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15 Game Changing Ecommerce Trends for 2017

The question is no longer if a customer will visit an online store – it is now simply a matter of when. And with the many different devices that people are plugged into nowadays, the follow-on questions quickly become “how” and “how often.”

But the “why” is also a crucial part of the ecommerce experience. Why would a customer choose you over one of your competitors? And why would they return?

The digitally-savvy and discerning online shopper expects new features and functionality to deliver a compelling online shopping experience. Take a look below at the 15 ecommerce trends transforming how online businesses engage and convert customers.

1. Mobile-Friendly User Experience Crucial to Sales

We are living in a mobile-first world – in fact, according to a Statcounter Global Stats study, internet usage by mobile and tablet devices in 2016 exceeded desktop usage worldwide for the first time. A mobile-optimized, responsive web store is a crucial sales conversion channel and is now a requirement for online merchants seeking to attract and convert unprecedented mobile traffic.

A poor mobile experience can take a significant bite out of sales revenue. According to Kissmetrics, a one second delay in page response time can result in a 7% reduction in conversions. If an ecommerce site is making $100,000 per day, a one second page delay could potentially cost the site $2.5 million in lost sales every year.

2. Mobile Wallet Acceptance

Along with a mobile-optimized storefront, customers want the ability to pay for purchases from their mobile wallets as well. No longer do customers need to have a credit card on-hand to complete a checkout – Apple Pay, Android Pay, PayPal, and others allow mobile users to pay with the simple click of a button.

As customers become more comfortable with using these non-traditional payment forms, online merchants offering mobile payment capabilities on their website can reap significant benefits. According to a First Annapolis study, in May 2015, 40% of respondents had made a mobile payment within the past 12 months; one year later, that number rose to 74%. Ignoring the rise of mobile payment functionality puts ecommerce businesses at risk of being left behind.

3. Data as a Service

While online shopping offers convenience and ease, one drawback is that shoppers can’t physically handle the merchandise before buying. Ecommerce purchases can be a leap of faith – unless the customer has bought the product before, they won’t know how well it will work until it’s delivered to their door.

However, an online merchant can reduce those concerns by providing extensive, in-depth product information. According to a report by Salsify, 88% of consumers say that product content is extremely or very important to their purchase decision. Detailed product descriptions, specifications, hi-resolution images, demo videos, customer reviews, blog posts, etc. are all key to familiarizing the customer with the product, and helping them make a well-informed decision.

The easier it is for customers to make a confident purchasing decision on your website, the less likely they are to make returns – a win for both the customer and you, the merchant.

The more details that are provided on a product page, the better. Familiarize online shoppers with products using in-depth content.  

4. Trust Built by User-Generated Content

While an online store may not deliver the same tactile experience of a brick-and-mortar location, it can still provide experiences that connect the customer with the online store’s brand, and its products. For instance, an online store that offers customers a community-building platform for actively engaging with the brand, and with other fellow brand advocates, is a valuable way to foster participation.

Promoting and publicizing user-generated content – such as customer-created photos and videos, reviews and articles – enable online merchants to deliver great customer experiences while cultivating organic, trusted brand outreach and awareness. Furniture retailer West Elm does this well by including user-generated photos in the “Share Your Style” sections of their product pages.

According to 3D Cart, 82% of shoppers say that user-generated content is extremely important when deciding on purchases. In fact, according to comScore, brand engagements rise by 28% when consumers are exposed to both professional content and user-generated product video.

5. Brand Promotion by Customers through Social Media

In addition to creating an online store that fosters customer engagement, online merchants must take advantage of social media networks that connect their customers to broader audiences. According to Ambassador, 71% of online customers who have a positive service experience via social media are likely to recommend that company. Responding swiftly to customer posts or issues, being authentic in your social media voice, using beautiful visuals, and offering exciting contests and incentive programs that encourage more shares and likes are all useful for widening your social presence.

Encourage social shares, likes, and comments by posting unique content that piques audience interest.

6. Hyper Personalization with Machine Learning

Machine learning is the next step in tailoring the online shopping experience to the individual shopper’s needs and desires, showing them the right products at the right times. Microsoft explains machine learning as “a technique of data science that helps computers learn from existing data in order to forecast future behaviors, outcomes, and trends.” In other words, machine learning takes data, searches for patterns in that data, and develops algorithms that adjust actions accordingly.

Machine learning’s ability to help online merchants automatically individualize  content is critical in today’s customer-centric world, with greater personalization offering important advantages. For instance, Forrester Research finds that 77% of consumers have chosen, recommended, or paid more for a brand that provides a personalized service or experience.

When applied to ecommerce, machine learning helps an online store dynamically modify itself according to the habits and preferences of the customer browsing the site. For example, customized product recommendations that are based on a shopper’s buying habits and preferences can be prominently displayed. (This blog in particular has a lot of great detail on how to machine learning enables product recommendations).

Search can also be greatly enhanced with machine learning, building upon the keyword and synonym search functionality that ecommerce sites currently offer, and factoring in such metrics as click rates, conversion rates, inventory availability, etc. Machine learning can also help ecommerce stores better analyze pricing trends, inventory demand, and customer purchases to determine the appropriate, competitive prices for merchandise.

Leverage machine learning to personalize such areas of the ecommerce store as site search, product recommendations, home page design, etc., to create memorable shopping experiences.  

7. Virtual Customer Assistance with Chatbots

People want answers, and they want them now. An increasingly popular way for online merchants to efficiently (and cost-effectively) automate the customer service process is through chatbots – computer programs that simulate human conversation, providing responses to a customer’s chat queries. Nearly 60% of U.S. millennials have used a chatbot (and more than half of those who had never used a chatbot said they’d be interested in trying one), according to a survey by Retale.

If a shopper has a question about a product, or is looking for something in particular and not sure where to find it, a chatbot can respond immediately with what the customer needs. Chatbots interact with buyers right when they are shopping and need help – the shopper doesn’t need to pick up the phone, or visit another site, or make a purchase they aren’t confident in and will end up returning. Chatbots can also up-sell and cross-sell other products by offering targeted recommendations according to a shopper’s questions and stated preferences.

Chatbots provide immediate, helpful assistance to online shoppers, in addition to promoting up-sell and cross-sell opportunities.

8. Localized Marketing with Geolocation

A one-size-fits-all marketing approach is not going to cut it in today’s globally connected digital world – it’s all about the personalization. Geolocation – the ability to identify a person’s (or their device’s) location by their IP address – enables online merchants to deliver highly targeted, local-specific communications to customers.

For instance, the winter clothing needs of an upstate New Yorker are very different from those of a Los Angeleno. Geolocation allows an online merchant to display content, pricing, and promotions specific to the online shopper’s region, state, city, country, etc. Geolocation can also direct them to the nearest brick-and-mortar store (if the merchant has brick-and-mortar locations in addition to the ecommerce channel). According to Jupiter Research, a web visitor is 6-7 times more likely to convert to a sale when localized content is provided.

Target’s Cartwheel app offers personalized offer recommendations based on past purchases and interests.

9. Customer Retention with Loyalty Programs

While acquiring new customers is a key part of growing business, keeping the existing customer base happy and engaged is crucial to sustaining success. According to research by Invesp, existing customers are 50% more likely to try new products and spend 31% more, when compared to new customers.

A loyalty program (or loyalty app) is a valuable tool for nurturing customer relationships, allowing loyalty members to accrue and redeem special offers, discounts, points or rewards either by completing specific actions, or simply by being members of the program. The easier to understand and use the loyalty program, the more likely that customers will stick with it. In addition, loyalty tiers that offer progressively more unique and exciting benefits as customers move up tiers also encourage loyalty participation.

The Starbucks rewards app is one of the most popular loyalty programs out there. Not only is it easy for people to join, but it’s easy to accrue and redeem rewards (as well as earn special offers).

10. Voice Search Facility

In the quest for speedier answers and resolutions, voice search has risen dramatically. With new improvements in voice search technology, and devices such as Amazon Echo and Alexa spurring greater adoption, comScore predicts that 33 million such devices will be in circulation in 2017, and that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be voice searches.

An online merchant that incorporates SEO best practices in the online store’s pages – such as in-depth content, relevant page URLs, and image alt-tags – will help ensure that their store will be one of the top results for appropriate voice search queries.

Dom, pizza chain Domino’s voice controlled pizza ordering assistant available on the mobile app, takes people’s orders.

11. Streamlined Return Processes

No matter how detailed the descriptions or how plentiful the images on a product page, sometimes a product just isn’t quite right – and a customer won’t find out until the item arrives. A return shouldn’t be a negative experience (for the merchant or the customer); instead, consider it as another customer service channel offering the opportunity to “wow.”

Being clear and upfront about your return policy, and making the process as easy as possible for the customer to initiate and complete, are critical to keeping customer satisfaction high. According to comScore, an inconvenient returns policy deters 80% of shoppers; and Invesp finds that 67% of shoppers check the returns page before making a purchase. Don’t let a complicated and challenging return process turn away potential sales.

The more comprehensive the return policy on your online store, the more comfortable that shoppers will feel pulling the trigger and purchasing. For instance, Amazon provides extensive details on all the different return policies currently available.

12. Video Impacts Sales

If a picture is worth a thousand words, videos pack a powerful visual punch. Videos offer a quick yet valuable snapshot into how a product looks, feels and works. In addition, videos are simply fun to watch. People want to be entertained as much as they want to be informed, and videos can deliver on both in a short amount of time. Buffer finds that 85% of consumers are more likely to buy after watching a product video, and 57% have more confidence in their online purchase.

A video provides a valuable snapshot into how your merchandise works. White House Black Market’s videos on each product page are helpful for shoppers looking to understand how an item looks and moves.  

13. Top-Notch Fraud Management

The threat of fraud makes even the most dedicated online shopper pause. The rise in mobile shopping has also created new opportunities for cyber criminals, because tracking fraud attempts on a mobile device is far more challenging than tracking them on a computer. Experian notes that ecommerce fraud increased 33% in 2016 compared to 2015 totals.

Continuously monitoring an online store for any potential security risks is critical to keeping things running safely and securely. In particular, an ecommerce platform that provides first-rate risk management is essential to the protection of your business and customer data.

For example, Hitachi Solutions Ecommerce System puts data protection as an utmost priority, going beyond the standard PCI compliance with a PCI certified platform. PCI certification is an exhaustive, end-to-end audit from a qualified security assessor (QSA) to verify that proper security controls and measures are in place to protect the customer. As Automatic Merchandiser magazine describes, “PCI certification is proof, whereas PCI compliance is a claim.”

14. Fast and Free Shipping is Expected

The hardest part of an online purchase is waiting for it to arrive. Customers want quick shipping and delivery, and they don’t want to pay for it. In fact, free shipping on its own can be a compelling offer – according to a study by UPS and comScore, 54% of shoppers are likely to take advantage of an email offer for free shipping; 45% of shoppers also abandoned a cart when the order value didn’t qualify for free shipping.

While major retailers may have larger shipping and fulfillment resources they can leverage (such as Amazon and its Prime service), smaller independent online merchants can still compete in a cost-effective way. Evaluating different carriers and their service levels, restricting free shipping to certain states or regions (depending on your fulfillment center locations), establishing minimum order thresholds that qualify for free shipping, restricting free shipping only to loyalty members or specific times of the year, or incorporating shipping into the prices of your products can all help provide a satisfying shipping and delivery experience.

Although Amazon Prime is a leader in terms of fast delivery, smaller businesses can compete by providing different criteria that earns quick shipping.

15. “Black Friday” Replaced by “Black November”

The bulk of holiday shopping is no longer confined to just Black Friday and Cyber Monday – shoppers are getting an increasingly early jump-start on their holiday purchases. According to the Curalate, between November 1 and November 23 (the day before Thanksgiving), shoppers spent $27.2 billion, a 4.3% increase over the same timeframe in 2015. Launching holiday-specific promotions and special offers early in November will help capture the attention (and wallets) of these early birds.

Take advantage of the holiday season – and its early bird shoppers – by extending holiday deals and special offers early.

Questions? We Can Help!

Is your online store aligned with these trends? Will evolving with them be easy or challenging? Hitachi Solutions can help you understand how best to equip your online store with the latest-and-greatest features and functionality. Contact us today to start a conversation!

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