eCommerce trends in 2018: What the experts think
eCommerce is growing at a disruptive rate and its economic impact is becoming ever more prevalent.
Statistics are consistently showing that millennials prefer to shop online instead of in-store. So with that in mind, it’s important to take note of the current eCommerce trends in 2018 so you can maximise sales and stay up-to-date with market competitors.
The eCommerce topics set to hit the headlines in 2018 are:
- Delivery – Can it get faster? Can we keep up with the pace of Amazon?
- GDPR – What is its impact? Will it kill off the telesales industry?
- The emergence of smaller fashion brands – Will the popularity of eCommerce allow smaller fashion brands to flourish in 2018?
- Smart Internet – Will there be an increase in voice command shopping?
- The dominance of Marketplaces – How can Amazon and eBay sellers differentiate themselves and stand out from the crowd?
- Brexit – What will be the impact of a ‘soft’ Brexit or ‘hard’ Brexit on trading regulations between the UK and the EU?
- Simplicity over complexity – Will customer-centric brands selling only a few products prosper?
We asked experts from across the United Kingdom and Ireland which trends are set to dominate the eCommerce landscape in 2018 and here is what they said…
Michael Stewart – Ask MJS
Data and how it can be used to be smarter about how and in what ways you interact with customers at your website and off it too will continue to become one of the greatest opportunities for ecommerce and indeed all home-shopping/distance selling businesses.
As a portfolio marketing director I know that too many businesses are unaware of the massive impact and workload that GDPR will cause. The obligations and thinking that needs to be done are significant and too many businesses just think that’s it’s about changing privacy policies. Get on it if you haven’t already.
Steve Flanagan – Big Eye Deers
Knowing your customers and yourselves just got more serious.
Tracking a user ID’s behaviour flow or cart abandonment isn’t enough anymore, it’s time to get serious with real-time customisation.
Brand loyalty is decreasing, users want quick and easy solutions that are fuss and hassle free, and if a site can tailor its webstore to match those individuals unique needs then we’re onto a winner. Personal relationships are where it’s heading; whereby websites, like friends, know your likes and dislikes and are there to guide you in real-time. Increasingly, retailers are investigating in sophisticated tracking techniques to customise each person’s experience in this manner.
Retailers Amazon and ASOS have great examples of real-time customisation in action. By measuring habits and trends with the intention of promoting related products, and promotions based on browsing habits, they are offering shoppers a personalised experience.
And it doesn’t stop there. Retailers are recording customers’ measurements to suggest clothes that suit their figures, and cosmetic brands are noting unique characteristics allowing customers to browse products suited to their skin tone and lifestyle. It is well-known that consumers don’t like to be ‘followed’, but real-time customisation offers a new, transformative option. The data is used to serve a customer timely, accurate product information – without pressuring them to purchase. It’s a digital way of offering consumers their own personal shopper, that doesn’t obstruct a purchase.
The brands that will gain the most are the ones able to capitalise on the customer-retailer relationship, while fine-tuning the algorithms that serve up relevant content.
Take on, or be taken over
History is littered with failed brands that didn’t innovate. Their stories of success made them complacent, and they began ignoring trend developments and the needs of their customers. The foreseeable future will be full of industry disruptors bringing a fresh approach that smashes industry conformity and sees businesses tap into undiscovered potential.
Uber for example, have ripped up the rulebook on taxi services, taking disruption into the stratosphere. By having a deep understanding of their own core offering – the ability to aid transportation – Uber have expanded into diverse new avenues, including food delivery. And, like Uber many business have began seeking ways to define and preserve their futures using similar methods.
Again, we are welcoming a generation of consumers with decreased brand loyalty and retailers cannot concentrate on the product alone. Brands need to challenge themselves more. They need to behave like hungry startups to identify opportunities in their markets, and in others. If they don’t, someone else will.
Jennifer Gwinnutt – iWeb Solutions
With a distinct shift from desktop to more meaningful mobile engagement, we’ve formed a digital world where eCommerce businesses are expected to be on, open and alert at all times. For 2018, we think it’s already showing itself to be the year of ‘micro moment’ marketing, where brands must navigate a more complex online terrain in relation to the non-linear customer journey. Now more than ever, customers are demanding different and dynamic online experiences depending on the circumstances they are in and conditions that are affecting them. It’s crucial that we’re always there to respond the right way.
Another consequence of increased mobile engagement has meant it’s changed the way consumers engage with social media. With our pocket computers we’re able to access content at any time and this has created an apathetic audience who are only interested in ‘split second’ experiences. While this makes it harder for brands to grab and keep the audience’s attention, because of this we expect to see brands utilising more dynamic and imaginative online ‘guerilla’ marketing tactics through the medium of video and other types of short form content. In order to stand out on social in 2018 we expect to see brands pushing the boundaries in terms of brand image, tone, engagement and offering a truly relevant omni-channel experience.
Craig Murphy – ALT Agency
We believe that 2018 will be the year voice search gains some incredible traction. With the popularity with devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home voice searches will grow. Its reported Walmart has already agreed a deal with Google whereby reordering your shopping through Google home becomes possible – This will only get smarter.
The other impact of voice search is of course on the search results as users often ask long tail questions and only 1 answer is given so optimising for voice is going to be key to be in that spot.
Matthew Porter – Kumo Digital
One of the biggest areas for growth in the pay per click (PPC) channel for ecommerce retailers in 2018 will be the importance of structured data.
Many ecommerce marketers will be very familiar with the importance of structured data across the sites that they manage, especially product pages to aid with rich snippets or product data to show in organic search engine result pages (SERP’s). However, this data has increasingly been utilised by Google Merchant Centre in conjunction with feed data to monitor certain information on page.
This data may be further utilised for Google Shopping / Product Listing Ad (PLA) campaigns and start to circumvent the data submitted via product feeds or at least increase the amount of data that will be dynamically pulled from landing pages. In addition to this we may start to see further enhanced rich product information being displayed as knowledge graph cards or new features within paid search results.
We may also see more information being utilised from the Google Manufacturer Centre or at least a deeper sharing of data to Google Merchant Centre as the platform has just been extended to select European countries. Google Manufactuer Centre allows manufacturers to submit rich product information such as product titles, descriptions, images, key features, YouTube videos and other elements not captured in a Merchant Center feed. The data submitted to the Google Manufacturer Center is used to enrich Google’s overall product catalog as outlined here.
Takeaways for ecommerce retailers should be ensuring that they have structured schema markup in place within their sites markup, especially on product pages and within platforms such as Google Manufacturer Center and Google Merchant Centre.
This will not only have some potential SEO benefit, but also have create a potential performance increase in CTR within the SERP’s due to the enhanced and engaging data being displayed such as pricing, stock availability and review ratings. The same applies to PPC, structured data will allow Google to dynamically pull an increased amount of information to display within PLA / Shopping results, along with search results which in turn should impact CTR due to the enhanced user experience.
Dan Bell – e3creative
With the adoption of voice search devices and more ‘showrooming’ happening when people are in bricks and mortar locations, i think the emphasis is very much on retailers to join the connection between offline and online to be competitive and ultimately provide users with a seamless experience. The rise in search functionality such as Pinterest Lens and also products being readily sold through Instagram and Facebook, means that retailers also need to look at their wider digital strategy to understand whether they are reaching their consumers at the various different digital touch points on the path to purchase. Traditional channels of organic and paid search will generally always be strong, but growth and new markets can be reached through more innovative strategies and understanding how these audiences interact with products or services.
Danielle Horrocks – boxChilli
Ecommerce will be more important than ever.
‘Recommended’ ads and ‘thought you might like’ marketing will become even more personalised. Users expect to see not only related, but highly relatable product/service recommendations from their favourite online shops. Now shops need to take it to the next level and start thinking ahead of their customers. Bigger, better data will drive a smarter customer journey – moving away from using “typical buying habits” and moving towards personal recommendations based on individual preferences.
After Google Home hit almost 7 million speaker sales in just 3 months and the Amazon Alexa App store rankings soared, we could see an increase in voice command shopping. Stores may just need to make sure they skip the “clunky” phase and head straight to developing a seamless system to avoid frustrating users.
Virtual Reality will also be on the rise. Users have already seen snippets of this technology, but 2018 will see a rise in a much more intelligent use of it. Loreal’s Makeup Genius App is definitely on the way, and a great example. The App aims to inspire users by combining make up testing with Virtual Reality; users can try a wide range of products, wherever they are, whenever they want. The makeup App has been praised for its virtual application and makes it easy for users to buy the products. No matter what the VR type, the end goal will be the same – to provide an enjoyable customer experience that guarantees a sale.
Mobile first retail
It is estimated that by 2020 mobile will account for 45% of the $632 billion in total eCommerce sales*. (Googles latest SEO algorithm update reflects the estimation. Whilst desktop will not be discounted entirely, Googles algorithm will “primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results”.*) This increase in mobile traffic means stores need to understand the importance of designing and creating a user experience that is fully functional on a mobile; website designs will end up being separate from its desktop counterpart. Not only do online shops need to be mobile friendly, they must be mobile first.
Paul Carmen – insiteweb
The landscape of eCommerce will change dramatically over the course of 2018, accelerating the change that we have already seen happening in recent years. The weaker players, both on the high street and online, will continue to be marginalised; struggling for survival.
With the advent of GDPR, and the changes in what a business can show in the Facebook timeline for free, businesses will be squeezed out and virtually invisible online unless they leverage their paid marketing and customer information properly, with insight and data driven campaigns. The only other viable alternative is to work much harder on local and national SEO, which for many companies is not something they’ve thought about before in any great detail. Start planning 2018 SEO and marketing now.
Sophie Heward – Surge Marketing Solutions
One significant movement eCommerce websites will have to tackle in 2018 is the introduction of GDPR, which will impact many marketing techniques. If you’ve not heard of it, GDPR (standing for General Data Protection Regulation) will basically mean that all marketing messages – whether they are sent through email, phone, letter or any other channel – will have to be consciously agreed to by the recipient before they are sent.
One of the forms of digital marketing expected to be affected by GDPR the most is e-mail marketing. For example, personalised marketing e-mails are often used by eCommerce companies to retarget website visitors who have put products in their basket but not checked out. They act as a reminder, and because the visitor has clearly shown interest, this little nudge often makes the conversion.
From 25th May, though, these e-mails are only allowed to be sent to customers who have agreed to them. Any e-mail databases you currently have will have to be filtered, giving your contacts the chance to opt out if they want to. This can be done through an e-mail itself with a tick-box option, as it is completely legal to contact your databases until the date of the regulation’s introduction.
This law will inevitably cause thousands of databases to have a significant decrease in size. However, at least all the recipients will be happy to receive e-mails about your products and interested in what you have to offer. Some will see GDPR as a threat, but realistically, it’s just allowing your eCommerce website marketing to be much more focused. This should, in turn, allow you to see more positive results.
Robert Brown – JUMP
As traditional brick-and-mortar retailers continue their decline, eCommerce sales and the trend of buying online will continue to grow due to its constantly improving ease, speed and ultimately, experiential offering. A lot of this is thanks to mobile shopping – as the ubiquity and power of mobile phones grows we are seeing more mobile-optimised shopping experiences giving users the same features they have grown used to – on the go. In 2018, I’m confident that we will continue to march on into our exciting and sci-fi future, with the development of better chatbots and voice-assistance enabled devices such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home that are allowing users to buy online using nothing but their voice. And with the introduction of delivery drones, the eCommerce landscape will only keep expanding! eCommerce retailers are going nowhere but forward – and this year we will continue to see an ever-increasing growth in their market share.
Richard Ellis – Answer Digital
Personalisation of service has been a central tenet of eCommerce in recent years, as retailers move to deliver compelling propositions, capable of developing customer loyalty. 2018 will see this accelerate again through the rise of Artificial Intelligence. Interaction with Intelligent chat bots is becoming increasingly accepted in the mainstream. The combination of real time interaction with personalised ‘bundles’ of products and services will clearly feature in conversion strategy for 2018.
Competition in final mile propositions will continue to challenge retailers. Specifically, can eCommerce retailers equip themselves, operationally and commercially to compete with Amazon’s services? Customer expectations of fulfilment now form critical elements of competitive advantage. Customers want intuitive digital products and services, with streamlined delivery lead time, cheap, if not free. These are collective pieces of a puzzle which form a significant challenge for eCommerce retailers.
2018 could be the year browser-less services gain real traction in the retail mainstream. Voice controlled devices have seen huge uptake throughout 2017, as the growth of smart home devices expands. Customers are looking for frictionless means by which to access products are services. Retailers will be challenged to consider the impact of how customers browse product ranges and access product data. Convenience is key, and talking to ‘Alexa’ to buy groceries, delivered the same day, could see a seismic shift in purchasing and conversion.
Steven Wu – R&W Media
Year of Voice
This will be the year when voice technology such as smart home devices like Amazon’s Alexa will really take off. More and more of us are doing less ourselves and relying on machines. Consumers will speak to their device to search and make purchases directly. Merchants will need to ensure their website is fully compatible and optimised for voice search. As voice searches will only provide one answer or search result, so retailers will be fighting for top position.
Less click-through from Google
In 2017 there has been a drop in click-through on Google, for both mobile and desktop. This may be due to Google displaying quick and simple information such as answers to searchers in the form of better instant answers, featured snippets and knowledge graph. With the rise of voice search, we’ll see Alexa steal market share from Google with more simplistic searches. So there be a further reduction in click-through rates from Google this year.
Andy Clayton – Atelier
We expect to see more innovation and new UI trends in eCommerce sites throughout 2018 as retailers look to make small gains over their competitors through better user experiences.
The example below shows how Schuh have used user insights to show the most popular filters and categories to make it quicker for users to browse the site.
Also expect to see feature rich landing pages which not only benefit users but can improve SEO. Our favourite site for the latest eCommerce trends is ao.com who are leading the way in UX for eCommerce.
Mark Thomas – upriseVSI
For us, the first few months of 2018 will be dominated by the impact that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will have on all businesses. The impending deadline of May 25th means that any organisation holding personal data will have to finalise their own internal compliance. But beyond that date, any strategies will need to be adhered to appropriately and consistently.
We are working with our legal partners and clients to develop a Data Processing Report that’s compliant and up to date. I see the landscape of eCommerce being dominated by the need for businesses to meet their obligations when it comes to data protection and legal compliance, while also striving to drive their own revenue and profit streams.
Sophie Devany – Shop Direct
A big anticipated change to the eCommerce landscape this year will be GDPR. The changes brought in line with the new regulations will change the way consumers interact and how we interact with consumers. This will be an opportunity for us as retailers to build upon our brand loyalty and continue to be transparent and open with our customer base. I believe using clear, concise language surrounding GDPR throughout our customers journey will be key to maintaining and building trust with customers old and new.
Craig MacCallum – Optiseller
There will be an increased focus on delivery options and availability particularly in the UK where working within the small geographic area allows for quick iterations of new delivery and fulfilment options.
Unfortunately but not too surprising these will be focused around the large cities before being rolled out across the wider country.
Additional dedicated multi retail pick up locations will spring into place similar to Doodle and what used to be Post Office Counters who have shrunk their considerable foot print down over the years.
Multi Retail pick up locations will develop to be run by High street retail who will be glad of the footfall to the their physical store network which will slowly transition to showrooms (with small stock holdings) over the next 3-5 years.
Oh…. and the shift from Large Screen interface to small screen interface to no screen interfaces (PC to Mobile to Echo or Home) will drive some real requirements for enhancement in product data to allow buyers to buy without viewing.
Kathleen O’Connor – KO Consulting
As the dominance of Marketplaces such as Amazon or Ebay continues to increase, brands will have to work harder to differentiate themselves in 2018. Amazon’s algorithms favour lower priced items, however planning to win on price alone is a short-term strategy. Unless you’re of a size that can shift huge volumes, winning on price can result in a race to the bottom and lower the value of your brand in consumer’s eyes. Additionally, without a strong brand there is little to stop cheaper overseas manufacturers reproducing products at a lower cost, making it even more difficult. A carefully constructed brand that has integrity and speaks to the buyer will be able to differentiate itself from its competitors, adding an intangible value that is hard to replicate by competitors. There is a reason people don’t buy a new Chanel handbag on Amazon – they want the full brand experience and are willing to pay for it. This can be difficult for brands with limited budgets as they may need to invest in selling in marketplaces to ensure volume, but also on their own online and instore offering to create a full brand experience. I see an opportunity for brands with a real story and history to differentiate themselves, but also a challenge for new players with limited budgets, who will have to think creatively about their marketing strategy.
Nina Mack – Worship
Mobile revenue has already overtaken desktop for many ecommerce websites. In 2018, retailers will continue to focus on improving user experience by making it as easy as possible to buy on mobile, especially with the growth of digital wallets like Apple Pay.
Retailers will also find that the optimisation tools they’re using to collect data need lots of time dedicated to them to extract insight if they are to be useful. This means in-house data analyst roles will become more common in 2018, even for smaller retailers.
Daniel Mayhew – Payoneer
Over 2017, we had a record-breaking year for cross-border e-commerce sales. We’re optimistic that there are no signs of this slowing, with online cross-border retail predicted to grow at twice the rate of domestic e-commerce – at an annual growth rate of 25% – until 2020. To support this explosion of cross-border selling, you will see a growing demand for incumbent payment gateways, omni-solutions, and alternative payment methods that provide global solutions. The primary objective for online e-commerce businesses will be to provide overseas customers with a frictionless buying and selling experience.
I also predict we will see more online stores and well-known brands, who have traditionally sold directly on their flagship sites, explore the option of selling on marketplaces as part of their overall customer acquisition strategy. There is no denying the benefits of selling on marketplaces both domestically and internationally. Selling on a marketplace platform provides low risk, low investment, large customer base, integrated fulfillment services and an entire ecosystem of vendors that provide auxiliary services to help e-commerce stores grow their business, save money and time when selling through marketplaces.
Finally, I predict we will see a push from marketplaces, as a part of their growth strategy, to expand globally, attracting online stores and shoppers from overseas. I can also see entirely new disrupters joining the marketplace ecosystem, offering their unique twists to improve cross-border selling and business.