4 E-Commerce Trends to Watch for in 2018

12/29/2017 06:58 pm ET

The world of online retail is in a state of upheaval. Recent changes in purchasing behavior and new technological developments are leading to a seismic shift in the way consumers and businesses approach e-commerce. On the whole, e-commerce is booming. According to Statista, worldwide online retail sales are expected to reach almost $4.5 trillion by 2021 — more than triple the $1.3 trillion of 2014.

Various technologies have contributed to the e-commerce boom over the past several years. The growth of email marketing and pay-per-click advertising, search engine optimization, content marketing, and the growing use of social media have all helped carry e-commerce to its current position. While none of these marketing methods is disappearing by any means, marketing is a constantly changing world. The following trends are what will help take e-commerce to the next level in 2018:

1. Discovery shopping.

For years, retailers have relied on leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to lure potential customers toward their product for purchase. Recently, however, a new trend has emerged that turns traditional, search-based shopping platforms such as Amazon upside down.

Instead of connecting customers with what they’re looking for, discovery shopping attracts customers who aren’t necessarily looking to fulfill a specific need. Instead, they’re looking for a dynamic, fun experience that websites such as Tophatter aim to deliver.

Tophatter works by displaying a number of highly discounted items that customers can bid for in rapid-fire auctions. As described by Ashvin Kumar, CEO, "Unlike buying, which is utility- and efficiency-focused — getting what you already know you want as quickly as possible — discovery-shopping is a leisurely activity. It's about the experience and enjoying the process."

At a time when an increasing number of retailers are finding it impossible to compete with Amazon, Tophatter is experiencing huge growth, and the company’s COO predicts the site will generate more than $300 million in sales as 2017 draws to a close.

2. Crowdsourced shipping.

Billed as a way to work around high shipping costs (especially internationally) while offsetting some costs associated with travel, sites that offer crowdsourced shipping have emerged to utilize existing infrastructure instead of letting it sit idle. By connecting businesses with a large pool of shippers, crowdshipping can allow businesses to deliver everything from fresh, delicious meals to legal documents.

It’s also possible to integrate crowdshipping options into existing e-commerce sites, and businesses can decide whether they want the assurance of using professional couriers or the savings associated with hiring college students, freelancers, or frequent travelers looking to make an extra buck.

Crowdsourcing has been used in fundraising, transportation, and even hospitality, and now it’s becoming a realistic way to ship things quickly without the prohibitive cost.

3. Email commerce.

Given the chance, most marketers will talk for what seems like hours about the virtues of a well-run email marketing campaign. And it’s true — email has a very high ROI. An Econsultancy survey found that email was rated as effective by more marketers than any other channel.

Still, the consumer inbox is ripe for disruption. Most email campaigns aim to drive traffic toward a business’s website. Meanwhile, companies such as Rebel are giving customers the ability to buy recommended items without ever leaving their mailbox. Recipients of an interactive email can also write reviews of products they’ve purchased or take a quick quiz about their product preferences, all within the message itself.

4. Omniplatform shopping.

Google reports that around 85 percent of people shopping online begin a purchase on one device but complete it on a different device. While many online retailers have a presence on multiple channels (a website, email marketing campaign, and various social media platforms), a growing trend in 2018 will be the appearance of a truly integrated experience for shoppers.

Integration means providing a consistent experience across platforms, not only visually through design and branding, but also with respect to user interface, messaging, sales and payment processing, and so on. A competitive e-commerce strategy demands focus on multichannel shoppers.

5. Chatbots.

The chatbots aren’t just coming, they’re already here. In some of the more sophisticated iterations, it can be impossible to distinguish a chatbot on a website from a real person behind a keyboard. Chatbots are crucial because they can meet the bulk of a company’s customer service demands and have the ability to function around the clock.

Besides answering customer queries on a website, chatbots are rapidly becoming integrated with messaging applications. As a result, they’ll be able to send customers product recommendations and request feedback without ever venturing to the email inbox.

The e-commerce landscape of 2018 is certainly recognizable, but there are changes underway that are important for business leaders to be aware of. These five trends are worth watching out for, and they could help make 2018 the best year yet for your business.

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