The State of eCommerce Trends in 2018
Over the past few years, eCommerce has moved from a curiosity to a regular staple of life online. Business and consumer audiences alike are taking advantage of the convenience and selection benefits that online stores can offer over their more traditional brick and mortar counterparts.
Of course, that doesn’t mean eCommerce has arrived. Online sales have risen drastically, but in 2017 still only made up a little under 10% of overall retail revenue. The industry is in constant flux, which is what makes the start of 2018 a perfect time to look at the trends that will shape eCommerce in 2018 and beyond.
We’re not talking about trends as they relate to Amazon in this space. The online giant made up almost half of all online sales in the United States last year, and in many ways operates by its own rules. Instead, we are taking a closer look at the four trends that will define and shape the state of small and mid-sized eCommerce businesses as they look to compete with their larger counterparts.
1. The Barriers to Entry are Shrinking
Think about the difficulty of starting an online store five to ten years ago. A custom website needed to be coupled with a secure backend system and credit card processing system designed to accommodate everyday purchases. Increasingly, that is no longer the case. As eCommerce expert Tomas Slimas highlights on Forbes.com:
“It’s never been easier to launch your own online store, find a product to sell, or start an advertising campaign. In the near-future we’ll see even more aspiring entrepreneurs breaking through into the world of eCommerce, who may not have had the means to do so previously.
That’s great news for entrepreneurs looking to break into the eCommerce business, but not necessarily for existing companies already competing in the space. Lower barriers to entry mean increased competition. As customers have more choices on what products to choose, they will be more difficult to convince and faster to jump off.
Businesses looking to remain competitive will need to understand their current and emerging competition, and take strategic steps to highlight their brand and products. From a standout customer experience to unique differentiators, strategy is key to remain successful in this competitive environment.
2. Automation is Becoming a Reality
Gone are the days when automation was reserved for online giants like Walmart and Amazon. A trend that has already started to take shape in previous years, automation will become even more central for digital marketing. Even for smaller businesses, automation is becoming both a reality and a customer expectation.
In 2018, we expect automation to surface for small to mid-sized online merchants in two ways: marketing automation and consumer-facing artificial intelligence. Each of them requires closer consideration.
2.1. The Increasing Dominance of Marketing Automation
What if you could automate some of the most important messages you need to send to potential customers as they move down the buyer’s path to purchase? That’s the essential premise of marketing automation. It’s been in use for years among some of the world’s largest eCommerce brands, and is finally becoming a realistic opportunity for their smaller competition as well.
The essence of marketing automation consists of automated emails (Triggered and Transactional) sent at various stages in the customer buying journey. These messages can take a variety of forms, including (but not limited to):
- Account creation welcome emails
- Cart abandonment/recovery emails
- Order confirmation/thank you emails
- Subscription expiration/renewal emails
- Birthday or anniversary emails
With the right know-how, some of these eMails can be automated in Magento. In addition, there are several eCommerce-centric eMail platforms that integrate extremely well with Magento for added automation efforts.
Notably, one study showed significantly increased open, click, and conversion rates when automating these types of campaigns. Getting the right tools installed, or properly implemented on Magento, will be increasingly critical for eCommerce businesses.
2.2. The Rising Tide of AI as a Business Opportunity
The days of artificial intelligence as a science fiction topic are long over. Today, AI-supported processes are changing the ways in which businesses operate and sell their goods online.
Perhaps the single most important development in the field of AI from an eCommerce perspective are chatbots. These response services are becoming increasingly sophisticated and intelligent, drawing on de-centralized data to offer intelligent responses to customer questions and problems in real-time.
Over the next 7 years, the use of chatbots is expected to grow at least 24% each year. Capabilities continue to increase with that growth, from voice bots to native bots integrated into regular eCommerce websites. Guess what, studies show that half of your customers would already prefer chatbots over personal interactions for all customer service inquiries.
3. Native Social Selling is Entering Mainstream
eCommerce is no longer limited to selling goods or subscriptions on your website. Instead, your customers are beginning to expect that these goods are available where they spend their time online, which just happens to be social media.
The last few years have seen the beginning of this possibility. Through Facebook and Instagram, businesses can sell their products directly without having to redirect to their website. As we enter 2018, that intriguing possibility is moving into the mainstream.
Those inroads are especially prominent in the B2B space, where social selling is already a reality. In fact, 61% of business-facing brands taking advantage of LinkedIn and other networks to augment and enhance their selling practices report a definite positive impact on their revenue. In the consumer space, we’re just getting started.
Almost 50% of consumers have purchased a product as a result of encountering it on social media. Meanwhile, 18% have actually made that purchase directly on their favorite social network. As the capabilities of Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms increase, your business should have a plan in place to meet potential customers where they spend their time.
4. Mobile Dominance Means Constant Availability
To any business already marketing their products or services online, the following should come as no surprise: mobile internet usage is beginning to dominate across audience groups. After first surpassing its desktop counterpart in late 2015, the gap has increased to the point where mobile devices are now clearly your audience’s favorite way to spend time online.
In the past few years, that usage has not necessarily translated to increased mobile transactions. However, that is beginning to change. In fact, the mobile share of eCommerce revenue was expected to be almost 70% in 2017, with an increased value per transaction compared to desktop shoppers.
In addition, it’s time to think beyond smartphones and tablets when it comes to mobile commerce. Smart home devices like Google Home and Amazon Alexa have increased drastically in revenue, and are continually expanding their eCommerce capabilities. Preparing your business for these changing buying opportunities and habits will be key to remain competitive in the new year.
This continuing growth in mobile commerce is also leading to a new reality: customer expectations have changed. They are now constantly connected, and require constant availability. From purchasing a product at 2am to reaching out to your chatbot via their smartphone, your business should be prepared to service these changing needs and expectations.
Preparing Your Online Business for 2018 and Beyond
Of course, these are only a few of the many trends that will shape the world of eCommerce in 2018 and beyond. While its rapid growth has turned it into a major business opportunity, there is still plenty of potential for growth. Preparing your eCommerce business for the coming year means not only knowing what to expect, but also remaining agile to account for any unexpected changes and adjustments in this fluid environment.
We can help you with that adjustment. InteractOne offers Magento and marketing services that ideally prepare businesses for success in the future. We are committed to helping you prepare for any coming trends, while keeping you moving in a way that braces and beats the competition in your industry. Contact us to learn more about our services, and to get started on a partnership that will help you have successful 2018.