How is ecommerce likely to evolve? Five key trends

Ecommerce is an ever-changing feast and predicting which trends will hold is an imperfect science, but we’re going to have a go anyway. 

Here, in extracts from our Building an Ecommerce Team: Best Practice Guide, we pick out the themes we consider the most important in the context of their impact on ecommerce teams.

Data is the beating heart of ecommerce

Data is already here in a big way. Ecommerce managers need to understand what data can do for their business. You may not be a specialist business analyst but you need to know enough to ask for the right data to be pulled and recommendations to be made.

Having a business analyst in your team or access to a data-orientated person in the finance department is essential now. A finance head might not get what you need, so you need to be patient in teaching them the types of data you require in order to make commercial decisions.

In terms of technology, the size of organisation dictates what kind of data engines you invest in. Operating on an SME scale, it’s likely Google Analytics will be the primary tool, integrated with existing data sources.

Being able to talk like a merchandiser, a marketer and a data geek all in one is complicated but that’s where it feels like it is going; caring about the numbers, the message, the stock – a tall order from a single business leader.

It’s also important to have one person who understands all of the data, how it acts, responds and correlates (e.g. how does marketing activity align with stock availability?).

Jay Swanborough, Ecommerce manager:

Start simple and do small-ish focused trials to see what happens when you lift a lever here a bit and then pull a trigger there a bit etc. It’s always about trialling and the beauty of ecommerce is the results are fast and measurable.

I find now that you can really start to prove actions and decisions in the ecommerce microcosm and sell those decisions and results in to the rest of the business to impact the offline / bricks and mortar world or supply chain decisions. That’s when you know you’ve finally cut through the traditional model, when the business actually sits up and says look what was achieved in this ecommerce test, we’re going to try the same thing across 300 stores now.

The role of the traditional marketer is changing

As there will be more and more emphasis on data and measurability, which has always been an online forte, you will see more ecommerce leaders owning traditional marketing budgets rather than traditional marketers taking control of ecommerce.

There could be a refinement of the model in many businesses where the marketing function becomes much more data driven and accountable and initiative-driven. Data will drive the acquisition and retention exercises.

Is the traditional marketer dead? No but their output is under greater scrutiny to deliver results and conversion.

We may see more companies splitting budgets between ‘brand’ budgets that areawareness and engagement driven and ‘scientific’ budgets where CPA and ROI are king in terms of success measures.

Always-on shopping experiences

Mobile plugs the gaps in service availability, so you have to deliver service 24×7. This means making sure the technology and process is in place so customers can access what they need, when they need it, across devices (persistent basket is good example). The costs will have to be assessed.

For example with live chat, how do you get ROI for providing live chat to audiences from different countries? Should you instead make your site as self-serve as possible for order tracking, history, product info, reviews and content etc.?

In most cases it makes little sense to have a 24-hour service flowing across time zones and offices within your organisation. You’d have to have a very complex order management system in several languages with proficient customer service agents in many languages.

Keep it simple unless you really think you’re going to amass huge sales by setting up this type of complex web of customer service.

Flexible customer service

The requirements for international businesses can be significant. If you offer your site in a foreign language, then you should be offering customer service in that language as well.

Don’t go to the expense of translating and maintaining your site content in another language if you can’t handle customer enquiries in that language as well.

It’s a no-brainer to want to reach out and help the customer wherever they are in the world and then offer relevant help options.

User-centred and responsive design

Responsive design and ‘device-first’ thinking is increasingly important now and it’s a real challenge to get marketing and creative teams to understand the pros and cons.

Yes, it can really be a limiter for design and creative messaging but it means everyone can see your messages and hopefully interaction and results will be positively impacted.

You now have to tell brand managers that they have a 250×250 pixel box to get the message across and that it might look like this with another 250 x 250 box above it or beside it, and it has to be rendered in web-friendly HTML text with a plain background.

It becomes very template driven which is never a good thing for a creative marketing type to hear or learn to adhere to.

Increasingly ecommerce development starts with the mobile journey in all its simplicity before using responsive design techniques to make this work for desktop. This is the stripped-back version of a persona and their goals. It’s the airport duty-free store for the customer who knows what they want: get in and out and on their way.

For the full experience there is the flagship store. Browse, breathe, explore, engage, take the time to hear the whole story, watch a video.

These are the things we would expect to see added to a tablet or desktop site, as long as they are maintainable. There is still so much more out there to be done in tablet experiences for brands with touch screen and storytelling.

The standard mobile will be able to handle this content but we’re seeing customers save this browsing experience for tablet time. Even better, the mobile site will remind them later of a great piece of engagement content that they can watch when they are at home browsing in the evenings and on weekends.

Key takeaways for ecommerce managers

1. Stay on top of new and emerging technology

For example, meet with new vendors in the area of retargeting and abandonment, get tuned-in to mobile and how traffic will be acquired and retained in that medium.

2. Get a good sounding board as near the top as possible

Don’t be afraid to take the time to explain the nitty-gritty detail of ecommerce to business leaders.

If they don’t want to listen, at least you tried and documented the fact that you did try.

3. Take a really broad view of ecommerce within the business

Explain the impacts you see, reach out to others within the business to see the impacts your moves could have on their worlds – avoid surprises in other parts of the organisation in order to get 360 degree buy in.

4. Influence other senior managers to support ecommerce

You want them to do the same when they’re thinking about their departments and their decisions; you don’t want the warehouse to turn around and say ‘hey we have a stock take so the warehouse is closed for pick and pack for the next week’.

That can surprisingly still happen but it absolutely shouldn’t – it means someone at the top isn’t ‘getting’ the ecommerce side of the business and what it means to shut down your biggest store for a week.

They wouldn’t do it in bricks and mortar unless there was a fire or flood, so why let it happen to your online business ‘just because’ …

5. Translate digital knowledge in to usable information

Patience and the ability to dumb it down to what it means for the business are key. To get people interested, you have to make it relevant to them and package it in way that is non-threatening.

If you make people feel ignorant, they’re less likely to support you.

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How is ecommerce likely to evolve? Five key trends

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