The Future of Ecommerce

Influential Trends in E-commerce in 2021

Out of all the world’s observations in light of the global pandemic caused by Covid19, one thing among many was made very clear. Consumer behavior has drastically changed. Whether it be confinement or limited purchasing options, as our shopping centers shut down, we were stuck (many still are) having to meet all of our needs without traditional shopping outlet possibilities. Confinement changed us, and we will never be the same. Luckily E-commerce was well established in our marketplaces to become the perfect ally to ease our populations into shopping online with just one click.

It is widely known that the retail sector has been dramatically affected by the coronavirus from drops in sales, corks in production and shipping, to manufacturing declines, citing just a few. These changes created the need for resilience to adapt to new lifestyles from both the retail and the consumer side, resulting in many companies and brands without an online presence, to start developing their digital strategy to be equipped to compete in our changing times.

Like most innovations in our modern tech era, it’s usually here to stay once it’s implemented. As brick-and-mortar businesses struggle to compete, what are we facing in our new E-commerce marketplaces as the world is shifting into the digital age paradigm? There are many facets to consider when approaching E-commerce, but here are just a few tech integrations to consider as we all merge into our limitless new world.  

Personalized Product Recommendation

As early as the 2000s, and even before, giants like Amazon and eBay were using primitive recommendation systems in their E-commerce platforms to suggest products based on popularity to customers. A lack of context hindered the efficacy of popularity-based recommendations. These methods’ drawbacks meant that dot-com era recommendation engines that lacked no real-time aspect weren’t able to match users with what they required when they needed it.

Amazon filed a patent in September of 1998 for “collaborative recommendations using item-to-item similarity mappings,” leading to the next evolution of recommendation systems focusing on content and buyers’ purchases to identify and then recommend items. Then came Netflix’s involvement with “Collaborative filtering,” which is now foundational to all modern recommendation engines. In a generic sense, collaborative filtering is the process of predicting a user’s preference by analyzing their activity to derive patterns.

Recommendation engines are potent contributors to an online store’s ability to motivate and retain shoppers. In fact, 56% of customers are more likely to return to a site offering product recommendations than not, and research shows the best way to attract digital natives, the people who are born and raised around social media, is through personalized shopping experiences from E-commerce websites.

Recommendation engines provide your online business opportunities to have interactions with shoppers throughout their shopping journey. Deep learning algorithms have rapidly advanced, and AI can analyze the effectiveness of recommendation engine strategies from design to messaging to offer practical steps about what companies should do differently.

Omni-channel

Today there are multitudinous methods of reaching customers. No longer are retailers confined to the physical stores, but offer online shops, digital and telemarketing strategies, mobile apps, and social media. The digital revolution was catapulted forward due to the pandemic, and consumers have become accustomed to shopping across different channels. The retailers who have revolutionized themselves into omnichannel integration have grown exponentially more than strictly Shopify-type stores. Omnichannel is a multi-channel sales approach providing the consumer with an integrated media platform experience. The customer can shop online from a mobile device, their computer desktop, tablet, or in a brick-and-mortar store, and the experience is seamless.

The omnichannel experience is distinguished from a multi-channel experience which requires less integration. In a multi-channel environment, the user has access to various communication options that aren’t necessarily synchronized or connected. However, there aren’t only multiple channels during an omnichannel experience, but the channels are connected, so you can move between them seamlessly.

Omnichannel seamlessly integrates different communication channels businesses use to communicate with customers. The customers’ perspectives and interests are used to optimize the coherence of the company’s marketing messages. Brands can analyze and implement each communication channel’s strengths, thereby providing marketing teams the ability to deliver a more compelling and cohesive brand message.

In light of the pandemic, minimized contact has become the world’s “new normal,” resulting in features such as click & collect or street pickup becoming central. Omnichannel provides communication with shoppers and customer service, which is an added value for the customer at any point in the purchase process.

The best recommendation for omnichannel into the rest of 2021 and beyond include personalization engines, using chatbots to increase customer touchpoints, Allow Remote Work with Cloud-Native Software, and focusing on Mobile Integration. Taking into account that the user, throughout the purchase process, goes through various channels and forms of communication, brands need to offer the best experience for their clients, and omnichannel is the answer.

Examples of businesses with epic omnichannel are BOA, Disney, Starbucks, and many more, as omnichannel tech quickly positions itself as non-negotiable in the E-commerce environment. The companies that have accelerated through 2020 with the fewest setbacks are the ones that built goals with the future of omnichannel in mind and had robust omnichannel systems in place. As the global shift to online consumerism continues, we don’t know what next year holds; however it’s clear that omnichannel solutions are here to stay.

Chatbots

Artificial intelligence is redefining the customer service landscape, and chatbots are no exception. From visual search engines to automated messages, AI affords companies to support their customers’ needs at more connection points along their digital path.

Online shopping in today’s climate offers many channels to list products on. Shoppers can make an online purchase through email, apps, and social media. These multiple options can be complicated to customers if there isn’t one clear route for reaching businesses. The impact of chatbots is most palpable in e-commerce here. Chatbot tech innovation revolutionizes the way retailers approach customer support and communication with shoppers.

Introducing “Conversational Commerce” or “Conversational Marketing.”  It’s the rise of conversational marketing, which describes a feedback-oriented algorithm to drive customer engagement, build brand loyalty, and positively impact sales.  These chatbots have become so popular that it’s predicted virtual agents, or chatbots, will participate in a majority of commerce interactions between people and businesses in less than three years. (Forbes)

“Conversational chatbots” are already familiar to businesses and have drastically increased their presence, and the benefits of these bots are readily apparent the more AI advances. Companies today use chatbots to communicate with customers instantly to resolve any questions or issues on multiple platforms. These round-the-clock bots use AI to derive customers’ preferences to create a valuable, individualized shopping experience,  provide insights and answer basic questions.

Research-based statistics provide valuable insights into the trends of the chatbot industry. Businesses can consider the statistical insights for the successful deployment of virtual assistants.

 Key chatbot statistics

  • The chatbot market size is projected to grow from $2.6 billion in 2021 to $9.4 billion by 2024.  (Insider)
  • Chatbots expected to cut business costs by $8 billion by 2022 (CNBC)
  • 69% of consumers prefer to use chatbots because they deliver quick answers to simple questions. (Salesforce)
  • Chatbots can save customer complaint headaches (MIT)
  • 82% of consumers claim that instant responses to their questions are critical when contacting brands. (Business 2 Community)
  • 64% of consumers claim that 24-hour service is the most helpful chatbot functionality. (The Chatbot)

The future impact of chatbots will be more apparent as businesses focus on building and implementing multi-platform chatbots that are indistinct from human agents. AI will be the deal-maker with machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP). Chatbots are becoming more conversational and are learning to communicate quite effectively. The obvious next step is to improve user experience through sentiment-analysis to train bots to interact with more human-like capabilities. 

With the increased implementation of chatbots, voice bots are also becoming mainstream. Users have grown accustomed to relying on Google and Siri to update their calendars and take voice notes. Businesses are learning to facilitate seamless experiences across multi-platforms to achieve functionality with both interactive and voice-driven chatbots as digital consumers prefer messaging platforms that have both a voice and text-based interface.

With chatbots and voice-empowered conversational bots that utilize artificial intelligence, the trend of automating customer engagement will continue to be on the rise throughout 2021. 

Augmented and Virtual Reality in Product Visualization

One of the biggest global trends in the E-commerce market today is product visualization. Product visualization has changed dramatically over the past few years. It is evolving from small hard to view images to multiple images with zoom enhancement from different perspectives to 3D rotation. However, recent augmented and virtual reality changes are positioning new product interface realities for the E-commerce shopper.   

Today both AR and VR utilize similar technology; however, many confuse the two technologies. Virtual reality or VR builds an entirely new artificial reality, while augmented reality or AR only adds various virtual elements into the real world.

Technology has come a long way from Pokemon hunts and Snapchat filters. Both VR and AR technology are making leaps and bounds and are critical players in disrupting the status quo in the E-commerce stores industry.  Imagine what it would be like if you could virtually interact and touch products before purchasing them. E-commerce shoppers are sure to choose the online options where the service of trying on apparel “virtually” is available. Add that with the idea of feeling the fabric or texture, and seeing how it looks on you is truly a game-changer.  Today brands like Gucci, Adidas, and Footlocker, among a few, are well on their way to that exact experience.

It is not only the fashion industry that on the AR bandwagon; it is utilized by the beauty, furnishing, and auto industries.  Companies like Audi and Ikea have employed augmented reality glasses to check out cars or allow shoppers to design their own virtual kitchens.  

From virtual try-on solutions to experimenting with home decor, AR helps online shoppers understand what they’re purchasing and how precisely items from clothing to cosmetics will work for them. 

Additionally, AR is making projections for 2023 that will value it over US$18b, according to Statista. Today, huge investments have been made in AR by Facebook, Google, Alibaba, Apple, and more. AR is becoming dominant and is being driven by its increased usage on mobile devices, and investment in AR and VR apps is growing as retailers want to provide an AR or VR system that enables users to make purchases right in the virtual store without the need for leaving the virtual environment right from their mobile phones.

By combining the advantages of AR and VR systems with traditional offline shopping, online retailers will significantly increase their brand awareness and engagement by affording shoppers a unique interactive shopping experience. 

Conclusion

Whether you are an avid E-commerce shopper, store owner, or somewhere in between, these technologies are sure to impact our digital marketplace and position themselves to forever further change the way we purchase products and how we interact with digital marketplaces as consumers will quickly come to expect interactive, seamless shopping with just one click.