If you have an online store, it can be overwhelming to stay in the know of ever-evolving consumer expectations. There are many trends to pay attention to if you wish to be successful, including where people shop, reasons for cart abandonment, actions taken to qualify for free shipping, return preferences, and much more.
We asked the experts for their thoughts on what online brands should focus on this year to maximize sales while keeping customers happy.
The biggest ecommerce trends
What is the number one focus area or industry-wide shift that will have the biggest impact on ecommerce brands this year?
1. “The explosion of internet native brands. Everything from deodorant to watches to sunglasses are getting D2C’d. These direct-to-consumer brands are being created on the back of Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube advertising. This supertrend is going to continue this year.” – Justin Kan, CEO, Atrium
2. “Content and commerce isn’t just a trend or idea. It is the real way that brands are building community, SEO, and driving acquisition and loyalty outside of paid advertising. It is, essentially, the foundation on which you brand is built. If you don’t have a content and commerce strategy, you’ll fall behind.
From headless commerce to WordPress plug-ins to just using optimized landing pages within your existing ecommerce website, there are so many ways you can start building you visibility with content. But, you need to have a solid strategy and have a grasp on keyword research, distribution, and content production to make it work.” – Tracey Wallace, Founder, Doris Sleep
3. “People think it will be voice search, but I believe AI integrating into sales funnels will have a much bigger impact on ecommerce.” – Gardner Park, SEO, signmojo
4. “Content. And Google. SEO has been and still is a low-hanging fruit for the majority of ecommerce brands. This is because so few ecommerce stores are utilizing their site’s blog to rank on Google for long-tail, relevant keywords and to build links to their site.” – Bill Widmer, Content Marketing & SEO Consultant
5. “The focus on messaging. You won’t find many niches that are not already competitive, so being able to stand out with your conversion rate optimization and your messaging is going to be increasingly important to bottom-line efficiency.” – Evan Roberts, Co-Founder, Yando.io
6. “The imperative for ecommerce brands now and into the future is the maximization of advertising ROI. Beyond the obvious tactics of optimizing ad spend and targeting, ecommerce brands can also look at the consumer checkout experience as well as rapid-fire and highly available customer service to drive conversion of such valuable traffic.” – Eng Tan, CEO, Simplr
Customer experience trends
1. “Today, people instantly share their shopping experiences with millions: good and bad. For ecommerce brands, this means the focus should be on how they can guarantee a memorable experience for each purchase.
The biggest impact on revenue will come from optimising every single interaction with the brand, making it personal, relevant, and delightful. We see more and more ecommerce brands collecting feedback from customers to find pain points in the purchase process, in order to really nail the online shopping experience.” – Alyona Medelyan, CEO, Thematic
2. “Consumers striving for an emotional connection with their chosen brands.” – Tom Hunt, Founder, Internet MBA Group
3. “There’s a growing awareness that, as ads become more expensive, it’s becoming more important to retain existing customers than to pay to acquire new customers.
There’s a shift in the industry to building customer loyalty as a way to build a long-lasting brand that can survive in an Amazon world. Providing better customer support and caring for customers even after the sale will have the biggest impact on brands.” – Sid Bharath, SAAS Growth Marketing Consultant, Sid Bharath Consulting Ltd.
4. “Using automation to provide great customer experiences, without necessarily increasing overhead.” – Annie Berrones, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Intercom
5. “Sales nurturing — chatting with site visitors to help conquer objections and close the sale. We are seeing that having real people answer real questions is jumping conversion rates and LTV.” – Derric Haynie, Chief Ecommerce Technologist, Ecommerce Tech
Most (and least) exciting ecommerce marketing channels
Which marketing channel(s) are you most or least excited about for fast-growing ecommerce brands?
1. “Instagram advertising (both native and through influencers) is going to be the biggest marketing channel for the foreseeable future. If Amazon is the new Walmart, Instagram is the new Bloomingdales: It’s the place where consumers discover aspirational brands.” – Justin Kan, CEO, Atrium
2. “Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp, Facebook — consumers are spending more time on these platforms and with the platforms themselves pushing towards commerce, more brands will be adding social media and messaging apps as a sales channel.” – Nyha Shree, Co-Founder and CMO, Jumper.ai
3. “Pinterest is already a good market for organic traffic, it seems to be growing every year. That being said I don’t look forward to one more social channel to spend advertising on.” – Gardner Park, SEO, signmojo
4. “Messenger is still very hot right now, despite some new limitations coming. But my vote goes to Instagram DMs, where I suspect Instagram will open up their API to allow your customer service teams to easily monitor and respond to messages.” – Derric Haynie, Chief Ecommerce Technologist, Ecommerce Tech
5. “I’m becoming less and less excited about or interested in Facebook Advertising. Facebook re-marketing, sure. But data continues to show that under 30, most folks have deleted the Facebook app and are moving to other channels.
As a result, Facebook will likely build even more advertising opportunities in to Instagram – but even that platform is becoming oversaturated. When is the last time you watched an Instagram Story and didn’t get pushed into something promotional within the first 30 seconds?
On the flip side, I am very excited about direct mail campaigns, especially to younger generations who haven’t necessarily seen direct mail in their lives. There’s a big opportunity there.” – Tracey Wallace, Founder, Doris Sleep
6. “I’m least excited about social media. Don’t get me wrong — the right strategy on social media can explode a brand’s popularity and help them go viral. But too many people waste too much time on social media with no returns.
And much of the traffic you gain from a viral campaign is lost forever if you don’t capture it on your email list. Google, on the other hand, gets searches every single month. It’s practically guaranteed traffic.” – Bill Widmer, Content Marketing & SEO Consultant
Content and personalization
1. “I think that ecommerce brands investing in bespoke content is where it’s at. Mature brands — like Nike, and Redbull, have seen huge returns on content and while ecommerce brands have more recently focused on influencer marketing and social, I think content storytelling will make a resurgence.” – Eytan Buchman, CMO, Freightos
2. “We’re seeing explosive growth for clients on YouTube. It’s a bigger investment in quality content than you would need for other types of ads, but the investment is paying off for the ones that take the time to get to know their customers and develop content that reaches them.” – William Harris, Google Ads Expert, Elumynt
3. “Paid channel costs are increasing, which raises the importance of making sure you have a solid SEO foundation. If you’re leveraging PPC and not using the time to build your SEO, you’re going to put undue strain on your margins in the long term.” – Evan Roberts, Co-Founder, Yando.io
4. “User Generated Content.” – Tom Hunt, Founder, Internet MBA Group
5. “I’m most excited about chatbots and their ability to help provide personal experiences for every customer at scale.” – Annie Berrones, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Intercom
6. “I’m very excited about virtual shopping through augmented reality. Marketing is all about “catching the right customers at the right time” — giving consumers the ability to make a purchase based on what’s in front of them is just next level marketing.” – Eng Tan, CEO, Simplr
7. “Online brands will get better — and see more success — at creating content that can drive organic traffic (SEO). But the key difference will be a move away from ten-thousand word guides, and better results from shorter content that better addresses user intent.” – Nigel Stevens, CEO & Growth Lead, Organic Growth Marketing
8. “SEO and content have never been more hand-in-hand. While PPC ads can fuel quick and fast campaigns, SEO is your foundation.” – Adam Steele, COO, Loganix
Top tips for brands competing with Amazon
What is your number one tip for ecommerce brands to compete with Amazon today?
Make your brand stand out
1. “Differentiating branding for a specific niche market that will connect super well with your message.” – Justin Kan, CEO, Atrium
2. “Build yourself a content and commerce strategy. Amazon is still a commodity market – where convenience and price trumps all. On your site, you need to offer convenience, price and community. And to build that community, you need content.
That is what will make folks choose your site over Amazon, or over your competitors, time and time again. Content that speaks to them. Content that builds a community. Content that helps them build a better life.” – Tracey Wallace, Founder, Doris Sleep
3. “Determine what you offer that Amazon doesn’t. Is it access to experts available through online chat to help buyers select the best fitting product, delivery that stands out due to its delivery timeframes and/or boxes packed with care and an extra incentive, or even online tutorials that show how to assemble or showcase the product with items the customer has previously orders?
Whatever it is, tell consumers why it’s important to them and prove it during their first order. Then, deliver the order flawlessly.” – Chris Stickney, Director, Channel & Logistics Sales, SPS Commerce
4. “Develop a cause/mission/purpose. Have a reason for existing, greater that just making cash or “producing the highest quality products”. Build a brand/community that your ‘Perfect Customer’ resonates with.” – Tom Hunt, Founder, Internet MBA Group
5. “Be the trusted authority in your niche as far as the niche’s information is concerned. Not just reviews but full on analysis, video reviews with products in action. Different use cases, and other information that Amazon doesn’t typically provide. Better description content than what Amazon search #1 result has.” – Vincent Tobiaz, CEO, SEO Smooth
Focus on customer service
1. “Amazon can beat you on so many levels, but anyone that’s had to deal with Amazon’s customer service knows how sterile that can feel. Go above and beyond just “selling” – and really start partnering with your customers by providing sensational customer service before, during, and after the sale.” – William Harris, Google Ads Expert, Elumynt
2. “Ultimately, it all comes down to relationships. It’s hard for Amazon to build relationships with millions of customers making purchases each day. Ecommerce brands need to find ways of communicating with their customers in a personal way, showing that they care about customer loyalty and delivering value products at the right price.” – Alyona Medelyan, CEO, Thematic
3. “Amazon’s known for providing amazing customer experiences. To compete, an ecommerce brand should think about unique ways to do that for their own customers. From landing on the your store to checkout, how can you build a frictionless experience for shoppers.” – Annie Berrones, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Intercom
4. “Offer our customers seamless checkout and payment across the platforms they spend most of their time on. With so many choices at their disposal, and every brand competing for their attention, it’s going to be as important to help get to the checkout as smoothly as possible when they have the impulse to, as it has been to retarget customers.” – Nyha Shree, Co-Founder and CMO, Jumper.ai
5. “Don’t try to compete with Amazon. If you’re playing the low-cost game, they’ve already won. Instead, focus on delivering a superior experience to your customers. Offer a better shopping experience, better customer support, better rewards, and a better post-sale experience.
Not only will this build loyalty, it will also allow you to charge higher prices that Amazon for similar products.” – Sid Bharath, SAAS Growth Marketing Consultant, Sid Bharath Consulting Ltd.
Be smart with your time and resources
1. “Automate as much of the busy work as you can to focus on what really matters to your business.” – Lizzy Greenburg, CMO, TaxJar
2. “Scale your customer service! Rapid-fire, 24/7 customer support is a small business’s secret weapon against Amazon. Customers like to feel valued by a company — whether through handwritten thank you notes, empathetic responses to complaints, or good old fashioned “surprise and delight.” They’ll pick the company that made them feel good over Amazon every time.” – Eng Tan, CEO, Simplr
3. “Collect your user’s information. Most specifically, work to tie your customer email to their social channels, so that you can track your biggest purchasers AND social influencers together, and reward them.” – Derric Haynie, Chief Ecommerce Technologist, Ecommerce Tech
Biggest lessons learned last year
What was your greatest lesson learned around ecommerce in 2018?
Don’t focus on just one channel
1. “Omni-channel marketing needs to be a big focus. So many secondary and tertiary channels impact one another if you look deeper than surface level.” – Evan Roberts, Co-Founder, Yando.io
2. “If you aren’t selling on Amazon, you are a pretty lone wolf. And you are missing a massive revenue opportunity. Selling on Amazon is building tons of revenue channels for brands, who then invest those dollars in building out their own branded websites, acquitting more customers, building content and growing community.” – Tracey Wallace, Founder, Doris Sleep
3. “Contextual commerce driven on social media can have significantly higher conversions than others. We saw our customers go from 40% conversion rate to 68% when selling to customers directly on channels like Facebook Messenger and Instagram.” – Nyha Shree, Co-Founder and CMO, Jumper.ai
4. “Keeping up with Google is important, but don’t be too ready to jump when they make an announcement. Many people have wasted valuable man hours updating meta descriptions on products only for Google to roll them back months later, and even now somewhat ignore entirely.” – Gardner Park, SEO, signmojo
5. “Create the best UX and ease of user mobile ecommerce.” – Vincent Tobiaz, CEO, SEO Smooth
Have your products sell themselves
1. “Focus on ensuring you have the best product pages for your top products. This means unique, optimised and conversion-friendly.” – James Norquay, SEO & Growth Director, Prosperity Media Group PTY LTD
2. “Product photos, and especially video, are a major key to a brand’s success and perceived trustworthiness. Great photos and videos can also increase time on page, which correlates with higher Google rankings.” – Bill Widmer, Content Marketing & SEO Consultant
Meet customer expectations
1. “Customer experience is still king. That may require a combination of digital and physical but the bar for entry — and success — is around who can provide customers what they want, when they want it.” – Eytan Buchman, CMO, Freightos
2. “Given consumers’ expectations for rapid and/or flexible delivery, in-stock products, item details, and easy returns, the coordination between these parties has never been more complex and necessary.” – Chris Stickney, Director, Channel & Logistics Sales, SPS Commerce
The ever-evolving landscape of online shopping
ShipBob created the infographic below to show you where the ecommerce industry is, where it’s heading, and how to navigate the ecommerce landscape. Check it out!
Download the PDF version of the infographic here.
View our sources at the bottom of the article.
Download the PDF version of the infographic here.
These trends can no longer be ignored. Online businesses that strive to meet customer expectations will come out on top.
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