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Online retail continues to grow and evolve each year. From chatbots to feed-based advertising, businesses are constantly adapting and trying to get a peek into the future. We wanted to know more about online retail trends in 2019 and what businesses should start preparing for. That’s why we spoke to industry insiders and leaders and gathered their thoughts below.
What trends will die and what will thrive in 2019?
Whether it’s chatbots, short-form video ads, or social influencers, ecommerce businesses are always trying something new. What new buzzwords can we expect to hear and which buzzwords will lose steam in 2019?
Personalization, convenience, competitive prices, fast and reliable delivery. Dealers who can’t meet these four challenges will have a hard time. Marketplaces are already the focus of trade today and their appeal is sure to increase even more. For companies this means: be fast and big or be smart and flexible. Retail media will become an more important building block in raising awareness for ecommerce.
I believe one of the trends where we will see more traction will be the rise of voice assistants and its implication on shopping. As an IT analyst at Gartner said: “interest in conversational platforms is growing rapidly. This is due to a compelling value proposition for users and the potential to improve customer service. In response, businesses are moving quickly to implement these technologies.” Currently leading the pack are Amazon Alexa and Google Voice. Brands and retailers who want to engage with shoppers via voice will have to get on Amazon Marketplace or Google Express to not miss out on this great growth opportunity.
The typical, straight-forward understanding of “offline” and “online” are going to change. Even our idea of what it means to be a brand will change. Casper is a great example of both. They use all kinds of different real-world events to build interest around their product. They’ve even gone so far as offering events surrounding wellness and insomnia. They are stepping back from purely pushing sales and are positioning themselves as problem solvers. This mindset, that looks beyond the product itself, will prove hugely successful in the coming quarters.
One of the biggest changes we anticipate for 2019 is around the future of search: it will become more audience-led, more voice-activated, and increasingly “post channel.” You can read more about this from our CEO Jared Belsky in Adexchanger.
Specific to ecommerce brands, we anticipate that one of the biggest stories we’ll continue to see is how they’re embracing brick and mortar. There is still no better way for a brand to build its relationship with the consumer than in-person, and ecommerce brands will keep finding ways to take advantage of this. In turn, we’d anticipate that this may also result in a fair amount of brick and mortar retail innovation.
We also expect to see more personalization on ecommerce sites. Brands will continue working to build AI that can tailor not only a site experience and path-to-purchase to specific consumers, but continue finding ways to customize the physical product to the needs of a wider range of consumers.
And we’ll likely see chatbots continue to be leveraged for customer service, but more brands will shift away from chatbots and to a menu-driven customer service experience. While bots can easily handle most customer service issues, many brands will leap beyond this and simplify down to a menu system. This makes something like a return as simple as selecting your order from a menu, selecting return, selecting a reason, and printing a shipping label.
What key challenges are ecommerce businesses facing in 2019?
From the growing number of channels and touchpoints to the importance of security, there are countless ways in which online retail is changing. In order to understand who will survive and thrive in the changing environment, we’ll need to first pinpoint the key challenges that will emerge in 2019.
The importance of online shopping is growing, but fewer and fewer players are siphoning off the majority of sales and earnings. Meanwhile the Point-of-Sale is everywhere. On my smartphone, in a pop-up-store, in the city and in the vastness of the internet. Customers expect brands and shops to deliver a cross-device and cross-channel shopping experience. Personalized, seamless, and as easy as possible. Ecommerce needs data and technology to establish these process. And cross-channel and cross device needs new forms of organizations. Successful ecommerce [businesses] establish an innovation culture inside the company at an early stage. The complexity and the speed of the transformation process is one of the greatest challenges.
With the growth of marketplaces and their adoption by the consumer, owning the customer becomes a true challenge. Knowing who your customer is, what their needs are, what their purchase history looks like and having a direct communication channel to them will be one of the challenges.
Retailers who don’t have a specialized assortment and strong brand will struggle. As they compete with the likes of Amazon and Walmart, businesses absolutely must differentiate themselves and show a clear value to their audiences.
One of the most significant challenges is simply distinguishing oneself amongst abundant competition. From a brand perspective, the barriers to selling have never been lower. Nearly anyone can find a product to white label from Alibaba, have it shipped to a fulfilment center, list it as a Seller on Amazon, and use advertising to drive consumers to the product. All this, without ever even holding the product in their hands. Brands need to work harder, and be much more clever, to be seen in this market. They also need to be very thoughtful in how they communicate their value in the face of much cheaper, and more cheaply made, competitors.
Trust will also be an ongoing issue for retailers. Consumers are becoming more and more aware of data theft, and growing less and less likely to give their critical data to retailers they’re unfamiliar with. Retailers need to carefully incorporate trustworthiness into their value proposition.
Who will have the selling power in 2019?
There has been a power shift in recent years between brands, retailers, distributors, marketplaces, and manufacturers. Manufacturers are reaching directly to the consumer. Marketplaces are making it more difficult for retailers to reach their target audience. How will these relationships continue to evolve in 2019 and who will come out on top?
Everyone and nobody. Everyone, because it has never been so easy to sell worldwide. Nobody, because it is getting harder and harder to raise awareness and to assert oneself as a smaller shop against the big players. Be fast, be big, or be specialized. Personally, I see great potential for in-app shopping in social media, e.g. with Instagram (Shoppable Tags), as long as the ordering and payment process is convenient and mobile-friendly.
In a western consumer world, where more and more consumers already have a lot of goods, inspiration takes on a new weight.Inspirational Commerce (Shop-the-Look etc.) and Shopping Experiences will make the difference—and of course sustainable consumption that serves a clear conscience.
Marketplaces like Amazon are very appealing to consumers for their ease of use and large assortment of products. Brands and retailers selling through such marketplaces are being put under pressure as large ecosystems like Google, Amazon, or Facebook are eating up more and more of their margin. Having a good Direct to Consumer strategy and creating vertical integrated brands (like Casper or Warby Parker did) can help businesses make sure they stay competitive in the future and are able to own the customer.
Creative, unique retailers and businesses will have a huge leg up on the competition. There are a number of different players entering the ecommerce space, and it will be those who stand out that survive. That means the retailer can’t just be good at online or only rely on a large customer base. They have to know how to leverage the offline. They need to know how to engage customers on a personal level. That means not just leveraging social or thinking about personalized ads, but speaking directly with customers and getting them excited.
Smaller retailers will be struggling the most. Amazon is making a concerted effort to push more and more brands into the Seller relationship, rather than the Vendor relationship. This is forcing brands to rapidly shift their supply chain to better suit individual fulfilment, and rapidly increase their retail skills. Many brands will be able to take what they’re learning from their new Amazon relationship and extend it to their own brand’s .com site. Smaller, specialized retailers will need to keep their customer base engaged and excited in the face of this rising competition.
What will be the most important technologies and solutions in 2019 for ecommerce?
Now that we know the key challenges and changes, it’s time to learn more about what online retailers will need to succeed in 2019.
It’s not a single technology that changes the game. Everything has to do with everything. Companies need high-quality data, which they process in the cloud and with the help of machine learning and artificial intelligence so quickly that they always create added value for the consumer. If only one building block is missing, the entire strategy will not work. Most companies are familiar with this challenge, but very few can master it completely.
One example: In China, jd.com is testing autonomous parcel robots that deliver to the door and hand out the parcel to the recipient after biometric identification. Drones are used for longer distances. Is this the future of logistics? Perhaps, but in the meantime, our cities suffer from the traffic caused by the cars of the parcel couriers. Companies must learn how to deal with the parallelism of developments.
Technologies that enable true omnichannel strategies will be increasingly important. More and more retailers and brands understand that they can reach their customers online and offline. A lot of consumers continue to research online about a product or brand before they go to a brick-and-mortar store to complete the purchase. Therefore, technologies that enable a 360 degree view on the customer and a seamless and consistent buying journey will be a huge benefit.
Brands still really need to connect with their customer base and stand out from the crowd. For many, this just isn’t possible when done purely online. They’ll need to find new opportunities and tools beyond the typical marketing tools. This is especially true for businesses with a lot of strong, cheap competitors. Offline and omnichannel tactics will help add touchpoints and keep customers really interested in the brand itself. Glossier, for example, is primarily online but uses pop-up stores and meetups to stay close to the customer base.
As always, data is king. The most important solutions will be the ones that can incorporate data feeds from multiple channels and aggregate it, apples to apples. Whether home-built or off the shelf, these tools will remain critical to ensure marketers are making the most optimized decisions.
There will be no stopping the shift in power and the continuing move toward omnichannel shopping. Retailers of all types need to figure out how they can own the customer and create a comfortable customer journey. This will include pulling out all the stops, from voice to services like Google Express. Businesses will need to be innovative and be willing to be present any and everywhere. On top of this, businesses will also need to learn how to be more personable and trustworthy. There are plenty of competitors out there in every industry. Customers will put their dollars in products where they see value. It will be up to businesses to clearly communicate that value in this dynamic, competitive, and quickly changing landscape.
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