Ecommerce sure has come a long way, baby. Over the last 15 years, technology has advanced at a dizzying pace, with pioneering techniques and capabilities continuing to emerge, making the online retail experience even more efficient and enjoyable.
Recently, we’ve seen a focus on website optimization to improve click-through and conversion rates, mobile friendliness, data and insight-driven decision-making, and content marketing automation. And these focal points are sparking new trends and innovations when it comes to selling and shopping online.
As a marketer, it’s important to take stock of what’s been working well and to scale those aspects of your company. But in order to stay fresh and maintain your company’s edge, you also need to keep a vigilant eye on developing opportunities and advancements.
According to the findings of Forrester Research, Inc., “Online shoppers in the United States will spend $327 billion in 2016, up 45% from $226 billion this year and 62% from $202 billion in 2011.” Therefore, with the New Year fast approaching, marketers need to bring their A-games to the table and stay abreast of the expected ecommerce developments to improve their offers and impress their customers.
That said, what are some noteworthy ecommerce trends that marketers should anticipate in 2016?
Ecommerce Trends to Watch Out For
Below, you’ll find four ecommerce trends that are definitely worth exploring and incorporating into your 2016 marketing and design strategies.
Taking “Mobile Friendly” to the Next Level
The first step was to create websites that could operate decently well on mobile devices. Now, the next phase is to graduate beyond simple mobile friendliness and to marry the ecommerce experience to mobile utility, thus rearing an mcommerce store with “zero friction.”
People are using their phones more and more and not just to talk and text but also to surf the web and shop. Consequently, providing mobile shopping options and support are no longer bonus features of retail websites; they’re absolute necessities.
Neil Patel of KISSmetrics shares some impressionable statistics about ecommerce:
Neil Patel: “78% of mobile searches for local business information result in a purchase. One of the most eye-popping statistics from mobile studies is the high percentage of mobile searchers who convert. The percentage of searches that result in a local purchase show mobile winning by a significant margin…
Two out of three customers prefer accessing a mobile website than a mobile application. Most users want a mobile experience without the barrier of a mobile app. When a user has to download an app in order to browse or complete a transaction, this is considered an unnecessary barrier…
One third of all ecommerce purchases were made on a smartphone during the holiday shopping season (2013). Black Friday is traditionally the day when shoppers wake at ungodly hours, freeze in long lines, and trample one another in an effort to buy big-screen TVs and discounted vacuum cleaners. But who want to risk life and lose sleep if they can cozily snag a deal in the comfort of their very own bed? Cyber Monday is giving way to a cyberized and mobilized Black Friday…
Customers spend more time shopping on mobile devices than desktops.
- 44% of retail Internet minutes are spent on mobile phones.
- 11% of retail Internet minutes are spent on tablets.
That comprises more than half of all time spent shopping online.”
What practical steps can marketers take to ensure their websites are optimized for mcommerce?
Given their increased likelihood to convert with local business searches, mobile users represent a highly valuable customer segment, and marketers should respond accordingly by catering to mobile users’ needs and wants.
For instance, if you have a brick and mortar storefront in addition to an ecommerce website, make sure your site is optimized for local search, which you can accomplish with the following two strategies:
- Identify local search terms with the keyword research tool for local marketers and put into action an SEO campaign that targets a particular location and is optimized for local business listings, including Google+ Local and Bing Local.
- Implement a PPC campaign that targets a specific location, making sure to include your phone number and business address in the PPC ad so mobile users can easily click to call or click to get directions.
Also, while mobile applications have a lot of advantages over mobile websites, customers are willing to waive these benefits in order to have a quick and easy retail experience that doesn’t necessitate any hoop-jumping.
In other words, mobile users aren’t interested in establishing brand loyalty by downloading yet another app. They want to get in, shop from their mobile browsers, and get out. Therefore, it’s your job to enhance your mobile site by offering high-resolution, intuitive navigation, adequate touch control options, and conversion-readiness.
Basically, you need to make your mobile site as app-like as possible.
According to Shop.org executive director Vicki Cantrell, “Since U.S. consumers now spend more than half of their time on retailers’ websites using their smartphones and tablets, mobile can’t be viewed simply as an ancillary device or action, it now epitomizes how consumers think and act when they interact with retailers.”
However, mobile users are still somewhat reluctant to pull the trigger on mcommerce purchases, preferring to browse on their phone and then complete the sale on their desktop or laptop. The reason for this is most likely because the checkout process on a mobile device is often clumsy and a big ol’ pain in the neck.
Yet given the significant percentage of customers who interact with websites on their phones, it’s in your best interest to simplify the checkout process and make it as mobile-friendly as possible.
To do this, you should allow both guest checkouts and 1-click checkouts for returning customers. Additionally, you can use a Google Maps plugin to suggest a customer’s address while he or she is filling in the shipping or billing information. Visual calendars as opposed to numeric dates also make for a more seamless checkout process.
Creating a More Personalized Shopping Experience
First off, what does personalization entail? Well, personalization comes down to presenting consumers with targeted content, promotions, and information, and acknowledging their intentions and preferences in order to make the retail experience more positive and meaningful.
Research from Nielson and Forrester indicates that consumers have high expectations when it comes to personalization—just because a shopping experience takes place online, that doesn’t mean the relationship-building or interactive components can be sacrificed.
As a result, “a user-centric, optimized experience is becoming not just a priority, but a competitive advantage. According to Gartner, 89% of executives believe that customer experience will be their primary mode of competition by the end of 2016,” reports Shana Rusonis of Optimizely.
From using a customer’s first name in an email greeting to incorporating guided search and navigation features, there’s a lot that ecommerce sites can do to make the shopping experience more personal and engaging for customers.
For example, the fashion jewelry company BaubleBar gives customers the option to video chat with stylists and zoom in on products, features that have been working incredibly well. “When customers shop with a stylist using video chat, the average order value is 300 percent higher than the average, meaning that even if customers intend to buy just one thing, a friendly face on the screen showing them options inspired them to get even more,” reports Teresa Novellino of Upstart.
eBags.com is also making an effort to connect with customers by catering to their needs and preferences. When you purchase an item from the website—say, for example, a new wallet—eBags sends a confirmation email that thanks you for your business and includes a photo of your new wallet along with images of and information about related items that you may be interested in, such as a money clip or briefcase.
What practical steps can marketers take to create a more personalized shopping experience?
Focusing on personalization allows you to keep up with your customers’ changing needs and desires so you can optimize their experience, gain their trust, and build long-term relationships, all of which helps to increase your profits.
According to Justin Christianson, co-founder of Conversion Fanatics:
“The name of the game is to get in better touch with your site visitors and create a personalized shopping experience.
For example, you can target and display content and products based on geographic information and previous browsing history. If a person lives in Minnesota and it’s the middle of winter, you wouldn’t want to show them t-shirts—rather, sweaters and scarves.
The more interactive you can be and personalize the shopping experience, the better your conversion rates are going to be.”
Dale Traxler of Practical Ecommerce offers the following suggestions for creating a more personalized shopping experience:
Dale Traxler: “Personalize anywhere you can. Even if you can’t invest in an ecommerce platform or development project to deliver personalized shopping, you can personalize other events.
- Opt-in emails.Segment your lists based on products, shopping preferences, or frequency.
- Transaction emails.Offer complementary products along with a promotional coupon in your confirmation emails.
- On your website.Offer different navigation options, a good site search engine, landing pages for promotions, or saved shopping carts for shoppers.
- Social media.Use Twitter to engage in personal dialogues with your customers. Use hashtags for product discussions. Create Pinterest boards that are topical
- Loyalty programs.Offer rewards to personalize the customer experience and reward them to share more with you.
- Include printed promotions for related products when you ship an order.
- On phone and chat.If you talk or chat with a customer, offer her upsells and related items. Be sure to pull up the customer’s history while you are talking to her and personalize the experience in some way.
- Ad networks.If you do remarketing through Google or other ad networks, tie in specific products or categories whenever you can to increase your visibility.
- Landing pages.Create landing pages for promotions, for repeat customers when they log in, or any other time you can create a personalized experience
- Wish lists.Provide a method for customers to quickly return to the things they are interested in.
- All devices.If you can see your shopping list on a website, be sure you can get to it on your smartphone.”
Combining Commerce with Engaging Content
In 2016, you can expect to see more companies transforming their ecommerce sites into “rich lifestyle-oriented destinations” by combining commerce with content—a pairing that’s almost as satisfying as peanut butter and jelly.
Etsy and Birchbox are two companies that have already achieved success through a content-centric approach to ecommerce:
Jan Verleur of V2 Cigs: “Etsy does a great job at combining content and commerce by profiling artists and featuring DIY projects while using its social media platforms to promote all of it. In that capacity, Etsy has become more than simply an ecommerce site, but rather a web destination for a variety of audiences ranging from customers, and artists who may want to display their work, to visitors interested in the art/DIY lifestyle and culture.
Birchbox is another excellent example of an ecommerce site successfully creating high-quality content to generate repeat business. Its blog is packed with “how-to” guides and style tips that rival the scope of traditional lifestyle publications like Cosmo and GQ. There is also the option to buy any of the items featured in the post, whether they [are] dress shirts or watches. This is content and commerce working together to achieve the same objective.”
Providing customers with fresh content keeps them coming back for more; plus, it’s an effectual SEO and branding tool. However, an ecommerce content strategy has to strike an agreeable balance between selling and engaging visitors. While your website is designed to sell, the content that you push has to take a softer approach by entertaining, educating, and demonstrating your brand without coming across as being too “salesy.” Using content to help achieve your objective of selling more goods or services has to be handled with finesse.
What practical steps can marketers take to combine commerce with content?
According to Dr. Mike Baxter, there are three main types of content:
- Transitional Content: “Content which aims to move customers [a]long the funnel, from awareness of products and services to interest.”
- Transactional Content (or micro-copy): “Content that persuades and helps people to complete a transaction,” such as signing up to receive a newsletter.
- Relationship-Building Content: “This covers most of what people think of when content marketing is mentioned. The aim is to attract and build an audience and gain trust. It’s not the hard sell, but should help move customers towards the point where other types of content are needed.”
All three of these content types are necessary when it comes to implementing a successful ecommerce content strategy. But, as previously discussed, striking a balance between promo copy and engaging, informative content can be a challenge. Plus, a number of other common issues can occur.
James Carson shares four mistakes that ecommerce companies often make:
- Slapping content onto your site without fully integrating it or not displaying the content where it will have the most impact.
For example, the DIY retail company Wickes offers useful how-to articles and buyer’s guides, but the links are buried within the footer at the bottom of the page, where visitors are less likely to look.
This content would get a ton more eyeballs on it if it were displayed on the category page or the main navigation menu.
- Producing new content too infrequently or haphazardly.
The ideal amount of content published on an ecommerce site varies from business to business, so you will need to experiment to find the frequency that works best for you. Once you find that sweet spot, however, remember that consistency is key. If you aim to publish one new post a day, you need to stick to that goal.
- Allowing your evergreen content to get lost in the shuffle.
Given its perpetual relevance and timeliness, evergreen content warrants a more prominent positioning on your website. Take, for example, the “Denim Style Guide” featured on the M&S clothing site:
The guide is displayed where visitors are sure to notice it. Plus, it serves as a piece of transitional content, helping shoppers find the fit and style of jeans that’s most flattering on their figure.
- Underestimating the value of SEO.
An ecommerce content strategy offers companies the opportunity to improve their rankings for useful terms related to their products and services. Therefore, make sure to do the following to improve your content’s SEO: include title, description, and keyword metadata; create relevant links within the text as opposed to “click here” links; and describe your visual and video media with alt tags.
Analyzing Customer Data Through Predictive Analytics
Different people engage with websites in different ways, and predictive analytics help you gain a better understanding of your customers’ behavior so you can develop solutions to better qualify your leads.
Predictive analytics can improve your ecommerce efforts in the following six ways:
- Optimize pricing management to determine the right price at the right time for your products or services.
- Launch highly targeted and more personalized promotions to better match your customers’ needs.
- Reduce fraud and lower credit card chargeback rates by analyzing payment methods along with browsing and purchasing patterns, and removing those products that are more vulnerable to fraud.
- Gain a better understanding of customer demand to more effectively manage inventory and reduce overstock.
- Analyze data, such as the optimal time to launch a promotion and which offers will lead to more sales, in real-time so your decision-making can keep up with the fast-paced retail environment.
- Provide improved customer service at lower costs.
What practical steps can marketers take to use predictive analytics?
Predictive analytics are very important for a business’s success. However, deploying predictive analytics is both time-consuming and costly. Therefore, working with an experienced data-scientist (to help create your predictive models) and a developer (to integrate your predictive models into your website) is recommended to ensure your predictive analytics’ investment is put to good use.
Gagan Mehra of Conversion XL offers three options for how to use predictive analytics:
- Integrating predictive tools and plugins with your ecommerce platform
“Given the rise of predictive analytics, several ecommerce platform vendors are offering predictive tools & plugins. These should be the first choice if your business is using one of these platforms as it is the easiest way to start using predictive analytics without the headache of painful integrations.”
Here are two suggestions:
- Creating more custom solutions by using an open source predictive analytics platform
“This option will require the retailer to do the dirty work of implementing the open source solution in their environment. This means hiring the right skilled resources to implement these solutions and given these are open source products, there could be a few stepping stones (a.k.a. failures) before success is achieved with enabling predictive analytics in the retailer’s environment.”
Here are three platform suggestions:
- Purchasing a full-featured suite
“This is easily the most expensive option available—a single user license for SaS is $8.700—however, they also provide the most functionality for predictive analytics…The benefit of these offerings is that they have pre-built models for different areas like fraud, pricing management, etc. and only require minor tweaking to make them work in a retailer’s environment.”
Here are three packaged suggestions:
The world of ecommerce exists in a state of continual flux and growth, and people have higher expectations than ever when it comes to shopping online. And they absolutely do not want to settle—nor do they have to, given the array or options available and the ease with which customers can switch brands. People want their online retail experience to be easily managed from all devices so they can shop when they’re on the go and from any location; plus, they want the experience to be personalized, secure, and engaging.
Consequently, online retailers need to realize that the customer is king and stay up-to-date on current ecommerce marketing, technology, and design trends, such as the infinite scroll, so they can demonstrate their innovation to customers and outperform their competitors.
The fast approaching New Year is sure to see even more emerging trends and advancements than the four trends discussed above. Therefore, as an online retailer, you should continue looking to the future and strategize accordingly to help your business continue to evolve and maintain its competitive edge.
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