In our always-on, globally connected economy, it is important to not confuse a trend with a fad. Fads are short-lived, with trending on Twitter hashtags being the digital equivalent of a mayfly, while trends, particularly in the marketplace, are often around for longer periods of time. It is usually safe for businesses to ignore fads, but they should seldom ignore trends, which isn’t to suggest they immediately adopt any emerging trend, but rather that they should closely monitor them, and adopt those that are relevant to their industry, and that could benefit them.
Within the retail sector, trends emerge from how customers shop, what they buy, and how they respond to marketing. As eCommerce has grown in popularity over the last decade, we have started to see these trends influence online retailers, with Amazon often at the forefront of trend adoption. However, you don’t have to be an eCommerce giant like Amazon in order to adopt many of these trends, and to benefit from them.
Our look at the next big things in eCommerce starts with personalization, and one of the first steps in personalization is programmatic marketing, an evolved and more advanced form of retargeting. The simplest form of retargeting involved having your ads shown to a user while they browsed other – sometimes related – websites, but only after they had first visited your site. The purpose, obviously, was to try and draw them back to your site.
Programmatic marketing, however, uses a far larger set of data when deciding on who your ad should be shown to, and more importantly, which ads to show them. In essence, programmatic marketing is about showing the right ad to the right people, at the right time. Unlike basic retargeting, with programmatic marketing you stand to reach a far larger audience, since the right people in the above statement aren’t necessarily existing customers who have previously visited your website. Some of them will be customers who have never visited your site, and possibly don’t even know about your business until they see your ad.
When hearing the phrase marketing automation, many people immediately think email, but true marketing automation extends beyond email, particularly when it comes to eCommerce. For online retailers, marketing automation extends into personalized landing pages, email marketing, promotions, and even the recommended products shown to existing customers.
This level of customization and personalization used to require a significant investment, limiting it to large retailers with deep pockets. However, there are now companies who offer managed recommendation and personalization solutions that are accessible to most online retailers, regardless of size.
Personalization is about more than using your customer’s real name in email marketing, while marketing automation is more than just email marketing. When properly implemented, marketing automation allows you to send email marketing that is specifically tailored for each customer, showing them new products and special offers that are based on their own shopping and browsing history. It allows you to do the same with coupons and special offers, and it can automatically customize your eCommerce site for each customer; the recommendations each customer receives while browsing your store are directly influenced by what they have previously bought, or shown interest in.
One of the biggest challenges in eCcommerce, particularly when it comes to automation and personalization, is segmenting your customers, and identifying patterns based on their history. Algorithms can do this for you, but you still need humans to analyze the results, and to confirm the recommendations that come up. Talking about Stitch Fix in a recent article, their chief algorithms officer described it as:
an analog “guide” who could interpret the algorithm’s data. Observe, in other words, what an algorithm simply could not see.
Another limitation of algorithms is that the accuracy of the data they return is influenced by the quality and size of the data they analyze. This can be particularly challenging for young startups, and smaller e-commerce businesses who don’t have vast amounts of historical data yet; though partnering with a 3rd-party provider, who has access to large data sets, can help minimize this.
A trend that has been around for some time, but just keeps growing in importance, is that of mobile access. Each year, and each major holiday season, online retailers confirm that the number of transactions that took place on a mobile device are higher than the previous year. We are at a point in time – and this trend – where all online retailers should have a fully responsive website that functions the same on computers and mobile devices. But many still don’t, or haven’t even considered it. Having a standalone app, or a separate mobile site, may appease some customers, but only if it still gives them access to your full catalogue – limit the product range, and you are limiting your sales.
The simple reality is that people have their mobile devices with them for longer periods of time than they are in front of a desktop computer; not forgetting that in many emerging markets more people have access to a mobile phone than have access to a computer. If their experience using your website on a mobile device is unpleasant they are simply going to move on to your competitor. They aren’t going to complain, or even wait for you to fix it.
Better Shipping Options
For many years there weren’t many changes when it came to shipping options and eCommerce. Retailers experimented with free shipping, and there were small, incremental improvements in shipping time. But there wasn’t anything truly disruptive. Until 2013, when more and more same-day delivery services started to emerge – including several that used the principle of crowdsourced drivers – and larger retailers also began investigating delivery via drone. For now, faster delivery via crowdsourced drivers or specialized services remains the most viable option for most retailers, with drone deliveries still dependent on strict regulatory approval that varies from country to country. The impact of this trend is best illustrated by the fact that Amazon has just announced that they are investigating the use of crowdsourced delivery agents.
Years ago, with limited choice, customers grudgingly accepted a best effort from online retailers; but as the amount of time and money they spend online has grown, so too has their willingness to settle for best effort decreased. Customers have shown that they respond, and spend, when they are treated like individuals; when the products that are recommended to them, and the promotions that are offered, seem to be handpicked especially for them; when they are able to shop at any time – and using almost any device – without the experience being different in any way; and when they only have wait hours, instead of days, before the item is delivered to them.
Finding ways to adopt, and adapt, these five trends for your own online store will benefit both you and your customers.
Disclaimer: This is a guest post. The statements, opinions and data contained in these publications are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of iamWire and the editor(s).