The e-commerce market continued to grow last year, with online sales expected to reach £81bn for 2011. 

I’ve been asking some industry experts about significant trends from last year, and what they expect to see in 2012. 

What were the most significant trends in e-commerce in 2011?

Paul Rouke, Founder, PRWD

Some of the UK’s biggest retailers were engaging the likes of ourselves at PRWD in the planning and early design phases of their replatforming projects.

This approach, compared to previous years where our involvement would typically be towards the end of the project lifecycle, has enabled retailers to move more towards a user-centred design approach, reducing the scale and cost of technical changes.

It had also enabled a greater degree of best practice to be implemented whilst at the same time looking at ways to provide more persuasive and in some cases innovative user experiences.

Depesh Mandalia, Senior Marketing Manager (Personalisation & MVT), Tesco

I’ve seen far more conversations around conversion optimisation in the last few years and in 2011 more action around this.

Perhaps this is just an evolution of online as e-commerce usability rapidly matures. Or perhaps companies are moving the weighting of budgets away from acquisition as markets saturate or as a symptom of the global crisis. It’s certainly not a bad trend!

Mobile was one of my big trends to look out for in 2011 and we’ve not been let down. Mobile apps and sites are rapidly being deployed as competition increases for consumer spend.

There’s still a long way to go to maximise this tool as companies realise the role mobile plays. Whether its for direct purchases, click and collect, researching before buying online or in-store it seems you need a presence or potentially lose out on a significant channel.

Dan Barker, E-business consultant:

Android really took off in 2011, and some of the sites I work with now get more Android traffic than iPhone. That meant lots of companies instantly moved from worrying about ‘iPhone apps’ to producing mobile versions of their main sites.

It was also the year Magento became ‘the standard option’ for small/medium-sized e-commerce sites thinking about replatforming.

Social media finally moved past the top of the bell curve, and it’s now an oddity to find online retailers not doing something with Facebook or Twitter.

What’s on your e-commerce wishlist for this year?

Paul Rouke: 

More retailers will recognise the importance of both conducting user research and implementing a continuous testing and optimisation strategy, although I personally feel this is actually still a few years away.

Retailers will begin to focus on providing more persuasive browsing and shopping experiences, adopting some of the many approaches used by the likes of Booking.com.

Depesh Mandalia:

I’d like to see mobile maturing much quicker in 2012,  whether it’s an app, mobile web or a hybrid strategy.

I’m looking forward as a consumer and a marketer to making more of this channel. I love the apps I currently use and love some of the mobile specific websites out there but we’re not quite there yet, both in terms of what consumers want and how consumers want to shop.

It’ll be a learning curve but one I’d like to see quickly evolve.

Dan Barker:

Lots of the ‘walled garden’ stuff Google has been doing lately is sad. I hope there’ll be less of that.

I hope the Kindle Fire will sell loads, and that tablets will push more into the mainstream. It’s fairly common to see sites taking more orders from iPads than from phones now, I’d bet the Kindle Fire will continue that.

There’re lots of interesting possibilities there too, such as tie-ins between books and websites, films, games and websites, etc.

It would be nice to see personal commerce grow much more. eBay got everyone used to selling second hand stuff, and marketplaces have accustomed lots of people to the idea of selling directly themselves. I think marketplace sites will continue to grow, and more will move on from there to launching their own sites.

What are your predictions for 2012?

Paul Rouke:

Retailers who don’t yet enclose their checkout process will implement what the likes of Amazon, ASOS, John Lewis and Game have been doing for years.

Retailers who currently force new customers to create an account or register at the start of checkout will finally realise that consumers don’t want this forced on them and will therefore adopt a new approach.

This is to provide new customers with the option to create an account at the end of checkout.

The usability, persuasion and conversion optimisation industry is still very much in its infancy in terms of penetration & budget allocation with senior decision makes within retail organisations, but I certainly expect that during 2012 there will be a marked improvement in these areas.

Attendance at conferences like Conversion Conference London will be significantly higher that 2011 as more businesses recognise that investing more in conversion whilst potentially reducing some of their acquisition spend is a very intelligent commercial decision.

Remote user testing services like whatusersdo will grow significantly as more businesses use this type of approach to begin understanding consumer behaviour.

More SEO agencies will look to position themselves as also being conversion rate optimisation specialists, as they seek to exploit the growing market opportunity that exists in this industry.

Depesh Mandalia:

As quickly as mobile has taken off I think tablets still remain largely untapped. Some consider the strategies similar but I think the way they’re used to consume media, games, and productivity differs.

The devices may well converge as more and more is compressed into smart phones and it’d take a brave marketer to bet against the tablets but with announcements recently of the automotive industry using tablets in their vehicles there’s still scope for growth and a wide market to tap into.

Dan Barker:

I think we’ll see a lot more ‘e-commerce add-on’ businesses pop up. People like Predictive Intent and Peerius have done this really well with smart on-site merchandising, the same with Feefo and a few other on-site reviews systems.

And third party ‘abandoned basket rescue’ systems have really caught on. I think we’ll see a lot more of those types of systems.
Things will continue to be a bit rocky in the UK, so I’d bet internationalisation will move from being a ‘nice to have’ to something far more sites focus on.

And, as traditional shops struggle, I expect a few more pureplay online businesses will start to open physical shops to function alongside their online stuff, and for more to push into direct mail.
Mobile and social will continue to be the big, buzzy topics.