by: Bianca Grigoras with StartComms

Whether you’ve shifted from the brick-and-mortar store to an online business, or you started selling your products and services directly online, you always need to keep up with the latest trends in e-commerce. Yes, you betcha! Recognizing new tendencies in their early stage and jumping right in will give you the edge you need to cut ahead (improved processes, improved products and services to market, increased efficiency and profitability… you got the point).

And while it may be tempting to follow the “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” methodology, there are risks associated with lagging behind technology trends. Check Kodak’s business story if you don’t believe us.

So, let’s see the main trends that will impact the e-commerce industry in 2019 and how you can use them to boost your online retail store or e-commerce business. Here it goes:

#1. Social Media and E-commerce: a match made in heaven?

Social shopping, social commerce, shopping on social, social buy buttons, native shopping experiences – whatever you choose to call it, the shoppable posts are the new juicy tools for small businesses and big brands alike. So far, each major social platform integrated various features to sell goods and services:

  • Facebook allows transactions via Messenger Payments.
  • Twitter offers the option of a “Buy Now” button in tweets, so you can purchase without leaving the app.
  • Instagram is integrated with Shopify.
  • Pinterest allows for buyable pins.
  • Even Tumblr includes the option for a “buy” button.

And with almost 1/3 of online shoppers saying they find new things to buy on social media (26% do it on Facebook, 8% use Instagram and 6% – Pinterest), native social selling is likely to overtake sales on site in the future. Now, the question is: will you jump on board the shopping train? We say it’s at least worth a try.

What you can do:

Start looking at direct sales on socials as part of your integrated e-commerce business multichannel strategy rather than a silver bullet solution. The challenge for you is to capture the attention of prospective customers higher up the funnel and continue to stay top-of-mind until they are finally ready to make that purchase decision. This means that you will now be able to get even more creative with your shopping campaigns and ping-pong the user journey from posts to the ‘Shop’ tab or vice-versa. On top of that, you can also follow up with remarketing to nurture users’ interest and set up your ads for accurate attribution to get a better idea of the role social ads play in driving interest to conversion.

#2. Free Returns, a deadly E-commerce cancer?

E-commerce returns are too big to sweep under the rug anymore. In fact, retail returns were valued at $400 billion in 2017, a 53% increase since 2015.

While free returns are an important incentive to buy and have become the new standard, they also negatively impact margins. Apart from the cost of managing returns, the real cost driver is this: your customers are buying from you with the intention of immediately returning some of those items.

In response, businesses started to look for solutions. Take Amazon for example, who announced in 2018 it would institute a lifetime-ban for “serial returners”, shoppers who regularly return most of their purchases. And they won’t be the only ones. 2019 will see a multitude of retail initiatives to deter returns, ranging from more complex or conditional return policies to incentives to pick up items in-store, in order the curb the unsustainable pace at which returns are growing.

What you can do:

Embrace e-commerce returns in a smart way so that they actually mean more satisfied customers, better brand visibility, and more…. sales. Yes, you read right: more sales. One of the tactics we recommend is to set a threshold. For example, ‘Spend $50, get free shipping on your order!’ The idea is simple: customers will spend more to hit that threshold and by spending more, more than covering the cost for their free shipping. So why not increase that threshold a little bit to add in the cost of free e-commerce returns? You can even make it a tiered system: Spend $50 and get free shipping, but spend $75 and get free returns, too!

#3. Mobile Takes Over

Mobile ecommerce sales accounted for 34.5% of total ecommerce sales in 2017 and it is predicted to make up to 45% of total e-commerce revenue by 2020. And that’s not all. Things are about to get faster and more fluid as PWAs (progressive web apps) blur lines between sites and apps.

What are PWAs? Previously known as Hosted Web Apps, they’re ahybrid of regular web pages and a mobile application. In other words, if ever the best of web and the best of apps had a clone child — it is PWA. Think of it like the best of both worlds: features offered by most modern browsers combined with the benefits of mobile experience. This new technology is changing user experience by removing friction and making it easy for users to get to what they want. Brands already started to adopt it and positive results were registered. For example, Lancôme saw a rise in conversions with 17% and mobile sessions went up 51% after rebuilding its mobile site as a PWA.

What you can do:

PWAs for sure won’t kill the mobile apps market entirely, as Google predicts, nor will they replace website apps, but they will certainly decrease the gap between them and solve many challenges of m-commerce. And that, my friend, sounds like a great opportunity. *wink wink*

#4. Will Voice Search Significantly Impact E-Commerce?

Spoiler alert: yes. Today, voice search makes up20% of mobile searches, and that is predicted to increase toaround 50% by 2020.How much of that is related to online purchases? 22% of peopleowning devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home have purchased something through voice search. Also, voice shopping markets are predicted to grow from $2 billion today to a massive $40 billion by 2022, across the U.S. and the U.K.

The trend is very clear: we will be speaking more and more to Google Assistant, Alexa and Siri in the years to come. These IoT devices will drive the industry forward, leaving eCommerce brands with the task of moving into those new channels with voice-savvy customer experiences.

What you can do:

Now that you understand voice search is a train to catch, it’s time to learn how to make the most of it. The strategy is simple: you need tooptimize your website for voice searches. Since the way we speak is quite different from the way we type, your content needs to adapt to natural language search. Which is to say, instead of writing about “best small business marketing tools”, write about “What are the best marketing tools for small businesses?”

#5. Ethical e-commerce: the true cost – not just the price tag.

We have to admit that the biggest issue fair and ethical eCommerce stores face is more or less the same issue brick and mortar stores face. Money. But lately, a rise in consumer awareness of the environmental and ethical footprint of their purchase has been observed. Which means customers pay more attention to the hidden impact and cost of e-commerce. So the additional money that goes into making a sustainable e-shop will definitely translate in increased sales and profitability in 2019.

If you need inspiration, some great examples of digitally-savvy brands that are already leveraging e-commerce to create the visibility and the transparency customers are seeking are Ten Thousand VillagessoleRebels, and Jamtown.

What you can do:

Make sure you are transparent with your values and explain to potential customers why buying from you is just better for everyone. Or go the hardcore way as Everlane did by providing a cost breakdown of materials for every product it sells. Chapeau!

#6. Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Chatbots

The story is not, by all means, that new. Augmented and Virtual Reality are buzzwords on everyone’s lips right now and have been for a while. But the way AR and VR are applied in E-commerce continues to be exciting for both customers and merchants.

Big names like IKEA and Houzz are a step ahead already and have created AR apps that let people choose products from the store and test them in simulated rooms close to their real ones at home. The same goes for virtual reality. In e-commerce, VR is bridging the gap between online retail and the problem with not being able to touch the product before purchase, allowing users to see the product in 3D. These will continue to be a trend in 2019 in many niches, and they will definitely change the user experience.

Also aiming to change customer experience for the better are  … *drumroll*… Chatbots! They reduce friction from the average customer journey, which is why 48% of consumers would rather connect with a company via live chat than any other mean of contact, and 35% of consumers want to see more companies using chatbots.

What you can do:

If you haven’t already, now is a good time to invest in AR, VR and a chatbot builder or an agency that can help you construct a bespoke chatbot to drive engagement, sales, and better customer support.

#7. Kudos to Niche markets

Launching your brand or product, you probably went after a very particular niche. And you did very well. Your branding is geared towards a very specific market. Perfect! Wanna know why? Because hyper-targeted brands are the future and it’s not changing any time soon.

E-commerce gives forward-thinking merchants a bigger reach to compensate for a smaller target group, and endless opportunities to educate about a new product. So now the market is going into smaller and smaller fractions. Even big brands like H&M are branching out to cover narrower niches with separate new brands so the main one doesn’t cast irrelevant shadows. Long gone are the days of one-size fits all.

What you can do:

Habits and needs are changing and lots of innovative products find their loyal customers! Continue to believe in that product of yours if you think it will make people’s lives easier and better – so many entrepreneurs are already doing it in disrupting the sleep of big corporations. If you’re planning expansion, it should be a separate venture with its own target, identity and so on.

The verdict?

The best strategy is what you’ve been doing so far: create a really good product people love, add new ones around it to keep them hooked, serve them well while being authentic and build long-lasting relationships to root your business deep. But always make sure you keep an eye on your competition, industry updates, and technological advancements. One last thing: never be afraid to experiment. Everything leading up to failure is a lesson — the choices you made at the time, the reasoning behind your decisions and so on.