It’s hard to believe we’re only 3 months away from the end of another year – doesn’t seem 5 minutes since we were looking at what 2018 could hold for mobile design and Google updates! As always, this year has seen changes in how customers shop online and what they need to successfully convert, including personalisation, mobile apps, enhanced media options and chatbots. So what could the future hold next for eCommerce?
Continually Improving Customer Experience
‘Customer experience’ has long been key to a successful ecommerce offering, and this will continue into next year with upcoming technologies such as Chatbots and virtual assistants. Retailers want to recreate the instore experience through their online offering and ensuring the customer feels looked after during all parts of their journey will go a long way to doing this.
Chatbots have been up and coming for a while across a number of applications, but 2018 has really seen an upturn in both the number of chatbots we see on actual websites and their reliability in answering customer queries.
The end goal isn’t necessarily to make the customer think they are speaking with a real agent, but more to ensure all their needs are met with the option to be transferred to a real agent if the chatbot is unable to answer their questions. Early chatbots suffered from issues with stilted text, lack of answers and parsing the idiosyncrasies of human speech patterns but these issues are continually being reviewed and redeveloped to present chatbots that will not only get the job done, but (hopefully) ensure customers enjoy the process. This could include jokey comments, polite mannerisms and of course, the answers to questions.
Online Virtual Assistants are slightly different to Chatbots in that they are designed to be with the user through every step of their website journey. One such example would be on a clothing website; the virtual assistant would be able to ask questions about the customer’s preferences and suggest items based on those answers. Clothing selection could then be redefined and redefined until the customer was happy.
Chatbots and Virtual Assistants are without a doubt the future but alongside traditional website contact and browsing mechanisms such as online forms, navigation links and the ability to call a phone number direct from a website page. These should not be thrown out but rather honed and kept alongside newer AI propositions.
No longer content with mobile websites, customers want to download and use specific apps for their favourite retailers. Running an app alongside a website can be costly, but it does give a whole new platform for exclusive items, discount codes and even membership benefits that encourage both downloads and sales. An app also allows for notifications about sales and events to appear directly onto customer devices, which in turn can reduce (not remove) the need for email marketing campaigns.
We have seen a large number of big brands launching their own apps over the past few years – Sports Direct, Mothercare, Nike, Dominos Pizza and H&M, to name a few. All of these run specific App marketing campaigns across their social media and email content, designed to encourage downloads and sales. Want 10% off? BOGOF? Free delivery? Download the app and take advantage of benefits not necessarily found on the main website.
Apps do come with their own set of risks and problems – if they’re too clunky, or too slow, or too confusing, they’ll be deleted so they need fine tuning just as much as a website does. They do cost to build and maintain, which is another outlay that needs to be weighed up. They do also take traffic away from the website which seems an outlandish proposition when you think many retailers have spent years trying to drive numbers, not reduce them, so it is important all app visits and sales are tracked properly alongside website figures.
This is, and will continue to be, key across all channels – people want to feel they’re buying from a company that cares about them. This can be something as small as Recommended Products that appear generated from previous search history to email marketing or app notifications that appeal directly to the customer, but whichever way(s) you choose, 2019 is likely to see a big upturn in customer personalisation options across websites and apps.
Of course, machine learning and AI play their part in personalising a customer’s experience, and these are also set to be big in the next 12 months. Having technology behind the storefront that acts like a salesperson who will take your preferences into account will be key to sales as we move forward – for example, if a returning customer has previously browsed for black leggings, this technology would remember their visit and present them with related options on their next visit, preferably in the right sizes. This would also apply to previous purchases. Of course, users will need to be given the option to opt out of such personalised search at any time.
We predict that the trend for Wishlists, Collections and Personalised Buys will continue to rise, alongside interest-based ads.
There’s no doubt about it, online payment methods will continue to evolve next year. We’re already seeing an increase in vendors taking Apply Pay, Samsung Pay and Android Pay; surely cryptocurrency will be the next big thing.
It still sounds like something from the space age but really, cryptocurrency is fast becoming part of our normal conversation. Surely we’ve all heard of BitCoin now with big brands such as Microsoft and Subway accepting it, but this is by no means the only cryptocurrency option out there worth exploring. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on into 2019!
Enhanced Media Options
Lastly but not least, enhanced media options will continue to play a big part moving forwards. People are coming to expect elements such as videos playing in hero banners, instructional videos on product pages and how to videos on FAQ sections, so if you haven’t got any of this type of content already, now is the time to think about creating it.
Imagery has always been important and now more than ever, especially as eCommerce themes develop – you don’t want your theme imagery to look better than your product photos! Combining great product imagery with videos is a double whammy in the media stakes. Creating content that also shows the user just how your products will make their lives easier is also a plus – take a look at https://bellroy.com/ to see this in action!