Ecommerce has finally surpassed retail in consumer popularity. Today, 51% of consumers prefer to shop online, and 49% prefer the traditional trip to the store. While the split is still fairly even, ecommerce is growing at a rate of 23% year-over-year.
This steady surge of online shopping opens the doors to a multi-billion dollar industry for businesses. But in a fast-moving playing field, brands must keep on top of trends if they want to win digital custom.
So, how can online companies stay competitive as we usher in the new year? We identify some key ecommerce predictions for 2018.
1. The year of the AI chatbots
Live chat continues to be a popular method for customers to contact you online, and has fast become a necessity for ecommerce sites. They may not be in-store, but shoppers still demand smart service. So, the first of our ecommerce predictions for 2018 is the rise of live chat software that can tag-team with chatbots.
We all witnessed the chatbot hype of 2017. At present, though, many chatbot deployments are falling short of service standards and causing customer frustration. Chatbots work best when they integrate with human customer service – not when they’re left alone to man a website. That’s why we think we’ll be seeing substantial chatbot growth within existing live chat platforms. These bots will add AI efficiency to the efforts of human support teams, blending empathy with automation.
Plus, recent advancements in artificial intelligence development will make this teamwork invisible. Chatbots are now capable of handling increasingly complex customer issues, and can improve customer service by starting conversations and offering relevant, timely help to struggling customers.
As AI continues to improve over 2018, chatbots will improve alongside it – becoming more helpful for customer service teams and customers alike.
2. Bots and blocks…
As well as AI taking chatbots to new heights, Blockchain integration is going to help chatbots out too. Blockchain is a publicly available ledger related to cryptocurrencies. It may sound confusing, but Blockchain can bring clarity to ecommerce shoppers.
Blockchain could help your chatbots build trust with first time or wary customers, by sharing the number of completed transactions that were successful through the bot. That kind of visibility is a reassuring factor when paying online.
Despite the preference for ecommerce, there is still a slight trust issue when buying from a website rather than a physical store with a tangible product in-hand. Online scams abound, and many consumers are reluctant to put their card details online.
With a Blockchain/bot integration, however, you help put shoppers at ease. They know that your website’s automated helper can be trusted, and can see the chatbot’s history of successfully confirmed transactions. This creates a much less stressful transaction period, and that’s why we’re placing the marriage of chatbots and Blockchain as the second of our ecommerce predictions for 2018.
3. The cryptocurrency creep
This brings us nicely to our next prediction: the growth of cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrencies (such as Bitcoin) drastically rose in popularity last year, and it seems likely that cryptocurrency will become an important part of ecommerce in 2018.
As you probably know by now, cryptocurrency is an online currency that can be used instead of credit/debit cards and is not controlled by any bank or centralised authority. This offers a method of transaction that is secure, if not anonymous.
Although many are already proclaiming Bitcoin to be a fad, we suspect cryptocurrency has longevity. What’s more, we think you’ll be seeing it as an emerging ecommerce payment option. That’s because cryptocurrency enables highly secure transactions with much lower fees attached on either end due to the removal of a middleman (i.e. a credit card company). And unlike credit or debit cards – the traditional method of online payments – cryptocurrencies don’t require your customers to provide sensitive banking information.
The implementation of cryptocurrencies also means many ecommerce businesses will be able to better protect themselves against fraud, as transactions cannot be reversed once they are made. So, the next of our ecommerce predictions for 2018? We’ll see more websites accepting cryptocurrency payments, creating greater check-out diversity and security than ever before.
4. Converging trends
Smart speakers topped the best-sellers list in Christmas 2017. AI, AR, and VR are becoming increasingly commonplace. Almost every smartphone has its own variety of digital assistant, and voice search is on the rise.
So, number four in the list of our ecommerce predictions for 2018 is an inevitable overlap between these trends and traditional retail websites. Ecommerce platforms will adopt the technologies that consumers are loving in their personal lives, driving transformation across the web.
Ray Ban’s Virtual Mirror, for example, is already augmenting reality for its shoppers by allowing them to ‘try glasses on’ using a virtual model and face mapping technology. Elsewhere, brands like RBS are giving their websites humanised virtual assistants that offer an automatic help service. Then there’s the rise of webVR and 360° site immersions. And almost every major website you look at is intuitive to use – with a clean, clear and accessible interface.
This kind of innovation will only grow in 2018. We’ll see websites beginning to replicate the cool experiences we get via our favourite devices, and responding to the new habits that consumers are picking up with their home gadgets. More and more brands will optimise their websites for voice search, and ‘invisible’ design will be everywhere. And of course, as smartphones get smarter and replace our computers, there will be a continued emphasis on ecommerce sites being mobile-first.
5. Push to personalisation
2018 will be the year that online shopping experiences are personalised for almost every customer. This enters our ecommerce predictions for 2018 thanks to the sheer amount of data brands have at their fingertips, which will mean that adverts and recommendations of specific products can be tailored to each to each customer.
It’s an exciting time for hyper-personalisation. You’ve probably already noticed more and more websites using your web activity, demographic and location to display custom offers and messages. However, as machine learning and algorithmic targeting technologies advance, they will drive intelligent opportunities for personalised ecommerce experiences.
Subscription models are exploding in growth, and this is another goldmine of opportunity when it comes to personalisation. Subscriptions allow businesses to find out what consumers what, analyse the answer and act on it – all intuitively and automatically. This means that online shoppers can find what they’re looking for easily, and get a better experience after every visit.
We might even be reaching a stage where websites greet you by name, show you specially selected content, and allow you to buy using the facial recognition feature on your smartphone. You’ll soon get a concierge service online.
The great unknown
As many educated guesses as we can make, it is impossible to know exactly what 2018 will bring. We know that ecommerce will evolve alongside technology, and that almost every area of ecommerce will change – from customer service to payment methods.
So, do you agree with our ecommerce predictions for 2018? Send us a tweet and let us know!