3 eCommerce Trends to Watch for in 2019
With the year drawing to a close, businesses are already making plans for new developments in 2019. Whether this means updating brand visuals, refining customer service, or scouting out budding new demographics to approach with their products, the overall sentiment remains the same: eCommerce isn’t going anywhere, and is only becoming more evolved.
Evolved how? New advancements in technology, primarily, have allowed businesses to take great strides in making their products or services immersive and inventive. It’s been established that online shopping is a huge deal, with 79% of Americans shopping online in recent years, but new trends suggest that the interest isn’t dying down any time soon. In fact, it’s projected that ecommerce sales will nearly double between 2016 and 2020.
While brick and mortar sales still do come out ahead, the gap is shrinking between the two forms of retail. This is due to new methods of marketing that make shopping online just as convenient as shopping at a physical location. Every business should take note of these new developments in order to stay ahead of the game and anticipate the needs of their buyers before problems arise.
Making Use of Visuals
Rise of Video Advertising
When shopping online, looks matter. From product to storefront, to your own personal website, customers are looking for appealing design that convinces them you are a quality brand. Websites, even larger marketplaces like Amazon and eBay, have ventured out from being flat sales pages into fully-fledged experiences for shoppers.
An important launch in the Amazon marketplace has been the introduction of video to Enhanced Brand Content. So far, this tool is only available to sellers with Brand Registry, but that is a huge step from only being available to Vendor accounts. Enhanced Brand Content (EBC) videos can show up in the image tiles for a product listing, or can be plugged into EBC content within the body of the listing page. There are a few stipulations, like not mentioning your seller account, not advertising things like “Lowest Price” or “Free Shipping,” and sensitive or copyrighted material that you do not own the rights to. However, this allows brands to give buyers a more immersive experience while shopping, and boosts the overall look and feel of a brand into one that is professional, credible, and high-quality if your videos are appealing enough to the viewer.
EBC video was released from beta in August of this year, but Amazon is far from finished when it comes to polishing their video advertising capabilities. Amazon launched the beta of their Video in Search tool this year as well, which allows businesses to make use of video ads up to 90 seconds in length. These ads can be used for things like product demonstrations, how-to tutorials, or information regarding your product that may be easier to digest in media form as opposed to reading it. Right now it’s only available on iOS, and can’t be used offsite, but still being in beta makes this an early project that is susceptible to development down the road.
Placing ads strategically where the buyer is more likely to convert, the marketplace, is often a safer bet than other video ad campaigns, which often feel forced or annoying to users. Facebook ads, for example, have 43% of Americans annoyed over interrupting their entertainment content. Video in Search can link to a product page, your Amazon storefront, or a custom landing page, making them more than just a pretty ad to look at. Sellers have an opportunity through video ads to be the first point of reference for a shopper seeking out additional reviews or information regarding a product, and with 40% of people seeking reviews before purchasing online, that is an important spot to claim.
Another video “advertisement” that draws consumers in is the rise of livestreaming in the commercial arena. Livestreams have been a huge form of entertainment for several years now, with many social media and entertainment platforms releasing their own forms of live video streaming such as Youtube, Twitch, and Facebook. However, livestreams have evolved beyond just sports and beauty bloggers. 80% of brand audiences would rather watch a livestream than read a blog, and 82% prefer live video to social media posts.
This is not only because video tends to be more appealing to consumers than static images, but because of the increased level of participation the viewer feels they have during livestreams. Most livestream platforms, including Twitch (which is owned by Amazon), also run a live comment section where users can express their input during the stream. For brands, this means that users can ask questions about your product and receive an answer from you much faster than they would if they had to resort to contacting customer service. This extra level of connection between the brand and the buyer strengthens their trust in your products and customer service, while simultaneously being entertaining.
Brands see success in livestreaming when their content does not feel like an ad. Unscripted shows that take live questions and offer demonstrations of the product typically do better than a fully-scripted video that overtly aims at a sale. QVC is an easy example of a brand that took this formula from cable to internet livestreams and saw success. With the age of as-seen-on-TV purchases slowly dwindling, QVC began to run their unscripted product demonstrations online via livestreaming. They used popular talents, like Instagram influencers, to advertise their product on TV and also on Facebook Live, and saw an uptick of 417,000 new customers. That’s the second largest increase for the business in 15 years.
Another recent addition to online shopping visuals has been the rapid growth of augmented reality (AR) capabilities. Places like eBay, Amazon, and individual brand sites like Lacoste and American Apparel, have made use of AR functionality already. Often the goal is to display a life-size image of a product in real-time, like furniture, to let users experience an item’s dimensions without having to guess at its size. Additionally, brands will allow users to scan their items in-store to pull up their information online, such as sizing and customer reviews from their site.
How can your business make use of AR technology? Offering similar experiences to brick and mortar stores is often the way to go. Despite the rise in online shopping, the conversion rate from shopping to purchasing is only 2.6%. This is because consumers still overwhelmingly value the ability to see, touch, and test products before buying them - a whopping 62% of shoppers choose in-store shopping for that experience.
AR technology bridges that gap by giving business the software to map out their product models, and introducing demos in the real world. Shops like Topology use AR mapping to let users “try on” glasses using their front-facing camera, going one step beyond earlier apps that often didn’t account for different head shapes and head symmetry when mapping. Your business could easily see an increase in customer interaction when they introduce more immersive product visuals. This can be done with the use of the Apple ARKit or Google ARCore, which give developers the tools to create their own augmented reality apps. Granted, you would need to be able to sink time and possibly staffing into this endeavor, but according to recent statistics (which say 67% of shoppers would choose a business that offered AR shopping over a brick-and-mortar counterpart) that isn’t a poor investment.
be a curator, not just a seller
While we’re talking about immersive experiences, customers aren’t just looking for appealing visual material. Purchasing habits have changed a lot for the average consumer, and many of them find themselves shopping not just for a product that has a use, but for something that presents itself as a whole experience. Enter: subscription boxes. Easily the largest growing product type in recent years, subscription boxes have become an easy way for consumers to invest in an experience related to their interests. For beauty and cosmetic enthusiasts, subscription services like Ipsy send monthly packages of perfume, skincare, and various makeup products based on a customer’s selected interests. There are also themed boxes, which can send users anything related to, for example, a popular TV series or even something as broad as Pink Parcel, which sends comfort items and essentials to women during their menstrual cycle. There’s even subscription services for cooking, like Blue Apron, which have reinvented how people consider meal preparation in their households.
The subscription service industry is booming, generating more than $2.6 billion in sales in 2016 compared to only $5.7 million in 2011. People appreciate the convenience of automatic withdrawals and shipments but, more than that, enjoy receiving something curated specifically for them. Depending on your industry, subscription boxes could be a great way to establish yourself as a brand. There are several box services that, instead of accumulating products from other companies into a cohesive package, only use their products. For example, one of the most popular subscription services, Dollar Shave Club, uses their own branded products. This is perfect for brands selling products that are typically purchased together, such as razors and shaving cream. It establishes convenience for the consumer, and also gives you room to be creative with packaging options and branded box designs. For businesses that deal in products created by other brands, it could be useful to align yourself within a specific market, like children’s toys or beauty, and combine pieces of your stock into bundles that make sense.
Being practical with your curation is important, but so is playing on the surprise factor. People love receiving “mystery” boxes, where the content inside isn’t overtly discussed. In fact, there are entire Youtube channels dedicated to these services - “unboxing” videos - that rake in billions of views. Even when they aren’t purchasing, consumers enjoy the simple act of watching others unbox their subscription packages. Part of this is closely related to the same thrill associated with gambling, but part of it is also extremely beneficial for businesses. 67% of viewers say they watch unboxing videos to determine if the products are worth buying, which can net in thousands of customers for your brand.
On the note of Youtube personalities, it is important to recommend using influencers to advertise your brand. Conventional advertising has its perks, but the average consumer is very keen to, and ignores most, webpage or search ads. In fact, 40% of laptop users utilize some form of ad-blocking, either a browser application or full-on software. Despite our best efforts with advertising to impress the consumer, we can miss the mark. Things like autoplaying video ads, which have a 82% disapproval rate (that is, 82% of consumers will outright close a browser window if a video ad starts playing) are usually a no-go, though 83% of consumers say “not all ads are bad.” So how do you make up for the gap in brand exposure when your ads are being blocked from webpages, Amazon, and some social media platforms? Enlisting curators to advertise your products for you is often a great option.
Depending on your market, there are social media influencers that act as a main point of contact between you and your customers. The research people put into a product before they purchase it is typically through reviewer channels or product recommendations from influencer Instagrams. Aside from the entertainment factor, these curators are seen as a trusted source of information, and many channels have “seals of approval” that customers align their purchasing habits with. Beauty blogger Jeffree Star, who also owns a cosmetics company, is so trusted in reviewing makeup products that large-scale magazines, such as Cosmopolitan, release yearly lists of his approved products and brands. Finding Youtube channels, Instagram users, or other social media phenomenons to send your products to for review or usage in their content creation is a great way to expand your brand recognition.
This is especially important for businesses trying to find their niche. Not every product is as easy to associate with a certain demographic, like beauty products or cooking subscription services, which have their own Instagram hashtags and Youtube genre segments to make picking an influencer simple. Sometimes, you have to have a great vision, and unlikely influencer support, to reach your target audience.
Advance Auto Parts
For example, Castrol, a manufacturer of synthetic and conventional motor oil, partnered with Advance Auto Parts and pro-football player Vince Wilfork in 2016 to release their “Words of Strength” advertisement series. Vince Wilfork’s huge social media following generated traffic toward Advance Auto Parts by a tenuous association: that people following a sports icon also have an interest in the automotive industry. This paid off tremendously for Advance Auto Parts, creating a click-through rate (CTR) of 125% in 64,300 impressions and a 182% engagement rate. Creating an authentic message to be delivered through a personality, rather than a corporate account (not to say a business account can’t do well on social media, Lego does just fine with over 3.5 million followers) creates that sense of relatability and trust between a brand and their customers.
Your influencers may not always be considered a “reviewer,” in this case. Vince Wilfork didn’t issue a review of Castrol products during his ad, but it was the message he was able to get across that made the different in sales and engagement. The goal was to elevate the brand as a curator, and not just a seller of products. There are plenty of brands that simply sell motor oil, but few can lay claim to what using a personality can do for a brand’s status. They sell the product, but also, in a sense, their lifestyle, which will be associated then with the overall brand. Castrol and Advance Auto Parts set themselves up as high-value, powerful, and ideal for hard workers when aligning with a sports personality. Positioning yourself as a curator of an experience through subscription boxes or bundles, enlisting the help of online curators like review channels or bloggers, or aligning your product with your demographic through their role models are all ideal ways to boost brand recognition beyond just visuals.
You’ve likely heard this before, but existing on more than one marketplace is always a good idea. Getting a foot in on one of the top eCommerce sites, like Amazon or eBay, does position your brand for higher visibility than simply running out of a business website, but sometimes that isn’t enough. Beyond the philosophy of “more is better,” positioning yourself on a variety of online platforms prevents issues like rogue sellers cropping up. Rogue sellers are individuals or businesses that are not authorized to sell your products, who often list it for below MSRP or offer tempting discounts to lure in buyers. This damages your brand not just in lowering your sales volume, but also detracting away from your brand standards - rogue sellers have no qualms with selling damaged, expired, or poorly-packaged items to make quick money. When the customer receives these low-quality products, their disappointment is often aimed at the brand as a whole, and those negative reviews rack up quick. In most cases, being the brand allows you to have majority control over your listings to prevent incorrect or unwanted contributions from resellers.
However, recent studies suggest that it isn’t just multiple online channels that net the best profits. The multiple channel approach, or omnichannel approach, takes your product online and into brick-and-mortar stores. It’s true, brick-and-mortar stores are seeing a steady decline with the rise of millennial shoppers, 67% of which prefer online shopping over offline shopping, but they are far from dying. This is due to the nature of the average shopper, who is reluctant to resort to only one shopping channel. In fact, a whopping 73% of shoppers say they do a mix of online and offline shopping, and only 7% claim to be online-exclusive - and this includes millennials. Online shopping is preferred for its convenience and accessibility but, as we’ve discussed before, the try-before-you-buy angle is a huge asset for brick and mortar stores. If bridging the gap with better visual aids and applications isn’t in the cards for you, approaching a physical store to sell your product could be the way to go.
This doesn’t always have to mean lending large quantities of physical stock, either. A growing trend in eCommerce is physical “pop-up” shops. A pop-up is an exclusive, short-term event that a brand holds where they set up a physical space to sell and display their product, while educating people on what their brand is about. This can be done through the use of interesting visuals, take-home pamphlets, video displays, or a whole host of other tricks. Think of it as an art fair, centered specifically around your products. You want the whole venue to feel as on-brand as possible, to give even quick perusers a taste of what you’re about.
Even large brands, like Nike, have utilized the exclusive, limited edition atmosphere of a pop-up with their “Just Do It” pop-up store in Los Angeles that appeared in June this year. With a curated boutique of Nike products, this pop-up operated as both a training center and a storefront. Shoppers were invited to work out at the facility and engage in pre-workout and post-workout meals cooked by a professional chef. The entire experience was both a great storefront to net purchases, and an all-encompassing view of Nike’s core tenant of fitness.
During Nike’s pop-up, they also issued two new immersive additions to their mobile app, which brings us to this next important point. You can’t talk about the future of eCommerce without mentioning mobile purchases. Mobile retail is expected to make up over half of eCommerce sales in 2021, and generated $1.8 trillion in revenue this year. Shopping using your mobile device is convenient for the average shopper, and shopping apps are just below social media apps in their download volume. In 2017, millennials with mobile devices said they spent more time on their Amazon app than any other app, which is a drastic change from 2015 when Facebook’s app reached an all-time high in user interaction. So what is the biggest takeaway for the average eCommerce retailer?
Invest in a mobile app. If you make most of your revenue through marketplace listings, such as Amazon or eBay, you have your work already cut out for you. However, creating your own app can do wonders for brand visibility and user engagement. This is because an app is more than just a marketplace, it is an opportunity to be direct, engaging, and on-brand with content that is portable and easily accessible.
Pop Secret, for example, used their mobile app not as a marketplace, but as a tool. With the Perfect Pop app, users place their mobile device within earshot of their microwave while popping a bag of popcorn, and the app tells you when to stop the microwave by measuring the time between popping sounds. With a useful purpose, fun design, and easy-to-use setup, Pop Secret saw 80,000 downloads before it had even been announced publicly. That year, Pop Secret had a 12% increase in sales from their figures in 2010. Though it’s impossible to know how much of that increase is directly related to the app, it is safe to say that it helped boost their brand visibility and the sales likely followed.
If the largest portion of your sales is derived from a marketplace with a pre-existing mobile app, you are not completely in the clear. The app will convert your storefront and listings to a mobile format, but sometimes things fall through the cracks. If your storefront or listings are not mobile-optimized, users may have a difficult time navigating your brand and, most likely, take their money elsewhere. Having images that are too large to scale down correctly in a mobile format, text that is too small to read on most mobile devices like smartphones, or objects that are hard to click with a finger (like links being too close to one another on a smaller screen) all affect how well a user interacts with your storefront. Essentially, the app can only do so much and it is up to you to make sure things look good both on desktop and mobile formats.
The online retail marketplace is set to change pretty quickly in 2019. New advances in technology, new buyers growing in to online shopping with a whole host of new preferences, and the surprising success of omnichannel businesses are only some of the key changes that businesses should be aware of. Paying attention to your demographic and customer concerns is key, and so is making sure that you are on top of new developments in online shopping as they evolve.