As 2015 draws to a close, we reflect on how much ecommerce has changed and in consequence has changed us as well. Online shopping has transformed from a cautious indulgence, to becoming a run of the mill activity. How we buy rather than solely, what we buy, now defines us as consumers. This ever evolving ecommerce landscape keeps marketers on their toes and challenges them to innovate and keep pace with the scale of change. And in this post we take a peek at what we believe will be the trends and challenges that are set to shake up the ecommerce space in 2016.
Let's get the obvious out of the way. Mobile ecommerce is, and will continue to grow ever increasingly important in 2016. Mobile is no longer an afterthought but now considered a vital component of ecommerce success. The era is upon us where more and more shoppers are continuing to transition from traditional desktop sites onto mobile platforms. And mobility is also rapidly expanding exponentially in terms of security, user experience and ubiquity. In fact the total value of spends online is projected to hit US$ 327 Billion by 2016 in the US alone. And with close to 5 billion smartphones in the world, the intertwining of mobility into ecommerce is inevitable. So ignore mobile at your own peril.
Social enabled shopping is on the cusp of a revolution. Combining ecommerce with social media is a marketer's dream, with in-depth consumer insights, real time analytics, personalized product showcasing and the like all influencing bigger and better conversions. And as social media permeates into various aspects of the customer experience such as research, fulfillment and service, 2016 could be the year where social ecommerce takes off in a big way. Be it shopping for a new wardrobe on Forever 21's Instagram gallery or ordering a pizza from Dominos by tweeting an emoji, social media will continue to push the envelope in 2016 and is challenging brands and stores to innovate continuously in the pursuit of customer engagement and experience.
Customers were rarely reliant on a single device or channel when shopping in 2015 and the trend looks to become firmly entrenched in 2016. For example product awareness and research could take place on different channels (offline, mobile) and with fulfilment occurring on a completely different one (web). The purchase cycle is a mix of myriad devices, interactions and channels and elements like Mobile, Social, and Web are just the discrete pieces of a much larger shopping experience. Ignore any one channel (or device, and the risk of disrupting the customer journey becomes very real. Ergo, the resolution for 2016 – fortify the omni-channel experience.
Loyalty programs are one of the few remnants of brick and mortar that began transcending onto online realms this year. Although 2015 was a transition year for online loyalty, 2016 looks set to be the year of their arrival in the big leagues. After all, loyalty programs help stand out from the crowd and also provide shoppers with generous benefits for being your customers - a fact that ecommerce marketers and more importantly customers are equally aware of. If integrated with an effective direct marketing strategy, 2016 could be the year of improved retention and impressive lifetime values.
Flash sales are an incredibly effective buzz generation tactics used by retail stores. Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Boxing Day are notorious for their intense discounts and have people scrambling for deals. Hence customers have come to expect retailers to hold flash sales at specific times during the course of the year and the situation is no different online. Flash sales can last anywhere between a minute to an entire day and are sales generating events like none other. Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined generated more than US$ 3 Billion in sales in 2015. Expect 2016 to dwarf that.
We've all experienced personalization. Be it a name greeting when you visit Amazon or product recommendations when you logon to eBay. Personalization is a great way to make customers feel wanted and valuable. But 2016 looks like to be setting the stage for taking personalization to the next level. Enter Contextual shopping, a hot and happening offering that is being trialed extensively by ecommerce providers globally. Using data pulled in from various connected devices such as customers' smartphones, wearables and even Internet of Things (IoT) enabled household appliances, stores can analyze customer behavior, decipher the interaction and consumption of products and proactively help shoppers as and when needed. Shoppers are saved from the hassle of even logging in and restocking their frequent purchases in an innovative and seamless manner.
Amazon's AWS IoT button is an excellent example of leveraging connected devices seamlessly. The IoT button is a programmable connected device that has the capability to interact with other connected entities. Amazon Dash uses AWS IoT buttons to seamlessly intertwine ecommerce and the real world applications. For example, customers can program Amazon Dash IoT buttons such that frequent purchases can be replenished automatically at a click of a button. Customers need not even log on to their devices and perform purchases, as smart connectivity and automation smooths the entire experience like none other. And Amazon isn't the only one trialing contextual ecommerce. The exciting application potential has enamored other tech giants such as Apple and Google who continue to explore and fine tune opportunities with breakthroughs expected in 2016.
2016 looks set to be a highly anticipated year for ecommerce. The above trends while seemingly fantastical, nonetheless epitomize the direction ecommerce is heading for in the near future. They key driver of ecommerce in 2016 looks to be more than just conversions and revenue. Rather the advent of new technologies and evolving customer behavior are ripe for inducing the wow factor and sense of awe among customers. Something that ecommerce is currently struggling to create. Key to this success however, will be how ecommerce manages to tie together key elements such as mobile, social, web, analytics along with an experience ethos that focusses on customer service, delight and satisfaction. The signs look encouraging and regardless if you are a marketer or a consumer, 2016 should definitely be on your watch list.