E-commerce trends are constantly shifting. Habits that excelled last year might fall short now, and with advancements in technology and the competitive nature of the business, you don't want to resist change – you want to embrace it.
It's crucial to keep up with today's trends if you want your sales to grow. Here are eight e-commerce trends to consider this year.
1. Social media
"Whether you explore Facebook product retargeting or Instagram's organic shopping functionality, the key is to recognize where your customers spend their time and meet them with content that inspires them to make a purchase," said Drew Blais, brand marketing manager at Groove.
Don't just communicate with your customers when you want something. Create an online community of like-minded people with similar interests, and connect with your members so they feel more comfortable purchasing your products.
"Community is becoming a large component of many e-commerce businesses as it allows you to become closer to your customers," said Carmine Mastropierro, owner of online magazines Pierro Shoes, Mastro Digital and Wisetech Report. "This increases trust and improves the relationship you have with them overall."
This can be as simple as posting relevant content on Instagram, tweeting back to customers on Twitter and encouraging questions through Facebook Messenger.
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If your business also has a brick-and-mortar location, offering both an online and in-store experience will help your business keep up with others in the industry. Businesses with a physical location can offer a "pick up in store" option to your customers.
"This can help reduce shipping costs as well as drive people in-stores," said Greg Zakowicz, senior commerce marketing analyst at Oracle + Bronto.
3. Mobile optimization
Many consumers use their mobile devices to make purchases, with convenience and accessibility being major priorities for online shoppers. If you want your products to sell, you'll have to make your mobile site as user-friendly as possible.
"A small business needs to ensure that they have a great [user] experience on smartphones and tablet devices," said Jacklyn Deans, e-commerce consultant and founder of Flash + Color. "These sites should be responsive, meaning that the site's design will shift to render well on any customer device."
However, mobile optimization relates to more than just web design, covering everything from chat support to optimized checkout, said Blais.
Accept digital wallet payments like ApplePay, AmazonPay or PayPal to increase conversion rates and lower abandonment, Deans added.
4. Influencer marketing
Social media influencers can be a great marketing investment for your business. Essentially, you find a well-known, trusted source in your industry, and sponsor them to endorse your product or service on their social platform.
"Brands that use influencers with highly engaged followers have increased awareness, traffic and sales for their e-commerce site," said Deans. "A small business can leverage this trend by finding and working with several micro-influencers that are in line with their ideal customer."
You don't need to choose the most popular personality to promote your company – relevance is better than status. Deans noted that micro-influencers have between 1,000 to 10,000 followers for niche subjects, and between 10,000 to 100,000 followers for broader categories.
"There are so many brands, websites and pages that would more than love to give your business more exposure," added Mastropierro. "From Instagram shout outs to blog product reviews, small business owners should look at these as an investment that could have a great ROI."
Video is another growing marketing tool, attracting customers with concise yet informative clips. You can implement them onto your social platforms, like Facebook and Instagram.
"Videos now appear on over 70 percent of search results, and according to studies, 46 percent of consumers are more likely to purchase a product after watching a video," said Stuart Ridge, chief marketing officer of VitaMedica.
However, while this type of media is meant to replace paragraphs of writing, it shouldn't stand alone. According to Ridge, if you want success with SEO, you'll need to provide transcript to accompany your video. A few simple sentences will fare well. [Read related story: 8 Tips for Creating Effective Explainer Videos]
Email is a great way to advertise your business, alert your customers with deals or new items, update buyers on their purchases, and answer any questions or concerns.
"Advertising is only getting more expensive, and brands will find it hard to engage on Facebook with the new prioritization of family and friends' posts," said Amanda Austin, owner of e-commerce store Little Shop of Miniatures. "I see more e-commerce stores using email to engage customers with interesting content, especially if they've only used email for conveying transactional information in the past."
According to Blais, you should automate your post-purchase, abandoned cart and win-back emails to increase your list of contacts.
But not everything should be automated, said Zakowicz. Try to personalize your messages rather than continuously sending a burst of emails to your entire contact list. Insert product recommendations, offer birthday deals, ask if they were satisfied with a recent purchase, etc.
Today, consumers expect immediate response to any questions or concerns they may have. And since you can't answer every individual at all times, chatbots are your best option.
"Chatbots are important because they can handle most of a company's customer service inquiries and have the ability to function 24 hours a day," said April Olshavsky, chief technology officer at Herbal Risings and director of development at Staff MMJ. "We'll see more companies setting up sophisticated chatbots that are knowledgeable in basic company information." [Read related story: How to Create the Best Chatbot for Your Business]
8. Voice search
According to Google, 20 percent of mobile queries are voice searches – and that number is expected to increase.
"Voice search is the future of web browsing," said Olshavsky. "As more people start to use personal assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant, e-commerce will have the advantage of reaching technology-sound customers. Retailers should listen to the way customers talk about products and replicate the dialogue."
To take advantage of this growing trend, Blais suggests focusing on long-tail keywords and everyday syntax, and writing in structured, digestible bites.