Total ecommerce sales shot to almost $2 trillion in 2016, an increase of 8.7 per cent in comparison to 2015 (according to PFS). Ecommerce is getting increasingly sophisticated and innovative, as technologies and best practices mature.
For instance, 2016 has seen a much bigger focus on customer experience, and there has been a massive growth of sites offering niche products, partly thanks to platforms like Shopify, but also KickStarter and IndieGogo.
On KickStarter, $2.8 billion has now been pledged and 118,075 projects successfully funded. In 2016, food delivery services like Deliveroo and Henchman have also become a lot more popular.
What is 2017 going to bring? We quizzed some of the brightest minds in ecommerce to forecast the biggest trends. Follow these exciting developments, and you will boost your sales over the next 12 months.
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1. Much more personalization
Shopping experiences are becoming more and more personalized, and machine learning will improve search and product suggestions for customers.
“By analyzing user behaviors at an individual and collective scale — paired with the input of available data about a customer — ecommerce engines will increasingly be trusted with making data-driven decisions about which products to recommend, when to offer up product discounts, and how to personalize a full commerce experience in real-time to increase online sales.”
He also thinks that “systems will be able to independently adapt and pivot their strategies, based on seasonal changes in buying behavior or market trends.”
Todd Lefelt, managing director of user experience at HUGE, adds that “banners will be seen less as pushy annoyances that interrupt our experiences and more as welcome personal reminders that enable us to take action on the things we care about.”
And Catalin Zorzini, founder of of Ecomm Design and Ecommerce Platforms, reckons such customisations will not only improve the site’s UX (i.e. showing a message like "We deliver to *your hometown* for free!"), but will also extend to the product itself (i.e. printing the customer's first name on the back of it).
2. Service-based incentives
HUGE’s Todd Lefelt also reckons that the winners of 2017 will be the brands that create service-based incentives that encourage users to buy from them, and keep users buying from them.
“Look for better loyalty and rewards programs, more Amazon Primes,” he suggests. “Loss-leader strategies, better personalized recommendation tools, more subscription renewal services (think Dollar Shave Club), digital concierge services, and stellar customer service and product support. Brands should invest in ethnographic research across the full customer journey. Take the time to understand what makes your customers tick, and where the bigger opportunities are to reach them.”
3. Data analytics
As data and analytics become even more important, more and more merchants will integrate with third parties, and use Google Analytics and UTMs to track traffic campaigns coming from Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, reckons Tiffany Tse, front-end developer at Shopify.
She also thinks tests and experiments will be integrated on products, which will result in the inventory being manoeuvred based on what’s doing well, and recommends a predictive email marketing app to help with the creation and analysis of targeted email campaigns.
4. Social media platforms
Tse also predicts that integrations with social media platforms, whether that’s communication, data and product analysis, or direct purchasing, will become a lot more popular, especially as a means of communicating with customers (outside of just emails) and providing personalized support.
“Partners and merchants should consider things like Shopify Messenger for purchasing, order confirmations, and shipping info,” she recommends.
Verne Ho, director of design at Shopify, agrees.
“Messaging is becoming a more integral tool for business communications. Whether you're coordinating your team, supporting customers, or selling directly through chat, it's worth examining the role that these conversations can play to help grow your shop.”
5. Conversational commerce
Loads of ecommerce experts we talked to agreed that conversational commerce will really take off, and that 2017 could be its breakout year.
“The idea is to remove the traditional 'shopping cart' experience for customers, and allow them to make purchases through more casual mediums,” explains Ross Beyeler, founder of ecommerce consultancy Growth Spark. “Even offline channels, which are technically still connected, such as Amazon Echo, have opened the door to conversational commerce, where users can now purchase products outside the realm of a shopping cart.”
Mari Corella, a fashion and beauty ecommerce specialist, argues that the market for voice assistants in particular is quickly catching on and expected to become an integrated part of our daily lives.
“Currently, they can assist with small tasks, such as checking the weather. But in the future, we could be using voice prompts to do our shopping. How this integrates with an online shopping site is still to be determined, but this is one area that all retailers should watch closely.”
6. More user interactivity and micro-animations
Micro-interactions will be one of the big web design trends of 2017, and the same applies for ecommerce sites.
“Users respond positively to visual feedback when clicking on, or hovering over, an object,” says Kelly Vaughn, web developer and Shopify Expert.
Her designer, Sarah Hutto, agrees.
"Small scale animations add a more personal touch outside of stock iconography — the user can tell that the creator added that much more time into design," Hutto says.
7. Beyond the grid
Vaughn also hopes that in 2017 we will start to move outside of the grid a little more.
“Grids are great when it comes to collections pages, as the uniformity allows customers to more easily take in the product information,” she explains. “But the homepage and informational pages don’t necessarily have to follow the standard grid system.”
“The vast majority of ecommerce experiences are formulaic and mundane,” he sighs. “Day after day, online shoppers quickly reach fatigue as they browse the same grid-like experience in store, after store, after store. Like in physical stores, online shopping should be an experience that reflects the brand itself. We are going to see brands that create online shopping experiences that cut through the clutter to win hearts and minds.”
Whatever you do, focus your efforts on doing what’s best for your client’s target audience instead of attempting to incorporate all of the latest trends, Vaughn recommends.
“Websites are not one-size-fits-all,” she explains. She suggests asking yourself questions like:
- “Does the audience do more of their shopping on desktops or mobile devices?”
- “Would the audience prefer a website that’s to the point? Where they can quickly place their orders and move on?”
- “Or would they appreciate a unique design with more interactive elements?”
8. Augmented reality
“One of the inherent weaknesses of ecommerce is that the customer never gets to hold or try out the product before buying it — as opposed to shopping in a physical store,” he explains. “That's why we see, in our latest large-scale research studies on product detail pages, that a very high amount of product images, videos, and 360-features are vital to retailers’ online conversion rates.”
“However, with the slow rise of augmented reality, smart retailers will be able to better close this gap between physical and digital retail, by placing the virtual products in the customer’s own life and environment. So far, augmented reality as a sales channel has been very rudimentary, but the recent release of Google Tango and the matching smartphones from device manufacturers, set a bright and not so distant future for the use of augmented reality for online shopping.”
9. Impact of UX on SEO and sales
Gavin Ballard, Shopify Expert, consulting developer, and CEO of Disco, hopes that in 2017 merchants and developers will realize that what is good for the user, is good for them, and focus more on the user experience of their stores. They will not be able to ignore the impact of UX, performance, and accessibility on their sites’ search ranking, sales, and conversions.
“Since ditching the easily-gameable algorithms that rewarded sheer volumes of links and keywords, Google’s ongoing mission has been to work out how to rank sites in its results by usefulness to the end user,” Ballard explains. “Recent examples of this have been the addition of HTTPS support, mobile-friendly design, and site performance as ranking factors. In 2017, this will be kicked up a notch, as Google starts penalizing sites that force users through interstitial popups to get to site content.”
Monika Piotrowicz, director of UX at Shopify, agrees.
“The data continues to accumulate — load times impact sales and conversion. As mobile gains a stronger foothold, that impact will only magnify. Same thing applies to accessibility. If we consider it from the start, it becomes a useful constraint that will lead to a better experience, with less friction for all users — and more successful merchants!”
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10. Maturation of mobile ecommerce design
Consumers spend more time and do more on small screen devices, and many ecommerce sites now see most of their traffic from mobile.
“Ensuring your shop is mobile friendly, whether as a native app or a responsive app, should therefore be a no brainer,” Verne Ho explains.
However, Gavin Ballard fears that desktop and mobile are still not treated equally.
“It feels like layout, content, and user experience choices are still being made from the desktop, and then forced into a ‘and it should look good on mobile’ paradigm, instead of consciously balancing the needs of both contexts,” he says.
“As mobile checkout gets easier, I hope that 2017 sees the maturation of responsive and mobile-first design in ecommerce, allowing merchants to capture revenue they’re otherwise missing out on.”
11. Integrations with mobile payment gateways
Buying on mobile will get a lot easier in 2017.
Tiffany Tse says the integration with mobile payment gateways (e.g. Apple Pay, Android Pay, Amazon Payments, PayPal) will become significantly more important, “so customers don’t have to pull out a credit card when buying something on their phone.”
Ecommerce specialist Mari Corella agrees, and says customers can expect faster load times, easier navigations, and quicker checkouts.
“This will, in turn, foster the upward spiral of mobile shopping. To capture it, however, retailers will be expected to invest more resources than ever into their mobile experience, and many will even give a greater share of their site development budget to mobile, rather than desktop.”
12. Competition with Amazon
"In 2017, online retailers will realize they’re all in competition with Amazon," argues Tammy Everts, senior researcher and evangelist at digital performance management company SOASTA.
“That’s ridiculously scary. Amazon has moved into a staggeringly broad range of markets — including music, cars, clothing, photo processing, even lumber. No matter what kind of business you’re in, it’s safe to say that Amazon has its eye on it.”
“While people may love your brand, they’re not at all loyal to your website. If they can buy your products through Amazon Marketplace, they will. That’s because they trust that Amazon will give them a safe, fast, and reliable customer experience. Amazon has set the UX bar extremely high, and shoppers today expect every retail site to reach that bar.”
“This makes retailer sites more of a showroom and less of a store,” he explains. “In 2017, sites will shift their emphasis from conversions to product education, driving an intent to buy.”
But what can you do if you still want your customers to buy directly from you, apart from following all the other advice in this article?
Everts suggests understanding your customers as much as you can (e.g. by monitoring and analyzing UX data, and using this data to predict the future and prepare for it), capitalizing on what you can learn from omnichannel (if you also run a bricks-and-mortar shop, it gives you tremendous insights into the customer journey — insights that Amazon doesn’t have), and leveraging consumer fears about Amazon.
“One in five say they’re concerned about Amazon’s dominance,” Everts argues.” You can parlay this concern by emphasizing what makes your smaller business special. Chances are, there are unique ways that you serve your customers, which Amazon can’t replicate because your customer service can’t scale to Amazon proportions. Promote the heck out of that.”
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13. Build trust on many layers
Credibility is king in 2017, and the same holds true for ecommerce.
“Building trust is an absolutely crucial aspect of any online shop,” Ecomm Design’s Catalin Zorzini argues. “I see this factor becoming more and more of a focus for successful ecommerce businesses, and for a good reason; there are not that many other aspects of your shop which could have such a big impact on conversions.”
Zorzini is particularly excited about companies who manage to build trust on as many layers as possible (and once again points to Mapiful for a good example):
- Website design: “Make sure you have a compelling, strong brand identity, and crisp, responsive retina-ready, layout. Bold typography will be massive in 2017!”
- Website speed: “Chances are your visitors have used Amazon a few times. If your website is slower than that, it will impact credibility and eventually sales. No room for sluggish sites in 2017, sorry.”
- User experience: “Lots has been said here, but a few essentials are intuitive navigation, super speedy checkout, and free delivery. A bit of localization ("Hola, we deliver free to Barcelona") and live chat would be great additions.”
- Social proof: “Don't be shy to show off the logos of the media outlets you've been covered by, any social media testimonials from customers (embedded tweets and Facebook updates work great), trust seals on the checkout pages, and third party reviews (from companies like TrustPilot, Feefo, or Yotpo).”
14. Cyber November
Over the years the line between Black Friday and Cyber Monday has blurred, and in 2016 Amazon started their countdown on November 1. Other online sites are anticipated to follow its lead this year. Why not capitalize on that?
“Think of it as Cyber November, a month-long selling season that peaks at the start of December,” says Kurt Elster, senior ecommerce consultant, founder of ecommerce agency Ethercycle, and host of The Unofficial Shopify Podcast.
“Driving some of these sales is the increasingly accessible and dynamic personalization of the shopping experience. Now anyone can have automatic personalization built into their site, emails, and PPC ads — and those that don't do it are at a disadvantage.”
15. On-demand delivery
You can also compete by offering on-demand delivery that’s as fast as you can make it.
“There is a growing list of on-demand services, ranging from movies to home cleaning,” explains fashion and beauty ecommerce specialist, Mari Corella. “As a result, consumers are now expecting tangible goods at the same speed.”
“Retailers are reacting by making their products available for same-day delivery by using their physical locations as mini distribution centers. For retailers who aren’t equipped with the logistical capabilities for such a service, startups such as Postmates, Instacart, and UberRUSH are filling the gap by offering same-day delivery for a number of retailers, both large and small.”
16. The rise of extraordinary brands
It’s unlikely you’re going to build another Amazon or Etsy, but you can build an extraordinary brand that stands out, makes a statement, and has fans as a customer base. Your brand will speak in the same way as your audience, because you belong to the same culture.
“People spend a bit extra for these companies, they like every Instagram post and know every product,” says Alex O’Byrne, a founder at We Make Websites, the UK’s highest rated Shopify Expert. “They look forward to the package arriving. Think Palace Skateboards, Bluebella, Skinnydip, or Finisterre. These brands are smaller companies with bigger margins.”
“You have to be brave to be this type of brand. You’ll be doing new things. You won’t be like other brands. You’ll have to use your intuition. Not everyone will like you. But some will love you. If you get it right, people will talk about you because you’re exciting. This is the best type of marketing and it can’t be paid for.”
17. Big brands moving to Shopify
Alex O’Byrne also expects that more big companies will move to Shopify for their direct-to-consumer operations in 2017.
Large, conservative companies are aware of growth-stage brands, using cloud-based solutions that are quick to deploy and don’t require an expensive IT department, he argues. “Software running in the cloud is better in almost every use case, and the question now is why would you not use a cloud-based solution.”
The bigger brands see using cloud solutions as “one of the easiest ways to be more agile and innovative. The Shopify Plus platform and partner eco-system provides the expertise, guidance and dependability that they need to succeed,” he explains.
Implementation for 2017
So how can you make sure you can implement as many of these trends as possible?
“Hire product designers to work on marketing, and double down on user data analysis to find the real opportunities to marry content and commerce,” HUGE’s Todd Lefelt recommends.
His colleague Thomas Prommer also suggests that a mix of targeted in-house training, paired with bringing in external data subject matter expertise has proven to show success. He says organizations will need to ensure their technological foundation is well equipped to adopt data-driven strategies, too.
"This includes ensuring that their commerce engine of choice has a strong strategic data vision and feature roadmap, as well as ensuring that relevant customer data points (for example, purchase data from point-of-sales systems) are made available through means of APIs, data warehouse, or data management platforms."