Essential E-Commerce trends and retail technologies for 2016

We live in a connected world that is driven by technology and the e-commerce cosmos is no exception. Retailers have to invent and reinvent the wheel to find new ways to connect and reconnect with their tech-savvy customers. They have to break away from the online and offline mentality and think about augmenting shopping experiences for customers by seamlessly connecting the store floor experience and their online portals. Technology plays a huge role in assisting retailers and e-commerce marketers with this.

Here are 2 major E-Commerce trends and retail technologies that we think will raise the bar in retail in 2016.

#1 – Mobile shopping or M-Commerce is a keeper in retail technology

According to Forrester, consumers in US will spend approximately $327 billion through online retail, in 2016. Assisting customers in their buying journey with mobile devices is going to be a necessity, and retailers who undermine mobile are going to miss out in reaching a vast majority of their customers. Here are a few technological e-commerce trends that we see will make an impact in mobile shopping experience:

  1. Context based shopping experiences/ contextual commerce/ contextual shopping will drive brand reach and advocacy. Contextual commerce is, identifying the customer and the context they are in- such as the devices they use, the websites they visit, the brands they follow etc, to provide personalised relevant shopping assistance and experience as and when they need it. Amazon is a trend-setter in this case. If you have visited Amazon.com and looked at a nice mobile phone, you are likely to see ads of mobile phones for many days following that session. The ads will be optimised and will be relevant to your context- as in- budget, phone type, brand, the device type you are currently using etc. With this technology, shoppers do not need to sign-in to the website for the online retailers to anticipate their needs and provide them with suitable information which plays a key role in connecting the brand with their customers.
  2. In-mobile chat support for anytime service and support. American Eagle is a good case point for this. As soon as they enhanced the product pages with mobile chat support they were able to provide anytime support to their customers, with conversations pertaining to sales (outfit styling, type, colours etc) making upto 51% of the mobile messages thereby influencing their sales numbers.  
  3. Social Media will be used beyond engagement. With social media giants such as Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest experimenting with buy buttons, customers will no longer need to leave the platform to buy a product. For example, Pinterest’s buyable pins is a powerful example in this case. Pinterest made some limited number of direct partnerships with well-known brands such as Macy’s, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus to see the impact of Buyable Pins on businesses, further making it available for retailers using Shopify or Demandware to power their stores. Retailers using Shopify or Demandware who can leverage this functionality efficiently will have an accelerated brand reach, improved engagement rate, and better conversion rates.
  4. Checkout friction dissipates further. Investing in technology such as PayPal One Touch or Apple Pay is a clever way to simplify the checkout process. Early adopters of PayPal One Touch include Zapper, Airbnb, Boxed, Jane.com, Overstock.com, etc. Other methods such as pre-populating the address with Google Maps and including short and crisp forms are equally competent ways to furnish a smooth customer checkout process on mobile device.

#2 – Digitizing Store for a cohesive experience

With millions of shoppers boasting smart-phones in their pocket or purse and spending a good deal of time online, it has become increasingly crucial for brick-and-mortar retailers in embracing retail technologies that connect their online and offline spaces. This helps retailers inform and engage with their customers on mobile devices and collect granular actionable data. Here is a list of technologies that are making a mark in digitalizing retail spaces and integrating online with offline:

  1. Location based technologies, Beacons are becoming fairly mainstream – they aren’t viewed as a novelty in retail technology any longer. Business Insider affirms beacons (a set of small sensors using low energy bluetooth technology) are expected to contribute to a whoopping $44 bn in sales for retail in 2016. Retail giants such as Macy’s, Target, Lord & Taylor, JCPenny, Gamestop and Urban Outfitters have already adopted this technology to push real-time information to shoppers such as coupons, discounts and flash sales advertisements. Beacons that are hugely popular are offerings by ShopKick, iBeacon by Apple, Eddystone an open beacon format from Google, and other offerings by startups such as Estimote, Nomi and inMarket. Location based technologies also aid in driving loyalty programs rewarding customers for location-based actions within stores. Further, beacons and location based technologies allow retailers to collect valuable data from consumer’s in-store activities which in turn aids in making informed marketing decisions for online and offline portals.
  2. Clienteling apps assist in giving assistance. Clienteling apps connect a shopper’s action in-store, online or over the phone and makes it as one customer profile. This profile can be then accessed by the store sales associates to make personalised recommendations to customers based on their online history. An industry leader in this arena is Raymark, providing clienteling apps to Saks, Loewe, Escada, to name a few.
  3. Intelligent stores are the in-thing in retail technology. The best case study here is the very hip Rebecca Minkoff store located in New York, Soho. On the floor, shoppers can tap screens and flip through look books, when not activated these screens look like mirrors. In the trial rooms these screens (without cameras) can track the clothes that the customer has picked through RFID tags and make personalised suggestions to customer, on the screen (mirror) using their online history. This retail technology also tells the team which items are taken in the trial rooms, and the ones left behind, which further informs them in improving their design and marketing strategies.

Emerging technologies and e-commerce trends will help define the tech-savvy customer’s path to purchase. Combining online and offline data to create a positive impact on the customer’s buying experience, while getting some insights over their own sales and marketing strategies is what a retailer stands to gain from investing in innovative technologies.

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