The growth of global ecommerce is mind-boggling. In 2017 it reached around $2.3 trillion and is expected to hit $4.5 trillion in 2021 (according to a Statista report). In the US alone, ecommerce represents almost 10 percent of retail sales — a figure that is growing by nearly 15 percent each year.
As much as 11 percent of online shoppers now shop online via their smartphone on a weekly basis, and around 59 percent of Millennial online shoppers use social networks to get inspiration for purchases.
Which ecommerce trends are set to dominate 2018? We asked the experts to find out.
Etsy senior product designer Catt Small, also a game maker, predicts that motion is going to be huge in 2018 and that ecommerce can learn from game design.
"In ecommerce, motion can be a signal of delight, personality, or urgency."
“In games, motion attracts players and gives them useful feedback,” she explains. “It tells them what to pay attention to, when they're doing well, and how they could improve. In ecommerce, motion can be a signal of delight, personality, or urgency. For example, Etsy uses imagery with motion in emails to express the brand and share delight. They also use animated iconography to notify people when an item is almost sold out. Motion makes an experience feel more alive, and it's much more possible now thanks to tools like Principle and Spirit. I'm excited to see more people use it in 2018.”
"Subtle animation will be a prerequisite. Use some form of movement to enhance the customer experience but don't overdo it — it could annoy rather than improve."
2. Better photography and videos
"Original photography remains a real challenge, but stay away from poor stock photos that will immediately cheapen your brand," warns Paul Randall.
One way to add more high quality content to your ecommerce site would be to add a 360 degree image of a model wearing a product, suggests Cynthia Savard Saucier, director of design at Shopify. Or you could add an animated GIF, which shows off the features of your product, as done by Bellroy, a company that designs thin wallets.
High-quality videos can also showcase your products in a real context. Paul Randall recommends experimenting.
“It's increasingly a format people look for, and you have the added benefit of putting the content on YouTube to drive traffic that way," he says.
3. Social shopping
Social shopping will have a massive impact in 2018, believes Jason Stokes, founder and CEO of Shopify Expert Eastside Co.
“Pinterest and Instagram, two highly visual platforms, let merchants bring their products to their customers without their customers even realizing it."
“Pinterest and Instagram, two highly visual platforms, let merchants bring their products to their customers without their customers even realizing it,” he enthuses. “In 2018, social media will be the perfect landscape in which retailers can create a buying scenario by showcasing their products on apps that customers spend most of their time with.”
Mark Kelso, director of Belfast-based web and marketing agency Glaze Digital, agrees and thinks that it will become common to purchase items through Instagram, which is still growing at a phenomenal rate.
“When you click on a particular part of an image like a piece of clothing, it would then bring up a modal window and allow you to purchase it there and then,” Mark suggests. “This would let you purchase the item without you having to leave your story or switch between sites or apps. That is the future for Instagram, I believe.”
4. AR and VR
Augmented and virtual reality devices are getting cheaper, led by Google Cardboard, which is practically free.
“We'll see AR and VR become not just part of the in-store experience for customers, but part of the packaging experience with QR codes triggering 'enhanced experiences' of products, and even packaging itself being repurposed as a throw-away AR 'device',” he argues. “These sorts of experiences could particularly expand on the 'try before you buy' viewing of products in-home.”
Kelly Vaughn, web developer and Shopify Expert, agrees and thinks that VR is only just getting started in the ecommerce world.
“Imagine being able to test out what furniture may look like in your home or how a standing desk might best work in your office,” she suggests. “AR technology is even newer, but with companies such as Apple investing a lot of time and money into their ARKit, I think we’ll continue to see a movement towards really being able to test out a store’s products directly in your home before purchasing.”
Reports even show that over 70 percent of buyers would be more loyal to brands who incorporate AR as part of their shopping experience, as Rachel Jacobs, head of content and partnerships at Pixc, points out.
Check out Magnolia Market for an example of an app that lets you visualize home and lifestyle products in your home through augmented reality before you buy them.
You might also like: How Augmented Reality Is Changing the Way Consumers See the World.
Rachel Jacobs also believes that automation is the most effective way for online merchants to scale their ecommerce business.
“Why spend precious time on manual tasks that deliver no tangible ROI, when you could use an automation tool to take care of it for you?”
“Why spend precious time on manual tasks that deliver no tangible ROI, when you could use an automation tool to take care of it for you?” she asks. “As more and more ecommerce merchants turn to social media to drive traffic and sales, it makes sense to automate the process as much as possible.”
Rachel recommends Shopify’s virtual assistant Kit, which takes care of automated email marketing, creates targeted social ad campaigns for Facebook and Instagram, and integrates with other Shopify apps.
As over 50 percent of online shoppers prefer using such messenger apps to contact businesses rather than traditional methods (email, phone or contact forms), there’s no reason not to consider chatbots for your online store.
6. Machine learning
Related to automation is machine learning, another big trend that continues to mature. Not only can you save time by automating tasks, you can also use machine learning to make better decisions and convert more customers.
“This is something we have noticed in the last few months,” says Shopify Expert and UX consultant Mark Kelso. “We reworded our abandoned cart emails and have seen an increase in the conversion, for some shops by up to 12 percent. We have made the email more personal and tried out different phrases. Soon shopping carts will use machine learning to make the conversion even higher. If you regularly purchase an item every three months, the system will remember it, and you’ll get an email asking if you would like to reorder the item based on when you previously ordered it.”
Jason Stokes, CEO of Eastside Co, says that ecommerce traffic is still dictated by search, but that the ways we can search is changing — another opportunity for automation and machine learning.
“Customers are turning to virtual assistants and visual search to find products and services,” he explains. “Technology moves at such a pace that it quickly becomes available to everyone, and even the smallest ecommerce retailer needs to be ready for it.”
7. Voice search
Voice search in particular is set to take off this year.
“Voice will gain more prominence in 2018 as voice assistants such as Google Assistant and Alexa become common place."
“Voice will gain more prominence in 2018 as voice assistants such as Google Assistant and Alexa become common place,” predicts Mari Corella, a fashion and beauty ecommerce specialist. “Walmart and Google recently announced a partnership to allow shopping through Google’s voice assistant, Google Assistant. This will mainly be used for reorders.”
Rachel Jacobs, head of content at Pixc, agrees and points out that over 40 percent of millennials have used voice search before making a purchase online, according to studies.
“Twenty percent of Google searches on mobile are voice. Over the last few years we’ve seen an increase in the adoption of voice-activated devices such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home.”
“When you take the projected increase in mobile commerce into consideration, optimizing your online store for voice search is a must in 2018. Make sure you take the time to understand your key customer persona, check out how they interact on your social media channels, and mirror their language.”
8. Mobile commerce
Mobile will continue to gain an even stronger foothold in 2018.
“Past patterns of building an ecommerce site meant creating a desktop site, building a mobile experience based on that, then maybe developing an app,” explains Mari Corella. “In 2018 that process will be flipped for many new online retailers and those seeking an overhaul. The primary activity will be on creating a top-notch mobile experience, with desktop being a secondary focus.”
"The primary activity will be on creating a top-notch mobile experience."
Rachel Jacobs says that an estimated $600 million in mobile commerce are predicted for 2018, and that 40 percent of all ecommerce revenue will come from mobile over the next year.
For Shopify Expert Kelly Vaughn, the number one trend to watch is the continued movement towards using SMS to communicate with customers.
“Last year Shopify added checking out via your phone, so customers don’t ever have to enter in an email address, but this does create some issues,” she cautions. “How can you reach customers who abandon their carts but don’t enter in an email address? How can you target these customers with marketing if they only give you their phone number?”
Kelly thinks we’ll be seeing more integrations from marketing directly to your phone in 2018, but that email isn’t going away anytime soon, so it’s still important to make sure you’re continuing to target customers via email campaigns as well.
9. Blockchain and cryptocurrency
Cryptocurrencies are more popular than ever with online retailers. Microsoft, Etsy, Shopify, and Stripe all support Bitcoin.
Rachel Jacobs thinks they will be a game changer in 2018, which she puts down to benefits such as advanced transactional security and virtually zero risk of payment frauds.
However, the ecommerce industry has been treading more carefully when it comes to Blockchain, the peer-to-peer encryption technology underlying cryptocurrencies.
“A handful of ecommerce giants have been quietly experimenting with Blockchain,” Rachel points out. “Alibaba is currently using Blockchain to track the origin of food products and reduce the amount of counterfeit products being sold. And Amazon recently registered three cryptocurrency web domains.”
Rachel believes that Blockchain, which manages transactions and currencies without the interference of central authorities such as banks, has the potential to revolutionize the entire ecommerce industry and will be used for tasks such as order fulfillment, security, and instant order tracking in the future.
10. Easier checkout
Thanks to all the payment options that are gaining traction — Shopify Pay, Android Pay, Apple Pay, PayPal, and others — the traditional checkout form is going to be less seen and less used in 2018, predicts Cynthia Savard Saucier, director of design at Shopify.
One-click purchasing will make online shopping faster and more convenient.
“Making sure your website is optimized for mobile is only the first step,” argues Rachel Jacobs. “Thanks to the expiration of Amazon’s ‘1-Click’ patent in October, we should expect the checkout process to become much simpler, making it ideal for mobile shoppers.”
“This is something I have noticed myself doing,” remarks Mark Kelso, director of Glaze Digital. “I will just purchase something within one click through Amazon Pay or Apple Pay. I feel all businesses will adopt this model now!”
“In the future, we will not enter any details, we will just click ‘buy’ and the rest will be automated based on your preferences. This will also lead to more impulse purchasing at a higher value.”
Also read Holly Cardew’s article on what the expiration of Amazon’s ‘1-Click’ patent means for other ecommerce sites.
11. B2B embraces ecommerce
It may seem odd but the way that wholesalers and trade customers work with each other has been traditionally over the phone, and using pen and paper to deal with bulk trade orders.
Gregor Vand, one of the founders and a developer at Pixelcabin, an ecommerce engineering company, thinks we will see this changing with more trade vendors looking to take their ordering process online. B2B ecommerce has already reached $7.7 trillion in 2017, dwarving B2C figures.
“We will also see an increase in the number of B2B platforms that allow customers to shop from multiple trade vendors at once,” he predicts. “This can present some UX challenges, as often each customer has a negotiated price with their vendor (that is, unique pricing for each customer) and the buying experience is much more functional, as opposed to experiential, than B2C.”
“Ensuring trade customers can quickly and easily order their goods day-in, day-out will be critical to B2B hitting the mainstream with ecommerce. Features like a fast 're-order' of previous orders and providing all of the core functionality from collection pages, as opposed to requiring the customer to click through to a product page, helps in these areas.”
12. Omni-channel becomes more seamless and prevalent
Glaze Digital’s Mark Kelso has noticed that more and more customers want a complete solution to help negate multiple fees. It’s the main trend he’s witnessed recently.
"Customers now want a full service solution that links their online store with their physical store."
“Customers now want a full service solution that links their online store with their physical store. Shopify is perfect for this as it grows with their business and does not require any technical setup. For some of our clients we have had the till system, printer and scanner all setup in a few hours, and the client can start charging.”
Gregor Vand agrees and argues there are many shapes omni-channel ecommerce can take.
“For example, smaller retailers could offer loyalty schemes seamlessly to their online and 'offline' experiences, and benefits are acknowledged in both,” he suggests. “Or a customer could browse online and is then able to reserve an item at an upcoming pop-up event, so that they can meet the owners whilst buying the product. A lot of these processes are currently possible manually, but we haven't seen them being made available seamlessly to the user yet. Now customers expect one of the experiences (for example, online) from a retailer to blend seamlessly with another (for example, in the store), the way that airlines 'know' their loyal customers from the minute they enter the airport.”
“The physical store turns visitors into new customers,” he argues. “To increase the lifetime value of these customers, they are then redirected to the ecommerce site where they will be invited to make other purchases, for example by requesting information from customers, which is then used for contextualized emails and specific ad campaigns.”
Investing in physical stores also allows brands to have a more local impact and provide services such as courier delivery or in-store pickup.
You might also like: How Shopify Plus Partner Maestrooo Balances Building Themes and Apps, with Client Work.
13. The rise of the community-led brand
Axel also claims that a new type of customer-centric brand emerged in 2017 that will explode in 2018.
“These brands usually sell only a few very well-made products, and offer their customers ways to easily discuss them on Instagram and Facebook, or at actual meetups,” he explains. “They let their customers express themselves freely and are certain of the quality of their products. They try to help their customers by answering them honestly. They want to start with a small number of customers and meet their needs, and then grow. They also invite people to test their products.”
Axel names nutrition startup So Shape as one of those brands.
“Customers started sharing the results of their diet, so the company created a new Instagram account — @soshaperesults. These reviews are the perfect example of user-generated content. They not only convince new prospects to join them and buy the product, but they also answer questions because they feel they’re brand representatives.”
14. More delivery options
Last year on-demand deliveries grew significantly, and Mari Corella reckons we will see more delivery options in 2018.
"Same-day delivery is becoming an expectation."
“Partnerships with delivery startups and leveraging physical stores as distribution centers allowed many retailers to offer delivery of their products in mere moments,” she says. “Same-day delivery is becoming an expectation, and retailers are looking to outbeat the competition by matching speed with convenience.”
15. Simplicity over complexity
Cynthia Savard Saucier, director of design at Shopify, thinks that we will see more brands investing in quality content over flashy tech this year, as retailers finally understand that their website is all about serving the customer, not themselves.
“While flashy technologies can be fun and exciting, they have to be used with purpose,” she argues. “For example, parallax should tell a story, slideshows aren't always a proper design solution for all homepages, and motion and animation should help with spatial perception.”
16. Brutalism design aesthetic
Brutalism, which entered the mainstream last year, will be used by more ecommerce brands in 2018.
“Brutalism web design started as an ironic design trend but is gaining a lot of traction,” explains Cynthia Savard Saucier. “On the web it describes designs that are big and bold, often featuring analog-style design elements, and using little animation. Basically, it's an ode to the early days of the web, when websites looked that way because that's all we knew.”
You might also like: Major 2017 Web Design Trends – Reviewed.
17. Web performance
The performance, and thus user experience, of your ecommerce site will become even more important this year.
“Beyond frameworks, beyond libraries, beyond the latest design trends, it's performance that ultimately matters the most,” says Jem Young, a senior software engineer at Netflix. “For ecommerce businesses especially, where the difference of 200 milliseconds can mean the difference between gaining a customer or losing them to a competitor, keeping your site performant is crucial in order to stay competitive in 2018.”
18. Brands lean in to diversity
Diversity is set to make a bigger mark on ecommerce in 2018.
“Brands now finally understand that we’re not all white, 5'10 models wearing size zero,” points out Cynthia Savard Saucier.
“Brands now finally understand that we’re not all white, 5'10 models wearing size zero."
She mentions clothing retailer Everlane as a good example, because they present real photos of models of different sizes to give the buyer a better idea of what items will look on them.
Beauty and cosmetics brand ColourPop, meanwhile, shows swatches of makeup on different skin colors.
Test, test, test
Whatever strategy you’ll pursue in 2018, make sure you’ll test your shopping experience at all times.
“Get someone to go through the site for the first time,” recommends Paul Randall of Evosite. “Pay for a user test from the likes of WhatUsersDo or UserTesting, or ask someone you don't know to give you their thoughts. You'll always find something to improve or fix that you had never noticed before."
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