When you’re planning for the future, you have to think outside the box. After all, yours won’t be the only company to expand over the coming years; there are technology companies around the world coming up with new, exciting ways to bring the internet to life and for businesses to reach their customers.
Ecommerce may still represent a considerable area of the market, and it’s growing rapidly. According to a 2016 Census Bureau report, e-commerce’s share of retail sales has doubled in the past five years. Of course, there’s a classic chicken-egg debate to be had about whether that growth has prompted the innovation that’s arisen in the market, or whether innovation is the reason behind the growth. Either way, there have been a number of interesting new ideas in user experience, product and logistics that are well worth checking out. I’ve compiled a list of some of the developments I think all founders should be thinking about: The Future of Ecommerce!
The growing interest in virtual reality suggests that we can expect to see much more experiential options appearing in e-commerce in the future. So far it’s something we’ve mostly seen in the marketing arena, but there’s definite potential for it to become a part of the products and services offered online.
In 2014, Ikea used virtual reality as part of their app to help customers envision Ikea products in their own homes. This enhanced user experience adds a whole new level of meaning to the idea of selling a lifestyle. Not only does it push customers to buy products, shopping becomes an experience in and of itself, and more consumers are likely to try out the app and perhaps find something they like along the way.
With the introduction of next-day, then same-day, and now even within-the-hour delivery, more and more consumers expect their products to arrive as quickly as they can click the “buy” button. Meeting the demand for instant gratification is one of the biggest challenges facing e-commerce retailers, and it’s one that’s being met with a wave of inventive ideas.
One of the most high-tech techniques being trialled is the use of delivery drones. It might sound like something out of a sci-fi film, but we could be seeing them flying the streets in the not-so-distant future. Amazon has been making headlines for its testing of delivery drones which the company plans to implement as part of a new delivery service called Amazon Prime Air.
As well as improving on current services, drones offer the opportunity to markets that were previously unreachable. A technology company, Zipline, are utilising drones to bring medical supplies to areas with poor infrastructure. You can read about Zipline in my earlier article about the year’s most exciting start-ups.
The introduction of 3D printing opens up exciting possibilities. While it’s yet to reach mainstream audiences, it’s a goal that’s being worked towards companies such as crowd-funded Robo 3D. If and when we do start to see 3D printers in homes, it raises the question of whether or not products will need to be delivered at all.
3D printers manufacture items layer-by-layer, according to a digital design. At present, there is a market for 3D printed products, but more as a novelty than a convenience. Customers can ask for custom pieces or choose from items labelled as having been made by a printer. In the future, future e-commerce retailers could theoretically be selling digital designs to be downloaded rather than the objects themselves, so that consumers can print their items at home.
It’s a term that keeps reappearing and one that doesn’t look likely to go away any time soon. Social media is only growing its influence in the business world, with more and more platforms opening up. As well as establishing an online identity, brands are finding ways to engage potential customers and to encourage word-of-mouth on a much larger scale than ever before.
Apps like Snapchat have proved popular with marketers looking to appeal to a younger demographic. Last year, McDonald’s started the trend with a branded geo-filter and since then all kinds of companies and events have partnered with the app to create their own customer overlay. Often these filters are “earned” through purchasing particular products or signing up to a company newsletter, making them a cost-efficient incentive idea.
Other creative campaigns have included using interactive apps like Pokemon GO, which allows companies to add Pokéstops as well as traditional advertising banners. This new take on product placement is a great way to get people talking and makes consumers feel more immersed in a brand.
A close cousin of social media, blogging has taken off as a way to bring in new customers and keep old ones engaged. Creating fresh, interesting content helps brands position themselves as experts in their field, and so gain consumer trust. Companies are also able to strengthen their identities and relate to their customers through their blogs by creating a persona of sorts.
Blogging is also a good way to draw in organic customers by creating SEO-friendly content and appearing in search results. By answering commonly asked questions or providing sought-after information, brands are able to capture the attention of customers before they’ve even begun selling.
In the past, when you heard the word “subscription”, you would typically think of magazines and newspapers. Today it encompasses a much wider market; everything from food to fashion can now be signed up to for months or even years – a design which allows customers convenience and businesses reliability.
Some of the earliest examples included gift box subscriptions, in which the recipient receives a themed package every month. It’s the gift that keeps on giving in its truest sense. This has extended into the idea of gifting oneself, as consumers sign up for deliveries of products they love such as tea or chocolate that arrive at their doorstep without the guilt of ordering each month.
This is a service that adapts easily with the times. Along with the healthy eating trend, we’ve seen the emergence of companies that delivery perfectly proportioned ingredients and recipes to your door. As craft beers gained popularity, so too did the sites that offered a monthly selection of specially chosen brews.
Company Ethos and Corporate Responsibility
As well as providing easier access to products, the internet also makes it easier for consumers to find out exactly where they came from. Awareness of global issues are on the rise, and customers are increasingly making it a priority to shop with businesses that do their bit to pay back to the community. As well as looking for the tell-tale stamp of approval from respected organisations such as the Fairtrade Foundation and the Forest Stewardship Council, customers are looking for companies with an interesting backstory or a strong ethos.
Big name brands like Virgin are investing serious time and money into establishing a well-recognised company ethos. The company is well known for its interest in sustainability, from Virgin Green Fund to founder Richard Branson raising awareness about environmental issues.
E-commerce retailers are well aware that they need to be able to cater to customers on a number of different platforms, and we’ve already seen a significant rise in attention paid to mobile devices. In the future, however, the amount of different user platforms will only keep increasing, and focus will continue to shift away from desktop.
Wearable technology is on the rise, with new devices being invented every day. From smart watches to Google glasses, there will soon be a whole new way to shop and that opens up the opportunity for a number of creative ideas such as virtual reality and interactive marketing.
It also means that users are likely to spend more and more time shopping on the move, and e-retailers will have to accommodate that. Processes should be quick, navigation should be easy and pages may well need to be simplified so they can fit cleanly on smaller screens.
Freelancers and Contractors
Traditional company employee structures are quickly giving way to more flexible options. Not only are companies looking for more efficient ways to utilise their workforce, employees have come to expect greater freedom and autonomy. The rise of the freelancer economy is indicative of this shift in paradigm; as of 2015, there were around 15.5 million self-employed workers living in the United States.
One of the more innovative ways in which companies have used this new resource is demonstrated by the likes of Uber – a hugely successful technology company that relies on contractors in order to function. Uber drivers are self-employed and use their own cars to work – the app merely provides a connection between drivers and passengers. A similar model has been utilised by Deliveroo – and its closely related competitor Postmates – in which self-employed couriers act as go-betweens for restaurants and customers.
What do you think the future of e-commerce looks like? Tell me about which developments you’re most excited about and which ones you want to hear more about in the comments below.
Related: A Technology E-commerce Marketplace – New Frontiers