It may seem to be old news to say that e-commerce is growing at a wild pace, but it continues to be the case heading into 2018. We can better understand just how fast e-commerce is growing by comparing it to other segments of the economy. A report from Kiplinger reveals that construction materials rose 8.0% in 2017 (partially due to hurricane damage) and restaurant revenue increased 3.3%. Including everything but gasoline, sales were generally up 3.8% overall. Now keep in mind that those are the bright points of the economy in terms of growth (not yet having touched on e-commerce).
In this same environment of nonexistent to relatively slow growth (with the exception of a segment – construction materials – boosted, of all things, by natural disaster recovery), e-commerce sales are growing 15%. That means it achieved a 15% rise for two consecutive years. Online sales have been consistently expanding for seven years now, noted Kiplinger; and the end result is that it will represent 9% of all retail revenue and 13% of all goods sold by the time 2017 comes to a close. Now, to really understand what’s going on, let’s compare to brick-and-mortar: in 2016, in-store purchases increased 1.4%, and in 2017, it is expected to rise 1.8%. In other words, e-commerce is growing 8.33 times as fast as brick-and-mortar.
Well, those are the numbers; and although huge growth is expected, that degree of rapid expansion is unchanged from last year. How are things changing and evolving, then? Here are top trends that will increasingly influence e-commerce efforts in 2018:
Trend #1 – Omni-platform & omni-device
You want people to have high-quality experiences regardless of the device – and that objective has already been met by many companies on-site through a focus on responsive design. The next step for a more seamless and consistent experience is integration across all devices and platforms – going beyond a presence on channels to having a fully integrated approach.
One key technique in deploying the general “omni” approach is cookie-containing ads, noted Kayla Matthews in Direct Marketing News (DMN). For example, if you put up an ad for football tailgating supplies on Google, the user could have ads for those types of supplies going through their Facebook feed the next day.
Trend #2 – Micro-moments become a more central concern
The notion of micro-moments is key in terms of how businesses approach mobile device use, according to Smart Insights. Micro-moments can be a way of considering every decision you make online. This concept refers to “highly critical and evaluative touchpoints where customers expect brands to cater to their needs with reliable information, regardless of the time and location,” said the marketing intelligence company.
Consider this fact for a second, and you will get a sense of exactly why this term is important. Incredibly, 24 out of every 25 people go to their phone immediately when they need to answer a question. If you want to answer the question the person has, think in terms of micro-moments and direct your online presence accordingly.
Trend #3 – Internet-based education / commoditization of video
Would you like to get up at 7am, head over to an auditorium, and watch an expert give a lecture? Maybe, but it does not sound like too much fun. However, you may be willing to watch one from home. There is much to be learned from sites such as Coursera and Udemy, which focus on self-improvement topics. “[T]hese are opportune moments to capitalize on this market,” according to Rotem Gal in Digital Commerce 360 (a.k.a. Internet Retailer) – which remains true in 2018 just as it did in 2017.
Think about what you can you do to get your content, and through it information and resources, to your potential customers. Gal specifically pointed to the functionality of Kajabi – a learning platform that allows you to have a more sophisticated marketing approach, with bells and whistles that allow you to better promote the specific instructor (landing pages, e-mail newsletter features, etc.).
Trend #4 – Increase the sophistication of your personalization approach
Personalizing a site has become pivotal in many different segments within e-commerce, ranging from finance to travel to retail.
In recent years, the price has gone down on these solutions, according to an additional piece by Smart Insights CEO Dave Chaffey. The options really are fairly diverse as this type of technology has matured; you can personalize the experience at the level of the content/commerce management system; as a tool integrated into your analytics software; or with a personalization app that you attach to your analytics platform or CMS.
Chaffey advocates using an experience personalization pyramid to think about strategizing in this direction – with personalization, segmentation, and optimization filling the top, middle, and bottom layers respectively.
Starting from the bottom, here is how the pyramid works:
- Optimization – You could use split-testing (also called multivariate testing, A/B testing, and structured experiments). One way to move forward with this element is Google Optimize (but there are plenty of alternatives).
- Segmentation – Figure out how to divide up your customers into targeted user groups, so you can specialize your content to meet each one. You will want to have different hands-on rules, and be careful that you don’t overdo segmenting. “[R]eturns for this approach eventually diminish after the maximum sustainable number of audience segments has been reached,” said Chaffey.
- 1-to-1 personalization – In order for each customer to get an experience that is truly customized to them, use artificial intelligence (AI) that is capable of 1-to-1. In order to create a real 1-to-1 buying journey, it is necessary to tackle two issues that segmentation and optimization cannot: solving delays and scaling (as can be achieved by AI).
Trend #5 – Unleashing of the robots
We’ve discussed AI; now let’s get to the robots – on the rise through 2017 and 2018. These robots have arrived, and they would like to have a little chat. It only makes sense that chatbots would start to catch hold: you can automate them, control them, and at least distance yourself from human error.
The thing is that customer service questions should be met with considerable speed. More than three-quarters of people, 77%, told Forrester Research (according to social customer service SaaS Conversocial) that the most critical method that a company can use to treat them well is not wasting their time.
While robots are certainly imperfect, they do help you get to each customer faster — especially because in the context of e-commerce sales, you want to get your response time as close to “none” as you can.
Trend #6 – Leveraging a customer engagement protocol to introduce stronger content marketing
Content marketing is typically seen by marketers as one of the most important methods for introducing a product or service to prospects. Businesses are becoming savvier about using content as a resource. The key is to come up with content that is intended for different audiences and to figure out a customer engagement plan that covers various media. For the content itself, try personas and content mapping, advised Chaffey.
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