Every year, ecommerce growth continues to outpace physical retail as technology makes online shopping more appealing. U.S. retail sales is expected to grow 3-4% in 2017, and more than half of that growth will occur online. By contrast, in-store growth will account for less than 1% of retail growth.
The shift of power to the consumer is firmly entrenched. eCommerce will become even more competitive since online shoppers can effortlessly find sellers that provide what they want. The battle for the customer will favor those who respond quickly to the latest trends and adapt to the customer’s needs. The customer has always been the catalyst for the evolving ecommerce trends.
As customers become harder to win and easier to lose, retailers need to stay ahead of developing trends that impact the buyer’s journey. With further technological innovations dominating the online shopping experience, we expect these key ecommerce trends for 2017.
Artificial Intelligence Gets Practical in the Shopping Experience
Artificial intelligence is arguably the most significant and impactful innovation that shaped the retail world in 2016, affecting everything from chatbots to virtual shopping assistants and conversational commerce, to smarter search algorithms and AI-powered mall directories.
AI has reached a level where it’s become useful to daily life. Most people have probably heard of voice-enabled digital assistants by now. From Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana, to Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant, people have gotten used to talking to machines.
In 2017, we can expect more practical applications of artificial intelligence. We will see smarter stores and a wider adoption of AI-based navigation and informational apps for shopping malls. Mastercard and Stripe have also started using AI to combat fraud.
On the ecommerce side, eBay has been using artificial intelligence to improve the search experience and promote product discovery. AI also helps develop curated marketplaces, such as eBay Collective, a high-end furniture shop powered by visual search.
The race to build smarter artificial intelligence is on. Last September, eBay lost a key AI executive to Amazon, and Etsy acquired an AI startup to improve site search and product recommendations.
Chatbots and Conversational Commerce Become a Necessity
Earlier this year, Facebook started letting brands and businesses build chatbots on their Messenger app. Since then, companies from JCrew to Sephora have developed their own retail chatbots, providing a more personalized, convenient form of customer engagement in real time.
Mobile chat apps have surpassed social networks in terms of monthly active users. In 2017, more online retailers will develop their own chatbot presence on these apps. Not only do these chatbots improve customer engagement, but they also give a competitive edge. According to a recent study, 55% of shoppers prefer interacting with technology over a sales associate.
Last October, eBay revealed a beta version of their AI-powered personalized shopping assistant on Facebook Messenger. The chatbot answers search queries from shoppers, helps them refine their product searches, and learns from each experience.
Chatbots not only give brands a better customer experience, but they also change how people shop. Instead of searching for products online, a consumer can talk to a chatbot directly, and it will give personalized recommendations based on their size, order history or preferences.
Similarly, digital shopping assistants such as Alexa allow customers to buy products directly through a voice command. Amazon has already made Google price comparison irrelevant, and conversational commerce will continue to make online browsing unnecessary.
Chatbots, shopping assistants and artificial intelligence will only grow smarter over time. For online retailers, chatbots may soon become a necessity rather than a luxury.
Big Data, Personalization & Smarter Predictions to Boost Conversions
Globally, mobile shopping cart abandonment is still high for retailers, with people’s attention spans generally shorter on smaller screens. Personalization is key to solving this problem, and personalized, triggered cart reminder emails have seen great success.
In 2017, shopping will become more personalized with the emergence of a new dynamic shopping experience, unique to each customer. We have already seen eBay applying machine learning to make search results differ from one person to the next, making search optimization more difficult for sellers.
Thanks to big data collected by marketplaces and retailers, there will be better content, ads and products delivered to the right people at the right time, across marketplaces, social networks and messaging apps. Promotions, push notifications and ecommerce marketing strategies will become more sophisticated and customized for each shopper, lowering cart abandonment.
Fast & Convenient: Same Day Delivery, BOPIS (BORIS), and the Uber-ization of Shipping
Drone delivery may still be difficult to scale, but in 2017, we should see more flexibility in returns and deliveries. Customer demand and the growth of online shopping have strained the big carriers, forcing them to raise prices and invest in better logistics. In fact, FedEx had to cut ties with a few retailers to better manage pricing and capacity.
Amazon Prime began the same day delivery trend, winning customers on convenience, and more customers are craving fast and convenient delivery. In fact, 61% of consumers are willing to pay more for same day delivery. This demand has opened opportunities for on-demand delivery networks, such as UberRush and Postmates.
Similarly, we will see a rise in omnichannel strategies such as Buy Online Pick-up In-Store (BOPIS) and Buy Online Return In-Store (BORIS). Returns and delivery have posed challenges to many sellers, as customers demand more flexible options. BOPIS, BORIS and flexible returns and delivery options will become significant differentiators in ecommerce, and these omnichannel strategies will help retailers win customers.
Social Shopping Takes Center Stage
In 2017, social media will become a dominant influencer of consumer behavior as better technologies are integrated into social networks. Social media already influences purchasing decisions today, but with more direct transactions will result once breakthroughs in visual search and AI-powered personalization are applied into one’s social feeds.
Instagram recently launched a new feature that enables brands to tag products featured in the images they post. By tapping on the product descriptions, shoppers will be directed to the brand’s website and make a purchase there. We expect to have a more seamless mobile checkout process in 2017.
Pinterest has also been remaking itself as an ecommerce platform, enabling users to better search for products on the social network. In fact, Pinterest recently hired Walmart.com’s former head of marketing to develop their key verticals, including retail, consumer goods, travel and entertainment.
Shopping will become more social, infused and integrated with product reviews, ratings, questions and answers, as well as customer purchase and experience stories. Retailers will play a larger role in social networks, increasing awareness of their brands while engaging customers in more relevant, meaningful ways.
Mobile Wallets and Seamless mCommerce on the Rise
Mobile devices now account for over half of all web traffic, so much so that Google is rolling out a mobile-first index, using mobile content for all search rankings. As shopping on mobile continue to increase, mcommerce is steadily on the rise.
In 2017, we expect mobile cart abandonment to drop as more seamless mcommerce solutions are developed and implemented. So far, mobile wallets like Apple Pay and Android Pay have greatly improved the mobile checkout process. The mobile payment trend will continue to grow, as we’ve seen with Walmart Pay, CVS Pay, Citi Pay and Samsung Pay.
As shoppers get used to cardless, streamlined payments, we could see a rise in loyalty apps and omnichannel payment solutions for retailers. Convenience, after all, seems to be the key in winning customers.
Will You Resist or Adapt to the Buyer’s Journey?
Much of these developments are aimed to create better shopping experiences for customers. With the help of AI and seamless buying experiences, shopping will become easier, more convenient, and possibly even automated at some point.
Online sellers have the challenge - and mandate - to give the best shopping experience to their customers, whether that involves helping the right people find the right products, or boosting their supply chain capabilities and catering to their delivery preferences.
These trends all shape the buyer journey, and retailers need to stay on top of changing industry dynamics to ensure that their business adapt and grow.