The rise in retail e-commerce has been evident for years now, and companies of all sorts are focusing their efforts on a more user-friendly customer experience. However, to do so, it's crucial to keep up with today's trends for your sales to grow. Here are seven 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. 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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2. Brick and mortar
If your business also has a brick-and-mortar location, maintaining both an online and in-store experience will help your business maintain a competitive edge in your industry. Businesses with a physical location can offer omnichannel options, like in-store pickup, to your customers.
"This can help reduce shipping costs as well as drive people in-store," said Greg Zakowicz, senior commerce marketing analyst at Oracle Bronto.
Additionally, physical stores allow you to better connect with your customers, and allow customers to better interact with the brand. Make sure your aesthetics and your workers accurately represent your business.
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 Apple Pay, Amazon Pay 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 microinfluencers 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 microinfluencers have between 1,000 to 10,000 followers for niche subjects and between 10,000 to 100,000 followers for broader categories.
Video is another growing marketing tool, attracting customers with concise yet informative clips. You can implement them into your social platforms, like Facebook and Instagram.
Two major advertising trends right now are both Snapchat and Instagram story videos. Both are great ways to reach consumers, as that's where many users spend their browsing time.
"Like traditional e-commerce channels, social media platforms, such as Instagram and Snapchat, have become today's modern catalogs," said Devaraj Southworth, co-founder and CEO of Thirstie, e-commerce and logistics solution for alcohol brands. "Through these channels, consumers can find their favorite brands and discover new ones presenting themselves with imagery and video clips that take consumers on a digital journey. But the thing that makes this experience much different and better than flipping through a catalog is the ability to purchase the products that excite them right then and there by simply clicking on a link. This makes these platforms powerful tools for both brands and shoppers alike."
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.
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 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.
7. Artificial intelligence (AI)
There are many ways that AI is impacting e-commerce, from chatbots to voice search. Integrating AI into your marketing efforts will keep your brand relevant.
Today, consumers expect an immediate response to any questions or concerns they may have. And since you can't always answer every individual, chatbots are a great option.
"Chatbots are becoming more sophisticated and will soon be able to do more than simply help with customer support – their capabilities will be expanded to help customers complete purchases, provide personalized offers and promotions, and proactively reach out to customers on your site via configurable rules and actions," said Harry Thakkar, partner at Avatria, a digital commerce firm and developer of innovative e-commerce solutions.
Additionally, ComScore projects that by 2020, 50 percent of mobile queries will be voice searches. To take advantage of this growing trend, Blais suggests focusing on long-tail keywords and everyday syntax, and writing in structured, digestible bites.
To leverage this trend, however, it's important that you understand how best to use it for your brand and audience.
"Machine learning will be used more heavily in 2019 to help identify how customers are shopping on a business's site," said Thakkar. "As a small business owner, don't be afraid to make an investment here … While these products are being more heavily used by large sites, adoption has not yet fully penetrated the SMB space. Being an early adopter here can help set you up for success in 2019 and beyond."
Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.