By Yulia Smirnova
CEO and Founder, CommerceBrain
We’re halfway through 2014 – it is time to plan for the future and get new ecommerce plans lined up for the peak shopping season. The industry is always evolving, which opens new doors to experiment with online marketing, shopping experience and ecommerce operations. So, what is in store for us?
Cyber Monday might become Cyborg Monday at some point, especially with Amazon drones delivery and returns already in the works.
Or perhaps, we would experience offers shared with us via apps sensing the best time for us to be receptive to them. In other words, having something similar to what Sleep Cycle app does while waking us up per the recorded sleeping rhythm and body movements of each individual. Can apps detect our shopping moods?
Or maybe, we would start getting loyalty points and rewards for simply thinking of a brand that could be registered somehow? It does sound as very far fetched, yet not impossible and easily imaginable.
So, what are the near future trends in eCommerce besides Amazon delivery drones and Google glass shopping?
1. The rise of the brand can be observed in many ecommerce players developing their own products in order to differentiate their stores from competition.
Nasty Gal launched its own line of shoes. One Kings Lane now offers private label collections of luxury towels, curtains and bedding, exclusively on its site. While etailers like BetaBrand and Bonobos, ride the road to profits by owning their products (being a brand) and offering custom variations of limited editions (to intensify the demand). In the US, being able to stand out and be different is highly valued in the culture. No one likes to be boring and fit in, unless it is part of the cooler tribe of similar crazy, stylish, badass folks. Thus, at least here in the US, more brands will launch in the future that offer unique products and experiences according to originality of our preferred or associated lifestyles. Brands can start small and grow like mushrooms. So Worth Loving is a great store (sells customized apparel with inspiring messages) and it does just that and has a good following already. Chloe and Isabel is gaining momentum too (growing by 82% within the last year). Brand is good for profit, plays well with SEO, distinct in shoppers’ minds and has a way to make it to their hearts.
2. The demand for custom tailored complex products is driven by companies that found ways to scale design, tailoring and production via technology.
This customization goes beyond adding a picture and a tagline to T-shirts and mugs as on Zazzle and Cafepress. Now you can get a quality custom made anything, discovered through your own creativity triggered by a shopping experience provided on a site or within an app. Nike added this offering long ago as an extension of its lines. Today, offering custom made products becomes a standalone business model. The products are unique, of high quality and mostly sold at a premium price – all that signals potential for higher margins. Yet, besides tackling all the usual challenges of the ecommerce business, these companies also have to address demand generation and brand development through ongoing customer education. It does not matter if the demand is real (see Igigi for fashionable custom-tailored clothing for plus size ladies) or opportunistic (as with ThirdLove offering fitted and custom-made lingerie).
3. eCommerce adoption increases across industries beyond product manufacturers.
Many software firms (Autodesk, Adobe) or B2B services (Trulia), as well as museums (California Academy of Science) and non-profits (Red Cross) setup their own ecommerce business units with distinct PnLs to grow beyond traditional revenue sources or streamline operations. Today, no matter if you sell data, services, products or experiences – all can be monetized and operationalized for efficiency, scale and growth via ecommerce technology.
4. Service and fulfillment become really personal through sophisticated technology.
If you are selling through phone or personal agents, you can leverage Salesforce technology to make your sales people more in sync with your customers. Companies like TrunkClub scale their services with Sales Cloud, which maintains record of social profile of each customer (his/her activities, orders, customer communications, preferences and dislikes). TrunkClub stylists access a Salesforce platform app to use the data and also perform the personalized service while packing every new trunk in the warehouse. You have a true weapon against competition as all those personal details and social media experiences become available to you to serve personally. This is also hidden through the hot term of the year 2013 – “big data” (or just one application of it as I see). Cloud CRM technology makes it possible to do business on a personal level through real (human) 1 to 1 communications (email and texts). It provides clarity about the world of your customers as you are able to understand and serve them better.
See TrunkClub video on use of Salesforce
5. Programmable site experience becomes accessible to smaller etailers and online shops.
Personalization goes further than product recommendations on the site or within marketing campaigns, be those email, social, retargeting or search. Many companies now offer SaaS services to plug into your site to learn about your visitors’ site behavior in real-time, identify common patterns of shopping and deliver algorithmically special offers that will convert segments and cohorts of your visitors faster. What also is enticing that you do not have to wait and do the testing first. You can monetize what is happening right now while running your business. Plus, today you do not have to be a big retailer with tons of budget to afford using this code. Nor do you have to employ a team to run the tech and refine campaigns. Moreover, this investment pays off within two months with the revenue growth up to a factor of 3. Connect to me to learn about your options.
6. Partnerships with other ecommerce sites are more common.
Partnering up with other sites that target your audience and have higher volumes of prospective customers gives you significant leverage and lets your online store grow faster. Many ecommerce sites join forces with online magazines, blogs and even other ecommerce sites to accelerate customer acquisition rate. This might come as a co-marketing effort as recently observed with CitrusLane and BarkBox (Facebook contest). It might also appear as a way to expand product assortment to cater better to your own customers and offer new channels for upcoming brands. As an example, Nordstrom partnered with Etsy to showcase unique high-end handmade goods. Or take Toms shoes that now launched a marketplace to invite other socialpreners to offer their goods. Collaboration helps accelerate your customer acquisition growth.
7. Selling primarily to markets outside your borders is a viable business model.
There is a number of new ecommerce businesses emerge that cater primarily to the foreign markets. Take Sendah Philippines that targets immigrants working overseas that still need to connect to their families through gifts, shopping and unlimited calls. Or check out MemeBox that sells Korean beauty products to US, Japan and Canada. It does sell in Korea as well, yet targets international markets mostly with its subscription service. For other companies, being mobile makes the business landscape global instantly, especially if you launch via an app first. At the same time, bigger marketplaces offer options for small merchants to engage into international selling affordably (as with eBay international shipping program). You can also sell straight from your estore, especially if you run on Magento or Demandware by partnering up with companies like BorderJump to setup your sales in the same shopping experience, regardless of the country your shoppers come from (via APIs and plugins, with all taxes, fees properly programmed). The experience is streamlined on the front end and back end, all you do is start selling globally and share a bit with the technology enabler. Plus, payment industry makes it simpler and widely embraced through PayPal for a fee, or Venmo for free.
8. Going offline (with tech) to get to profit and customers faster.
Many pure web only retailers start seeking ways to engage with their customers offline through setting up guide shops (alternatives to a brick-and-mortar store) and live events. Part of this trend spills into tapping the benefits of building a recognizable brand and becoming more real and visceral for shoppers. Some start advertising on radio and TV to break through the online noise (be those traditional or web alternatives such as Hulu and other video channels). This works well since most of us do not expect online stores to show up on TV and media ads, so we perk up and pay attention if this happens. Others decide to open stores and service locations to get to profit faster, as there are opportunities in doing offline retail more effectively (sharable space, ordering in store from online). Plus, companies like ShopKick build entire reward experiences on what people already do (walking into the stores) and thus aid in bringing foot traffic. Offline and online merge into hybrid models that work for a variety of purposes: brand, customer acquisition and profit. Yet, offline is still supported with tech, now via phones and in the future through something wearable, touchable, voice-enabled or some other way more palpable.
9. Services in eCommerce are explored in a variety of ways: from curation to subscription to rental.
Presenting services and goods well through curation, outstanding merchandising and user experience launched many niche sites that do not sell their own goods, including One Kings Lane, Brayola and Weddington Way. By simply investing into presenting curated merchandise well, these sites formed a new type of online retail by offering this service. Then, there was a subscription model. Today, there is a subscription site for anything. Instead of the phrase: “there is an app for that”, we should be saying: “there is a subscription service for that too”. Adding a service element to selling online allows for a predictable revenue model. It also becomes a great channel to acquire new customers and differentiate your site. On the other spectrum, new ways of putting to service what you have got becomes a very popular consumer movement supporting a new kind of ecommerce business, also known as sharing economy. Putting to a better use your spare bedroom, the time your car is out of use, the time you spend in your own commute and the service you can provide while at it – all enabled and commercialized with sites like AirBnB, Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit and RentTheRunway, leading the way. Thus, packaging services creates opportunities for more valuable or new shopping experiences.
10. Mobile becomes dominant in all eCommerce operations.
If 2012 was the year of responsive design and 2013 was the year of mobile marketplaces, consider this year to explode with mobile powering up not only storefronts, but entire ecommerce operations. Mobile becomes a way to service your customers, a way to market to them, and a way to reconnect through other storefronts and points of mobile existence (consider partnerships). It almost becomes a job for every marketer or store owner to think how your store can connect in many ways with your customers on mobile. Think about connecting on mobile beyond marketing and selling, think about backend and fulfillment. What else that you are doing in marketing, operations, service, fulfillment that can be offloaded, enhanced or enriched via mobile? Think about the technology and business processes that can be accessed, integrated and simplified via mobile. Find the ways to replicate or adopt for your business how TrunkClub scales its personal service through CRM and mobile.
What is trending for you in eCommerce in 2014? What have I missed? Please share.
This is an updated version of a post that originally appeared on Commercebrain.com
About the Author
Yulia V. Smirnova is an ecommerce industry thought leader, speaker, and blogger with more than 10 years of experience in internet retail and online marketing marketing. Prior to founding CommerceBrain.com, Yulia worked for Walmart.com, Shopping.com (an eBay company), Texas Instruments, Microsoft and Intel, making online experiences simpler for customers and more profitable for businesses. Yulia received her BA in Marketing / Advertising Management and MBA from Portland State University, and MA in Foreign Languages Teaching from Sakhalin State University. Read her intelligent marketing insights at her blog, Memesponge.com
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Join Yulia in her session on “Scaling Ecommerce for Profit” at Conversion Conference Chicago 2014, June 17-19.