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I like writing about trends in digital marketing and ecommerce and the exciting thing about 2014 is I get the feeling we all have a better idea of where it’s headed.
In 2013, retail sales totalled $15.15tn. $1.2tn dollars (<8%) of this was spent online.
If online retail figures continue to rise (the most ‘virtual’ market is the UK, with 13% of sales online in 2013), it will likely be the product of a new generation of consumers and increasingly sophisticated retailers.
But how sophisticated is ecommerce today? What is achievable and will the holy grail of ‘omnichannel’ commerce ever be realised?
Rather than write pieces about smaller parts of ecommerce, such as order management or personalisation, I thought I’d try to cover all of it in one post.
These trends pick up and expand on some points discussed by Demandware COO Jeff Barnett at Xchange 2014.
Obviously, retailers are in varying stages of maturity, so feel free to let me know if I’ve overdone it some areas and not been aggressive enough in others. And practitioners, let me know what I've missed.
First, some overall trends
A trend for vertical integration.
Retailers are becoming manufacturers and vice versa. For example, J.C. Penney is turning back to private labels to revamp its brand.
A trend for startups in commerce.
Many mobile payment and loyalty services have launched in the last three years, alongside much customer experience software.
A trend for software as a service.
Companies specialising in, amongst others, customer engagement software, media buying and ecommerce platforms are increasingly available ‘in the cloud’.
A trend for uniting a business in pursuit of multichannel retail.
Neiman Marcus has recently reorganised its organisation, uniting the management teams for merchandising and planning in the same building. Neiman Marcus has also invested $100m in a new merchandising platform across all brands and channels.
All of these factors mean that if you’re a retailer, as ever, your competitors will be waging a war in price and convenience. The conversation is now about commerce and not channels. Simply put, how do retailers attract, engage, transact, fulfil and serve?
The 'now' of ecommerce platforms
Shop and search functionality.
The very basics for ecommerce.
Many website are still making changes to optimise SEO (check out our Best Practice Guide), from technical considerations such as Hreflang, video markup, G+ markup, to on-page changes such as expanded copy and editorial on category pages. But in general, SEO has evolved to a point where it is an ongoing process of tweaking and optimisation.
Responsive design in many cases.
This is starting to be the norm, certainly for completely new websites. Depending on the codebase, wants and needs, tech resource, responsive is also becoming a goal for ongoing site change (e.g. the BBC’s new interactive guides and News websites).
Perhaps social login is enabled.
On some ecommerce sites, though consumer uptake has been low and this isn’t a trend many see continuing, even if payment such as Google Wallet or Tenpay expands.
The 'next' of ecommerce platforms
The ability to detect real-time purchase intent of shoppers.
Uncovering reasons for abandonment at any stage of the purchase journey and allowing real-time remarketing.
Mobile optimized content delivery.
Not simply resizing webpages for smartphones, but having contact strategies that take stock of what content works where.
The now of orders
Distributed order management.
Standard selling and fulfillment technology.
Ship to store.
If the item is shown online as not available in-store, it can be shipped there for collection.
Delayed items will not hold up an entire order.
The next of orders
So-called omnichannel customer service.
The ability to use call centre, website and in-store to make, adjust, cancel or return orders.
A difficult goal, with many brands finding it easier to have presence on the ground in foreign markets. Importing wholesale and then setting up local ecommerce distribution is easier than shipping cross-border.
The now of in-store
Endless aisle and clientelling.
See this post on Crocs and Solstice sunglasses. Endless aisle is appropriate for many retailers and is used in John Lewis and Marks & Spencer amongst others. Clientelling or assisted selling refers to being able to look at consumer purchase history on a device in-store, as well as ordering items for home delivery or pickup at a later date.
The next of in-store
Apple has had this for a while. The ability to plug sales straight into an online platform. Obviously, Apple’s price points are such that not many pay with cash, so this is easier to implement. Apple’s system of often tying payment to an Apple ID allows its CRM to be built out more reliably. Essentially a virtual POS is not far from showrooming, with pricing in a retailer’s direct channels vitally important. Apple customers are aware they are paying pretty much best price in Apple stores.
When I spoke to Puma’s global head of ecommerce, Tom Davis, at Demandware’s Xchange 2014, he said he thinks that pricing strategy internationally is something that will become more important. As customers get savvier and shipping is easier, consumers may increasingly try to save money by purchasing from international websites instead of directly with the brand at home.
The now of the single customer view
Persistent anonymous shopper profiles.
The shopper is assigned an ID but is anonymous, with a persistent cookie allowing tracking of behaviour in past sessions.
The next of the single customer view
Holistic behavioural and attitudinal profiles.
Customers can be further narrowed down as to their behaviours and attitudes across channels.
The now of inventory visibility
Cross channel visibility.
What’s available in-store? What’s in the warehouse?
The next of inventory visibility
As an example, Vineyard Vines picks stock from stores if SKUs are not available in the warehouse and are ordered online. This can only work if inventory is accurate and holistic.
The now of personalization
As an example, messaging can be displayed to customers in Ireland, informing them of free shipping from the UK for a limited time only.
Being able to push promotions to those that haven’t taken advantage.
Attribute based merchandising.
Showing different product mixes to different segments, based on product attributes and segment behaviour.
The next of personalization
Omnichannel promotion and optimization.
If a single customer view is obtained - and there are obvious difficulties, particularly tracking customers on to mobile devices - promos can be displayed intelligently (i.e. with consolidated data collection) on the website, email, search, call centre and instore and optimized accordingly.