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7 E-commerce Trends Small Businesses Need to Know in 2014

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If you're a small business owner, congratulations on surviving Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday, and the last frantic days of the Christmas shopping season. You can't slow down as now you need to prepare for 2014 -- especially your e-commerce strategy. The e-commerce landscape changes by the minute and you want to make sure you have the tools and business strategies to adapt to these changes.

Here are 7 e-commerce trends that small business owners should be aware of in 2014.

1. Mobile, mobile and more mobile

According to the Custora High-Growth E-Commerce Index, 2013 Black Friday was "Mobile Friday" with almost 40% of all online shopping done on mobile devices. This trend will continue in 2014 as more consumers are empowered to use their phones and tablets to shop anytime, anywhere. Small businesses need to make sure their sites are optimized so that customers can view them on any type of handheld mobile device. Seamless browsing, saving, and shopping across platforms will be crucial for any business that wants to grow in 2014.

2. Free and faster shipping

In 2014 we will see more innovations in the delivery end of the purchase experience. It's now a must to offer free or faster shipping options. Businesses now have the option to partner with companies that work with retailers to offer customers free or faster shipping. Small businesses that can't afford free and fast shipping can look for creative ways to deliver. A caring and personal note to customers might just be more effective than delivery by a drone or robot.

3. Business without borders

Businesses--including small businesses--are waking to the fact that they need to look beyond their borders. 2014 will be a year of exponential growth in global e-commerce. A.T. Kearney researchers recently concluded in its annual Global Retail E-Commerce Index report that successful retailers in search of sales growth are increasingly going global by expanding their online shopping operations in foreign countries. Astonishing numbers such as the $5.7 billion sales on China's Singles' Day, the equivalent of Cyber Monday in the U.S., have been a wake-up call to many businesses that have not looked outside their borders.

4. Content marketing is essential

Content marketing is one of the main ways that companies establish authority and gain trust with their online shoppers. It has become a popular e-commerce marketing strategy in 2013 and will continue to grow. A recent study shows that 82% of marketers plan to increase their budgets for content marketing in 2014. Small businesses that don't have a big budget can provide unique, useful, and entertaining information to inspire purchases and build greater rapport with their customers. California-based skincare company 100% Pure, for example, posts skincare tips, links to charities they support, and professional makeup application advice to engage their followers. Long gone are the poorly written SEO articles of the past that only went viral because of their bad grammar.

5. Growth of guided discovery

With today's shoppers going online and crunching for time, they need fewer choices but the right choices. To make shoppers' lives easier in 2014, more and more online businesses will start engineering the right mix of "guided discovery" to provide targeted and welcome suggestions that help consumers make purchases. Small businesses can embrace this trend by looking at the user data they already have available and providing relevant, thought-out recommendations. The key is to help them browse less, find more.

6. Consumer-driven demand and personalization

Consumers want unique, original products and businesses need to be able to deliver that in increasingly creative--and profitable--ways. In 2014 we will see more businesses empower customers with the ability to personalize, modify, or design the products that they want to purchase. More businesses will start to implement 3D printing technology to enable and speed up this customization. They'll also allow consumers to specify ahead of time what they want to buy and when they want it--often before those products are even grown or manufactured. A few successful pre-sale campaigns between China and U.S. agricultural and seafood industries this year have allowed customers to pre-order cherries, king crabs, and other goods while they're still on the trees or in the water with delivery on specified dates. This growing technology-based e-commerce trend increases efficiency dramatically and benefits both consumers and businesses.

7. It's still about the brand

In the midst of the mega e-commerce coming in 2014, businesses will go back to the basics: building a strong brand. No e-commerce trend will survive without a solid brand as its foundation. Businesses build a strong brand by delivering great products, articulating their missions, and aligning themselves with influencers who can talk about their brands for them. They key is no matter what you do, do not forget about the brand no matter what bells and whistles you use to market it.

The unifying factor of 2014's 7 e-commerce trends is that they benefit both consumer and business alike. Better e-commerce means a memorable shopping experience for consumers with more options, better services, and lower prices. And it's a win for businesses, too, because it means happier customers, smoother online functions, and more growth opportunities.

What e-commerce trends will you take into consideration for doing business in 2014? Leave them as a comment to share with the rest of us.