Get ahead of the curve with e-commerce trends for 2020

Trends 2020 featured image

Technology moves so fast these days that savvy business owners always need to be looking ahead. If you want your business to thrive, staying on top of e-commerce trends is critical, especially given that changes to your site often require development time. Whether you’re running a B2B or B2C site, our summary of online sales trends for 2020 will get you ahead of the curve.

Some previous e-commerce trends are now so well established that they hardly bear mentioning. For example, if your site isn’t fast and responsive, or you don’t yet have a content and social media strategy, we recommend you spend some time on these basics early in 2020. To help you get your foundation in place, see our checklist of e-commerce best practices to follow.

For those of you who already have the basics in place, here are some trends to keep your eye on for the near (and not so near) future.

E-commerce trends on the rise

1. Searching for products online and on your site

a) Image search

Ready-to-buy consumers are more likely than ever to want to search for products using a photo instead of a keyword or search term. They may use an image they saw on the internet or take a photo of an item themselves.

The future of search will be about pictures rather than keywords

Big companies like ASOS, Pinterest and Target are already using visual search technology. This helps a user to simply snapshot an image, upload it and then find a similar item on their site.

Image search probably won’t replace keyword search so e-commerce sites would do well to consider offering both forms of search. If you write a blog about “how to care for your sunglasses,” customers will find it using search terms like “sunglass maintenance” or “caring for my sunglasses”. When they’re ready to actually buy a pair of sunglasses though, they may use an image to search for what they’re looking for – and this distinction will be significant for conversion rates.

Image showing a person taking a picture to find online products that match

Tip: Tools like Slyce, Visenze and Cortexica can help you with visual search on your e-commerce website.

b) Voice search extending into voice commerce

With about 50% of all searches predicted to be voice-based by 2020, this is a rapidly growing trend. There has been a big uptake of voice assistant and voice search usage in the last six months (US based).

Bargrapgh showing when users first started using voice searching

Source

As well as searching, shoppers will complete their purchases by interacting with their voice-activated intelligent assistants such as Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon Echo (powered by Alexa), Google Home (powered by Google Assistant) or Apple’s Siri. This is already happening and will continue into the future.

Tip:

E-commerce companies will need to adjust their SEO to keep up with these changes. This requires:

  • A considerable effort to optimise site speed;

  • Adjusting keywords for slight differences in written vs spoken search queries;

  • Ensuring your site is mobile responsive;

  • Using long-tail keywords;

  • Leveraging the use of Schema Markups or Structured Data;

  • And more.

c) Advanced product search on your site

Although advanced site search is mainstream already, South African online merchants are now becoming more aware of this consumer need. Visitors expect your e-commerce site search to work as well as a Google search, because that is the search capability they’ve become accustomed to.

They want their site search terms to be understood, taking into account spelling errors and synonyms. They want the search tool to provide them with predictive search words, relevant to the specific site. Most of all, they want their search results page to produce relevant data and also to be customisable. In other words, they want to sort their results according to popularity, price and other factors important to them. Moreover, they now expect their search results to be personalised, taking into account their preferences and previous online behaviour.

Tip: You can test drive the super-fast DooFinder site search tool we have installed for these clients: www.plumblink.co.za, www.gabriel.co.za and www.redpepperonline.co.za. The results do depend on your product categorisation, which is an extremely important search factor.

2. E-commerce website functionality

a) Exceptional and unique images

We already know that images, and now video, are crucial to making a product real for a customer shopping online. In future, customers will want to know instantly if a product is right for them personally. No-one wants a lengthy explanation of a company’s purpose or mission. Instead, to stand out from the crowd, your product information will need to show customers how the product is suited to them.

Consider how Bellroy has done it. The video on their homepage helps visitors understand exactly what problems they’re solving. Then, if you explore their products, notice they use product videos, images and descriptions to make it clear how each solution fits the customer’s need. No thinking required – you immediately know if it’s what you’re looking for.

Tip:

Consider Sirv to help you do the following:

  • Manage images for your e-commerce website through features like bulk resizing, faster loading time, image optimisation and more.

  • Provide responsive images so your images adjust to whatever device is being used.

  • Give your customers a 360 degree view of your products. To set this up, you need to photograph your products on a turntable.

  • Show your products in full detail without slowing down your website. Sirv uses the same technology as Google Maps, so the load time of hundreds of small images is rapid.

Considering that image search is on the rise, it may be time to invest in your product images.

b) Personalisation supported by machine learning and AI

Personalisation is a very strong theme for many of the new technologies for eCommerce and this is supported by artificial intelligence. Technology is already capable of tracking user behaviour and preferences by analysing browsing history and past purchases, then formulating appropriate responses through machine learning. This allows merchants to address their shoppers on an individual basis by communicating through dynamic website designs, personalised pricing, ads tailored to the shopper’s interests, tailored product recommendations and sending highly relevant emails.

quote - By 2020, smart personalization engines used to recognize customer intent will enable digital business to increase their profits by up tp 15%

Source

As time becomes a scarce commodity, buyers will value a brand that appeals directly to their needs and preferences, and helps them quickly find what they want.

The graphs below show the ways merchants currently like to personalise, as well as what they’re planning for the future:

Bargraphs ways to personalize your e-commerce site

Source

c) Augmented and virtual reality

Augmented reality (AR) means to enhance the real world – or at least our perception of it. AR superimposes a layer of virtual information/data/products over what we see around us with our naked eye (or on a screen). For example, placing the digital image of a couch in your living room to see how it will look before you buy it, or testing how sunglasses will look on you before purchasing. Or perhaps going into a physical store, picking up AR glasses and being given extra information on every product you touch or look at.

Person using app to see what an empty room could look like

Look at these example sites:

Virtual reality (VR) on the other hand, means immersing a person into a completely different virtual setting. This is done through a special device which helps you feel like you’re leaving your real surroundings and becoming part of a parallel virtual world. In e-commerce, applications could include building virtual show-rooms or virtual stores alongside your online and physical stores. Or building a virtual image of your new home and walking virtually through it to experience its flow, light and features. Imagine sitting on your bed at home and visiting a 5th Avenue New York store, a wonderful experiential store that just opened in Vietnam or a new concept store in Copenhagen.

Tip: Augment is a tool that can be applied to B2C or B2B e-commerce. Integrate it to your site and allow customers to try your products in life-like situations. Using this tool within your e-commerce business removes the guesswork for visitors shopping online.

d) Chatbot support

When we first started shopping online, virtual assistance was almost unheard of. Now when customers need help, they expect to be instantly supported on-site with attention and assistance. Helping customers make better decisions keeps them coming back and also creates good ambassadors for your brand.

The first step in this direction was offering live chat with an agent, and the trend now is towards chatbots, which are the machine equivalent of live chat agents. Depending on your business and your needs, chatbots can be programmed to answer questions about products and handle complaints. They are even able to ‘learn’ (powered by artificial intelligence), using a customer’s behaviour to identify what they need and adjusting their responses.

White robot on a blue background

Tip:

  • Live chat: Talk to your customers in real-time via one of several chat integrations, such as Zendesk chat.

  • Chatbots: Guidelines to consider when designing your chatbot system:

    • The chatbot’s voice, tone and personality needs to reflect that of your brand.

    • Don’t write conversation-killing lines for your chatbot. Rather get him/her to ask questions that help the user move further down the conversion funnel.

    • Be clear about your chatbot goals, so you can make sure the platform you choose is able to deliver.

  • More and more chatbot tools are emerging that will allow merchants to create a bot easily. This article discusses the top 10 tools to create your own chatbot.

  • Freshdesk is an alternative tool that we sometimes integrate for live or bot chat.

e) Dynamic and personalised pricing

Dynamic pricing is a pricing strategy developed to help your business stay relevant to the market and thus competitive. With this technology, the prices of your products change based on variables such as supply, competitors’ prices, demand, day of the week or time of the day, seasons, weather and so forth. All your customers see the same price but that price changes over time (be that over a shorter or longer period).

Amazon uses this pricing technique and has demonstrated that it’s critical for e-commerce when competing with omnichannel and brick-and-mortar players. It drives both margin growth and earnings through the perception that you have competitive prices – without discounting your products in a race to the bottom.

Personalised pricing on the other hand, is when a merchant has an idea of who the customer is and they adjust a product’s pricing based on a specific customer’s characteristics, behaviour and actions. A personalised price is shown to one specific person at a given time. This has been around for some time in B2B and is now becoming a need in B2C e-commerce.

This method allows an online merchant to discreetly offer a deal to a customer who has a lower willingness to pay – and therefore, instead of losing the sale, to win it. A risk though is that shoppers may not feel comfortable with you knowing their shopping habits. They might not trust you if they know you offer different prices to different customers. There could also be legal concerns with discrimination and operational difficulties with returns.

If it’s done right though, this can be very rewarding for you and your customers. To “do it right,” according to some experts, dip your toe in the water by providing pricing tiers for different segments first.

Amazon failed in personalising pricing years ago and has not attempted it again.

Both methods are sophisticated, access large amounts of real-time data and use the same math.

Tip: Pricing tools such as Minderest, Prisync and others are available to integrate to your e-commerce site.

f) B2C features for B2B

With so many B2B buyers shopping online at B2C stores in their personal lives, they now expect the same kinds of features from B2B e-commerce sites. This includes great visuals, enhanced searches and all the information they could wish for at their fingertips.

3. Consumer behaviour changes

a) Omni-channel

Omni-channel shopping is already massive and will only grow going forward. Customers are always looking for more convenient ways to shop, saving them time and effort. For example, many users search online – often across multiple platforms and devices – for the product they want. Then they either buy it online or in-store, or buy it online and pick it up in-store. If they want to return it, they may interact with a call centre and send it back via courier to a warehouse.

Keeping track of the customer’s journey, including their actions and data, the effect of digital campaigns on them and so on, requires complex systems. The customer’s experience of your brand, values, prices, processes and communication (regardless of the channel) must be seamless and consistent.

quote - 2020 for e-commerce is all about omnipresence. The customer journey is now far from linear; it's not only multi-device, but multi-platform.

Tip:

  • Integrate e-commerce and ERP systems: Your ERP system should be the sole data source for all your channels. Make sure your provider is an expert in integrating ERP systems with e-commerce stores and other channels. Comalytics integrates to these ERP systems, including SAP and Microsoft Dynamics Navision (with more in the pipeline).

  • Consider a Product Information Manager: With multiple channels on the go, this handy piece of software helps you keep one source of your product specifications, photos, videos, installation manuals and marketing materials up to date and distributed correctly. Our Comalytics Product Information Manager software is available for use on both B2C or B2B sites.

  • Stream your products to popular platforms: Integrate your site with local channels like PriceCheck, bidorbuy and OLX, as well as a multitude of global ones such as Amazon and Walmart.

b) Social commerce

Humans are social animals. Back when purchasing a product online was only possible on our websites, having ‘social proof’ was a massive trend and it’s now mainstream best practise. People want to buy what other people have tested, approved and endorsed. Now, driven by convenience, people want to buy right there within their favourite social media platform, where they can see an influencer or a friend displaying the product. Instagram is leading the charge with their new Instagram Checkout as a prime example of the future of social commerce.

Tip:

  • Integrate your e-commerce website with Facebook and Google Shopping

  • Utilise Instagram to its full shopping potential

  • Remember that your website remains the central channel that customers will visit to decide if they trust you. Make sure their experience on your website is consistent with your social commerce and other channels.

c) Progressive web applications

Progressive web applications (PWAs) are seen as the future of mobile devices. The major difference between PWAs and native apps is that PWAs are delivered on a mobile device using https through a browser (in other words, it is technically a website), while offering an app-like experience, including features such as off-line use and push notifications. They therefore combine the best of website and mobile apps in one package. Native apps require approval and several steps for payment, plus download from an app store.

Tip: At Comalytics we build PWAs according to your needs and in record time. Speak to us to find out what is possible.

4. Strategic direction enforced by Internet of Things

Broadband internet is becoming readily available and the cost of connecting is decreasing. More devices are being created with wi-fi capabilities and sensors built into them. Technology costs are going down and smartphone penetration is only growing. All of these things are creating the right climate for the Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT is all about connecting any device with an on/off switch to the internet and/or to other devices.

The IoT is a giant network of connected “things”.

Image of icons that are connected to a network

Imagine your alarm clock waking you up at 6am and telling your coffee maker to start making your cup of coffee. Or your office equipment knowing when it needs to re-order stationery or ink supplies. The IoT can also be applied to “smart cities”, helping us reduce waste and pollution, improving efficiency of energy use, etc.

Today IoT-enabled sensors are already being used for:

  • Inventory management

  • Product quality control by monitoring temperatures

  • Manufacturing or warehouse equipment maintenance alerts

  • Smart mirrors that let customers try on clothes virtually

  • Dash buttons that allow customers to re-order household items that are running low (developed by Amazon)

What does this have to do with e-commerce trends in the near future? Well, as things get connected, the consumer will more and more use other devices and interfaces than just their laptops, desktops or phones to interact with and buy from merchants. Your e-commerce website will become just one of many, many touch points for the consumer. Imagine multi-channel exploded.

Merchants will be able to reach consumers with helpful articles and videos, personalised product and price recommendations, personal account information and payment methods on their electronic watches, fridge display units, intercom or security system, smart TV or phone, and so forth. This means that e-commerce merchants need to start thinking right now about e-commerce software solutions that can integrate their back-end data into any front-end application necessary.

Tip: At Comalytics, we believe your ERP, e-commerce and PIM systems should be integrated. The ERP system should be the master source of all activity, using APIs to interface with different front-ends.

5. Business model changes

a) Direct to consumer

Many manufacturers are expanding their business model to also sell directly to the public, rather than going through intermediaries like wholesalers, distributors or retailers. This new B2B2C model only works for certain businesses but it has many benefits, including opening up a new sales channel and giving manufacturers direct access to data on their customers.

b) Subscription services

Subscription services work well when your customers tend to regularly reorder consumable items, or if you offer curated collections of products. They can be personalised and the customer gets convenience plus any discounts offered for the service vs what they would pay for individual orders. For example, Yuppiechef offers a monthly collection of craft beers.

Screenshot of league of beer sign up page from yuppie chef

Subscription services encourage repeat business, increasing your profits with no further effort on your part. They also make inventory management easier as you know exactly what will be included in that next order.

c) Brick and click

This business model is a combination of retail and e-commerce. Stores are often smaller, sometimes even pop-up shops, and they hold limited stock but they give customers a more traditional retail experience. Customers can interact face-to-face with staff, try on products and attend events. The stores also provide interactive digital access (kiosk screens) so customers can find more information or order online while in the store.

In-store kiosk screens have several different applications:

  • AI digital sales assistance to provide information on how to choose a product

  • In-store ordering to shorten order and payment queues, for example in stores like McDonalds

  • In-store ordering to limit stock holding and therefore real estate footprint, or to offer a wider range of products than what is available in-store

  • Digital assistance for customers and staff to help them more quickly find items

  • Continued education for staff members whilst in-store and on the job

Pictures of an AI digital sales assistant and a instore ordering screen.

Tip: At Comalytics we are able to assist you with your kiosk screen needs.

d) Drone deliveries

Drone delivery is in its infancy, but for e-commerce companies it’s important to note that it’s already happening and will only grow. There are still issues to iron out, like weather, flight regulations and battery life, but companies like Amazon, UPS and Uber Eats are experimenting with the concept.

quote - It's only a matter of time before drones deliver packages to our doorsteps

For e-commerce this means that packages could be delivered within 30 minutes, at an estimated delivery cost of $1 to the customer, and with massive savings on shipping for the merchant. Customers of the future will expect their orders to arrive faster than ever before. Merchants need to start getting their order and fulfilment processes ironed-out now, so they’re ready to meet that demand when drone deliveries arrive.

The bottom line…

There are many exciting trends to watch in the world of e-commerce. Some are already becoming more established and others are still on the horizon. Make sure you keep a close eye on developments. Start thinking now about which ones would be best suited to take your business into the future.



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