2018 and businesses that stay ahead of the trends and prepare early could find themselves with a sizable competitive advantage.

Of course these are just a few of the changes we can expect to see in the 2018 eCommerce space. The overarching theme of these trends is that eCommerce is constantly evolving. Those businesses who ride the wave will be the businesses that are agile and adaptable to new technologies and smart solutions. Is your business ready?

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