Ecommerce Trends That Are Powering Online Retail Forward

The ecommerce industry is always changing and this year has been no different. More than ever, merchants are creating and/or improving their ecommerce businesses to meet customers where they are. While it may seem like everything in ecommerce is evolving, we narrowed it down to the biggest trends that will affect businesses in the coming months and years.

We spoke with leaders in the industry about the changes this year and they had a lot to share. So, let’s explore the biggest ecommerce trends and see where things are headed.

  1. AR enhances the reality of online shopping.
  2. There will be a growing volume of voice search.
  3. AI helps shops learn about shoppers.
  4. On-site personalization uses those insights to create individualized experiences.
  5. Big data plays a big part in creating personalized experiences.
  6. Chatbots improve the shopping experience.
  7. Mobile shopping is still on the move.
  8. More ways to pay.
  9. Headless and API-driven ecommerce allow continued innovation.
  10. Customers respond to video.
  11. Subscriptions keep customers coming back.
  12. Sustainability is becoming more important.
  13. Businesses should optimize digital strategy for conversion.
  14. B2B is growing…and changing.

1. Augmented reality enhances the reality of online shopping.

Augmented reality (AR) has been a complete game changer for ecommerce. With this type of technology, shoppers can truly see the item they’re shopping for, which helps them make a buying decision. AR really changes the shopping experience in specific industries, such as fashion and home decor because the customer can get a better feel for the item without seeing it in-person.

In 2019, Gartner predicted that 100 million consumers will shop using AR by 2020, so it will be interesting to see how that shakes out next year.

Michael Prusich, Director of Business Development at 1Digital Agency, agrees with this prediction:

“Polls have shown some really powerful numbers in regards to AR too: 35% of people say that they would be shopping online more if they could virtually try on a product before buying it, and 22% would be less likely to visit a brick-and-mortar store if AR was available via their favorite ecommerce store. AR grants a person with the ability to not just see a 3D model of a product but lets a user see how it looks if they were actually wearing it. Some products and industries lend themself better to traditional shopping methods, but AR is going to shake things up sooner than later.”

Tessa Wuertz, Director of Marketing & Partnerships, efelle.com, also sees the potential for even smaller to midmarket businesses joining the trend:

“We are expecting a lot more businesses to utilize AR for their products and businesses — so much so that it will become more standard in ecommerce and social media platforms. We’re seeing it put to use with larger companies, but I think we’re soon going to start seeing it become mainstream for businesses of all sizes.”

Not only do more people own smart speakers, but they also rely on voice assistants to complete daily tasks. Loop Ventures forecasts that 75% of U.S. households will own a smart speaker by 2025.

As more homes adopt smart speakers, more consumers will utilize voice search to shop online, order food and organize their lives. The rise of voice search creates an opportunity for ecommerce businesses in terms of keywords and content.

David Zimmerman, Director of eCommerce Solutions, Kensium, included “more involvement of voice-enabled solutions in the commerce space with Amazon Alexa and Google Home” high on his list of 2020 trends to keep an eye on.

3. AI helps shops learn about shoppers.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning make it possible for the customer to have automated, personalized shopping experiences. AI is continuously collecting data on how a customer shops, when they buy purchases and what they’re looking for in a product or a service. It’s a piece of technology that really can’t be replicated in-store.

Ron Smith, Editor in Chief, The Digital Outdoor, emphasizes how the complexity of AI and the ability to make it more human is also increasingly important:

“People want to know that brands care about them, and AI will be programmed accordingly. We have currently seen the opposite behavior on social media, where AIs learn from humans’ more negative remarks, but it’s highly likely that consumers will crave the impact. If bots can learn how to form sentences to convey an emotion, companies can soon teach them to offer comfort and products based on customers’ moods.”

4. On-site personalization uses those insights to create individualized experiences.

Buyers of all sorts — including B2C and B2B — are looking for personalized, custom shopping experiences online. The data collected from AI is what makes it possible for a buyer to get personalized product recommendations and detailed customer service.

Implementing personalized experiences on-site or in marketing efforts has been shown to have a strong effect on revenue, with one study finding it had a 25% revenue lift for retailers scaling advanced personalization capabilities.

For further context, this accounted for 19% of participating companies while retailers that were “building basic personalization capabilities” achieved “a revenue lift of 10% or more; the retailers in this tier account for 40% of the participating companies

Kaleigh Moore, freelance writer and ecommerce specialist, sees AI-powered personalization becoming increasingly relevant in 2020:

“As brands harness and leverage more data, they’ll be able to create incredibly relevant experiences for shoppers that feel tailor-made.”

5. Big data plays a role in creating personalized experiences.

Today, many consumers are more aware that ecommerce sites are collecting personal data, which puts them at risk. Because of this, experts have mixed feelings about the benefits of big data and how it affects the personalized shopping experience.

Luis Catter, Conversion Rate Optimization Expert at Kensium Solutions, has his own predictions for how personalization will continue to evolve alongside data concerns:

“As the tech giants continue to expand and bring more services in-house, personalization will eventually make its way to the internet of things. In addition to seeing suggestions on search engines or shopping platforms, we’ll also see them on our thermostats and our doorbell cameras. However, with some of the legislation being enacted, we’ll be able to opt out of it. This will create an interesting dichotomy — people who have ultra-personalized experiences and those who do not. This will have interesting impacts on how we as marketers are able to reach new users.”

6. Chatbots improve shopping experiences.

Chatbots interact with online shoppers much like an in-store sales associate would do. Today’s shopper wants to be able to find and buy a product in just a few clicks, and if they can’t, they get frustrated. This is where a chatbot can step in and save the sale.

Experts predict that 80% of businesses will be using chatbots in 2020.

Shane Barker, Founder and CEO of ecommerce thought leadership blog shanebarker.com/blog posits:

“Chatbots are all the rage today for customer support. However, I think they’ll drastically change the way people shop online. They’ll become one of the most important marketing tools. In the retail space, self-checkout kiosks will probably become the norm and in-store marketing will increase.”

Duran Inci, CEO of Optimum7, sees chatbots becoming increasingly personalized to improve the customer experience:

“The same way chatbots are becoming more intuitive, so do I think that personal shopping assistant bots online will become more prevalent, using previous data to help anticipate new products that you’ll like. Similar to Amazon’s suggestions for similar products.”

7. Mobile shopping is still on the move.

Mobile shopping allows customers to make purchases from anywhere, which is vital in today’s world. However, if your ecommerce site isn’t responsive on mobile or through web apps, you’ll be missing out on big opportunities. Shoppers who are mobile users want the added convenience, plus the ability to pay digitally.

In 2019, Statista estimated that by the end of 2021, 73% of ecommerce sales will take place on a mobile device.

Corey Dubeau, VP of Marketing at Northern Commerce, is one of many who see “improved quality and more mobile payment integrations” to be a harbinger of change in 2020.

8. More ways to pay.

Customers have individual needs when it comes to payment methods, but they might cancel a potential sale if they can’t pay how they want on an ecommerce website. Offering a wide variety of ways to pay is a good way to increase conversion rates on mobile devices. Plus, if customers can save their payment information on your site, they’ll be able to checkout even faster the next time they make a purchase.

Joe Chilson, Head Writer and Account Manager, 1Digital Agency sees centralization of payments also making strides in 2020:

“Think about how easy it would be to buy a product on any website if, at checkout, you could simply give them an ID unique to you. This unique ID would be for a centralized wallet service that would securely store all your payment info, shipping and billing addresses, preferences, etc. Companies like Apple and PayPal have taken shots at this in the past, but I think it could become more normalized.”

9. Headless and API-driven ecommerce allow continued innovation.

Headless commerce is a solution that allows an online store’s ecommerce platform to be completely decoupled from the frontend presentation layer.

More ecommerce businesses are adopting headless because of its flexibility on the backend, plus the added SEO, content marketing and digital experience capabilities.

LARQ Ecommerce Architect Antonio Kaleb explains: “With headless, we get more control over our content and customer journey through checkout. We had a multi-region need that was solved for with the headless BigCommerce solution, allowing us to combine all of our stores into one single domain, for which we have developed additional features.”

10. Customers respond to video.

Video proved to be a great way to engage customers in 2019, and it’s not going away anytime soon. Creating videos for your website is a great way to instantly grab and engage a customer and inform them about your product or service.

Ron Smith, Editor in Chief, The Digital Outdoor considers how video can be used to help educate customers:

“I see the use of podcasting and short video content to augment the opportunity for buyers to learn about how an ecommerce brand’s products and services provide the solution to the opportunity, challenge or problem a buyer is looking to answer. With these two forms of content development comes the technology to micro track a viewer’s engagement…”

Shane Barker further emphasizes the importance:

“The importance of videos can’t be understated. Videos can help you explain and showcase your products better than images ever can. You should consider adding videos of your products in your ecommerce store.”

11. Subscriptions keep customers coming back.

There are subscriptions of all sorts these days and their convenience is attractive for consumers. For companies, subscription services create a way to plan for inventory and sales that are already locked in.

David Zimmerman, Director of eCommerce Solutions, Kensium still predicts that “more companies will offer subscription services or monthly payment options for larger purchases” in the coming year.

12. Sustainability is becoming more important.

Consumers and businesses alike are becoming more aware of the environment. Because of this, consumers are being more conscious about where they shop and the impact it has on the environment and related effects.

One survey found that 50% of respondents wanted more sustainability in the fashion industry, and 75% wanted to see less packaging.

Many businesses are finding ways to be more eco-friendly by going paperless when possible, using biodegradable packaging, and using recyclable supplies.

13. Businesses should optimize digital strategy for conversion.

Getting potential customers to your site is one task but getting them to convert is another. In 2020, businesses are looking to improve their conversion rates by optimizing their product pages. Multi-channel selling is also another way to get conversions, whether through Facebook advertising or shopping ads on Google.

Scott Ginsberg, Head of Content, Metric Digital adds:

“More and more brands are competing for the same eyes. Facebook’s algorithm rewards video and motion-based creative that are more likely to hook your audience quickly. And customers are also more demanding, impatient and curious than ever before. Make sure you understand the ins and outs of Performance Ad Creative that doesn’t only look cool, but also drives conversions. Using those channels intelligently is the best way to make sure your brand will be uniquely positioned to stand out in the continually changing digital marketing landscape.”

14. B2B is growing…and changing.

If you were ever worried that B2B would go out of style, fear not. Global retail ecommerce sales for B2B are expected to reach $1.1 trillion in 2021, according to data from Statista.

Forrester predicts that by 2020 almost half of all adults will be Millennials, which also means an increase in Millennial B2B buyers. Both of these audiences want to be able to easily research their needs and related products without conversing with salespeople.

B2B ecommerce brands are working to meet these needs. Connie Wong, Marketing Manager, Silk Software, talks about this transition:

“The days of orders needing to be placed through fax order forms or phone calls only are shrinking. More and more businesses are beginning to see the value in servicing their customers online. By automating these tasks through their ecommerce site, teams are moving away from spending the bulk of their time on processing order entries from email spreadsheets or hard copy forms. Instead, they are shifting their focus towards what matters most: engaging with customers, providing them with an excellent customer experience, and establishing ongoing client relationships.”

Weighing Your Options: Deciding if a Trend Makes Sense for Your Business

Not every trend is worth jumping on, but which one deserves your time and effort? While some will provide a huge value-add, others might be out of touch with your particular audience or might be too costly to implement for your business to maintain a reasonable ROI.

Knowing what trends will be a good fit for you will often come down to knowing your own customers, vertical, and competitors backwards and forwards. There’s several things you can do to evaluate industry trends and make the right move for your B2B.

1. Keep track of industry influencers and publications.

Follow blogs and related news in the industry so you can stay on top of what’s happening. Start by finding influencers and publications related to your industry specifically, and then branch out into other markets to get the whole picture.

Every industry changes at some point or another, and staying up to date via reports and data can show you where things are headed. The numbers in these reports often come from original research you can trust, instead of just following the popular word-on-the-street. Plus, when you’re regularly aware of what’s happening in your industry, you’ll grow a sense of what trends are worth the effort and what ones can wait.

3. Make the most of digital tools and analytics to assess your customers’ behavior.

Use customer data to evaluate if a trend is right for you. What do the numbers show? Many trends might work for other businesses, but you know your customers best. Consider utilizing more than one data gathering tool so you can see customer trends from different sources. Use these numbers to see the overall trends in your business. Would adopting a new trend interrupt your customer behavior?

4. Get feedback from your customers.

Don’t be afraid to ask current customers what they need. Getting feedback from current customers can give you insight into trends, and you can create more specific plans for the future. You never know, a customer might even suggest an idea you hadn’t thought of yet.

5. Observe your competitors.

Take a look at your competitors. Did they jump on a specific trend? If so, how did it work for them? Of course, you don’t have to do everything your competition is doing, but being aware is another way to measure a trend.

Conclusion

Okay, so there’s a lot of new things happening in ecommerce. Technology and people are always evolving, and since ecommerce brings it all together, we are always going to be looking toward the future. One thing is for sure, is that it’s never too late to jump right in, learn something new, and evaluate if it’s right for your business. For now, consumers are in the driver’s seats and ecommerce businesses will be customizing the journey ahead for them.