Omnichannel commerce | Marketing
The Trends and Tech Powering the Year Ahead
January 06, 2018
A new year signals an avalanche of punditry and prognostications, and this year is no exception. We combed through a number of reports to cull the concepts that seem to be the most important for the months ahead. While none of these are new (hello, mobile commerce), 2018 looks to be a watershed year for their adoption. And while some appear to be the stuff of sci-fi (hello, artificial intelligence), keep in mind that not so long ago, the idea that people would buy everything from groceries to automobiles via the web seemed far-fetched.
In-store experiences that differentiate your brand
If you own a bricks-and-mortar shop, you're competing not only with other local stores but with ecommerce sites as well. That means you need to give customers a reason to leave the comfort of home and journey to your store. What reason are you providing? Home-goods retailer Williams-Sonoma and its sister brands such as Pottery Barn offer free design services, classes, and book signings. Apparel stores have long held fashion shows and promoted their personal shoppers. Ikea and Barneys New York are among the diverse retailers with in-store restaurants. In its 2018 trend report, "Now, New, Next," marketing services provider Alliance Data notes that Disney is launching a store prototype complete with "large LED screens to live-stream the daily theme park parade and fireworks. Associates, including characters, open each day with a small celebration and will interact with shoppers via learning and play activities."
Yes, it's tough to compete with a daily parade led by Mickey Mouse. But more-modest events—in-store demos of new products, classes on how to make the most of your products, even occasional parties to celebrate anniversaries or holidays—can lure people in.
Just as important is reminding customers of their positive experiences with your brand. "It will come down to building loyalties and relationships with people," Andrew Fernandez, marketing strategist for commerce marketing software provider Bronto, says in his company's "2018 Trends" white paper. "Forget about b-to-c and b-to-b—think h-to-h, human-to-human. Otherwise, the difference will be price and service, two things bigger retailers tend to excel at. Part of this is ensuring that every message isn't necessarily 'buy this, buy that' but more of a brand message, such as a thank-you email, a birthday wish, or even a competition."
Mobile, mobile, mobile
In Europe, 30% of shoppers made a purchase via mobile in the past month, according to GlobalWebIndex. That figure is higher among consumers in North American (36%), Latin America (38%), and the Asia Pacific region (a whopping 63%). If your website isn't mobile-friendly, you're missing out. As social media software provider Falcon.io declares in its "2018 Digital Marketing Trends" report, "Online shopping became a mobile-first activity in 2017 as the number of purchases made via mobile devices outnumbered those made on desktop devices for the first time."
Not only should your website be mobile-optimised, but so should your emails. According to email software provider Litmus, 54% of emails are opened on mobile devices, while web-based clients account for only 31%, with desktops bringing up the rear. In "Email Marketing Trends 2018," a white paper from another email software provider, Pure360, and Smart Insights, Taxi for Email CEO Elliot Ross emphasises the importance of optimising emails for mobile by, among other things, ensuring that buttons can easily be tapped and keeping text blocks short and chunky.
Also consider marketing via SMS (Short Message Service), or text messaging. This is a good, relatively easy way to enter m-commerce. In the longer term, "retailers that have designed a mobile offering that links mobile payment infrastructure with sensitively planned marketing messaging and valuable loyalty initiatives will have the best chance of delivering a unique and engaging mobile- enhanced in-store shopping experience," according to "Prepare for the Future of Shopping," a white paper from retail software provider Vend.
Mobile optimisation also helps optimise your site for voice search. Falcon.io digital marketing specialist Jeffrey Gomez, in his company's report, cites the statistic that each day 40% of adults conduct at least one voice search, via Siri, Alexa, and other personal assistants. By 2020, half of all online searches are predicted to be conducted via voice. In addition to having your site be mobile-friendly, Gomez suggests focusing "your content around a specific question and its answer." That's because when searching online, people will type a few keywords ("flea collar," "girls swimsuit"). When searching via voice, however, they're more apt to use full sentences ("Where can I buy a flea collar?", "Who sells swimsuits for girls?"). So you might want to tweak your site copy to incorporate your keywords into full sentences.
What's more, roughly one in four voice queries is for local information, according to Gomez. So be sure your site and all your online business listings such as Google My Site offer complete information about your location, hours, contact info, and the like. He also advises asking customers to leave reviews of your business to boost SEO.
When it comes to AI, think less Westworld and more "machine learning." The same virtual personal assistants that are influencing voice search are examples of machine learning. So are many recommendation engines.
For retailers, both bricks-and-mortar and online, AI can lead to more-accurate, more-effective personalisation, enabling them to serve up dynamic content as soon as an email or a landing page is opened—which in turn will lead to increased sales. "Some of the most sophisticated retailers already use machine learning and AI to understand what customers like and predict what they're likely to buy next," explains Olly Cooper, co-founder of m-commerce solutions provider Bijou Commerce, in Bronto's trend report. "Done right, it can drive incremental revenue growth from your retained customer base. The best thing about this application of AI is that it doesn't require a change in consumer behaviour... Consumers just have better products shown to them on the web, in app, and in emails—all things that already happen every day."
Bronto cites a study by Boston Consulting Group that "found that those brands and retailers that are already creating personalised experiences by integrating advanced digital technologies and data are seeing revenue increases of 6% to 10%—two to three times faster than those who don't."
AI in and of itself won't save a business that lacks the all-important human touch, however. "Brands are built on trust," according to "Trends Reports 2018" from solutions provider Edelman Digital. "Even the most helpful AI communication can erode a consumer relationship if it feels invasive."
Which leads to what may be among the most clever uses of AI, which Edelman refers to in its report. Department store Macy's has been testing Macy's On Call, a smartphone-based assistant powered by IBM's Watson AI technology. Shoppers can ask the bot for assistance while they're in the store: where they might find a particular product, whether a certain brand is in stock. "But the bot's most impressive aspect is also the most human," Edelman notes. "It detects when users are growing frustrated with the machine's conversation skills, and readily alerts the closest member of the in-store staff."