In the last few years, we’ve seen e-commerce rise from pure plays to multi-channel. Retail e-commerce sales soared to $2.3 trillion globally in 2017, and are expected to grow to $4.88 trillion in 2021. To maximize this growth we must align business and marketing goals with growing market trends.
The biggest predicaments for e-commerce businesses today are not just to increase conversion rates, but also retention and customer loyalty. E-commerce brands will have to focus heavily on personalization to win customers’ trust, which can, in turn, increase conversion rates.
I believe there are four trends that will have an impact on e-commerce in 2019:
1. Artificial Intelligence
I predict that deep learning that leads to high levels of personalization is going to be the primary goal of e-commerce as it helps build customer loyalty and convenience. In October 2017, I became a marketing advisor for a cloud-based customer-relationship management (CRM) solution focused on creating an entirely new sales and marketing platform built from the ground up with artificial intelligence (AI).
I’ve seen firsthand that AI has the potential to help remove many of the hurdles around conversion rates that most companies still face. For example, one pain point used to be lack of personalization. We saw this in one-size-fits-all templates that attempted to capture the wants and needs of a company’s target audience.
However, today, with the support of AI, companies like Adobe have software that allows real-time reconfigurations of web pages based on previous visits and available data that businesses have collected on their customers. With AI, true personalization down to the individual level is now possible (whereas before there were simply too many variables to manage manually).
AI can also simplify the management of customers and sales, which can lead to improving the overall customer experience. On the sales side, for example, AI can help prioritize which leads to focus on based on all the available information leading up to the prospect becoming a lead, including historical purchase behavior. By not treating each lead as equally important, sales teams are free to dive deeper into the ideal customer prospects that are most likely to become core client advocates. This increased focus delivers a holistically better customer experience from the start.
AI will also play a significant role in improving the e-commerce shopping experience in the future, particularly in the areas of follow-up and personalization. Most companies have enough data on their customers’ needs and yet aren’t leveraging these insights. Using an automated system, humans can handle more customer queries more efficiently, prioritize and answer phone calls, reply to emails automatically and flag emails for higher prioritization, allowing current teams to be more proactive and helpful.
With AI, marketers can analyze customers’ information and target them based on past purchases, preferred payment options and personal interests. They can track the searches customers make and push offers at the right time via the right channels. Sales teams can use this to pitch a product and approach customers accordingly. This is especially helpful for business to business (B2B) organizations that have long and complex buying journeys and a lot of money at stake.
When working with strategic partners to integrate AI into your business process, make sure they are committed to helping you unlock the potential you have stored in your data collection practices. The key is to work with someone you trust and who has a demonstrated track record in leveraging AI inside of businesses (versus the “theoretical advantages” of AI).
I put off playing with chatbots for some time, but recently took the plunge and started experimenting with one for my Facebook account and have a better understanding of the value they deliver.
Today’s shoppers demand customer support 24/7. While much of what customers want is available in the company’s knowledge base, shoppers want instant answers. Chatbots can provide this enhanced shopping experience. But it must be clear that the business is using a chatbot (and not pretending to be a human via chat).
By developing chatbots for social media platforms, businesses can reach more customers with less human capital investments in call centers and customer service centers. Personalized and quick service is possible with chatbots, as integrating them into a business’s systems allows customers to ask natural-language questions and buy with less friction. It’s also possible to save customer preferences so that shoppers can easily reorder, return or exchange products.
My advice is to go slow here. A chatbot is not a silver bullet that solves all your problems. It’s simply an enhanced tool that, when disclosed properly, can help your customers get faster access to the information they seek about you and your company.
3. Subscription Commerce
Popularized by brands like Dollar Shave Club, Blue Apron and Stitch Fix, subscriptions have won over many younger shoppers and could become the future of e-commerce.
According to research, 15% of online shoppers choose this as a method to purchase and subscribe to one or more services. The market has seen more than 100% yearly growth in the past five years, which has attracted brands like P&G (Gillette on Demand), Sephora (Play!) and Walmart (Beauty Box) to start their own subscription services.
A subscription box business model offers convenience as customers receive product types of their choice without having to browse or make any effort to order a product online. Streaming media subscriptions were popular for a long time, but now monthly boxes are entering beauty, food, apparel and other markets.
4. Mobile Commerce
Mobile apps have higher conversion rates when compared to desktop and mobile web purchase behavior. According to eMarketer, mobile e-commerce (m-commerce) sales are expected to account for almost 73% of total e-commerce sales. And it’s expected to drive as much as $152 billion (paywall) in annual sales. What this means is that when building e-commerce today, focus on mobile first.
The bottom line? Personalization is the key for e-commerce businesses to grow in 2019. Leverage these trends to enhance your e-commerce shopping experience.