As the holiday season gets underway and many look online to get the best deals on their gifts, the retail industry has been battling it out to provide the best offers, the most convenience, and the smoothest shopping experience to one-up their competition.
Here, we highlight five retail trends in online ecommerce that are helping both small businesses and big retailers reach these consumers and improve their customer experience both online and point of sale.
1. Mobile is now the top buying device.
Online shopping’s transition into a mobile-first activity has represented arguably the most important milestone in commerce trends this year.
Activities involving sensitive information such as online transactions have always invoked a sense of caution among consumers.
That’s why the perceived security features of PCs and laptops has meant these devices have largely held the reigns when it comes to online shopping or other financially-motivated behaviors – until now.
Not only is it clear that mobiles will continue to widen their lead over PCs/laptops as the top online purchasing device, this landmark transition also signals much-needed growth across other commerce channels heavily reliant on smartphones, such as ‘new retail’ and social commerce.
2. New retail, old issues.
‘New retail’ technologies include location-based services, augmented reality and voice command artificial intelligence tools made popular by the likes of Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri.
These technologies not only have the potential to revolutionize the future of retail and the path to purchase experience, they also offer retailers valuable consumer data that can enrich their ability to tailor their services to meet individual needs.
The development of digital voice assistants will be a key space to watch in future.
This tech has already become an essential weapon in the future growth strategies among those retailers with the resources to make use of them.
Elsewhere, in experiential retail augmented reality and location-based apps remain a niche prospect for the majority of online shoppers, at least for now. But thanks to the centrality of mobile across all of these new retail technologies, they can be part of the same shopping experience.
And new products such as Apple’s iPhone X created with augmented reality in mind, as well as the company giving the green light to location-based marketing, one of the world’s most iconic and innovative mobile brands clearly sees a future investing in these technologies.
Privacy concerns could stand in the way of uptake here, however. Consumers may be coming around to the idea of buying via mobiles, but many still express concerns over how companies use their personal data. As such, many find issue with companies gaining access to sensitive information such as a user’s location in real-time, not to mention the fact that many smart assistants have “active listening” as a default feature.
3. The potential of social commerce is increasing.
Unlike in some Asian markets, social commerce has been a tough sell in western mature markets. Entrenched online consumer habits here have proved difficult to overcome, and merely implementing a “buy button” on a social media service has not been enough to lure social networkers into the idea of purchasing items via their favorite social platforms.
Yet, there is potential here. Social commerce is a direct beneficiary of online shopping’s transition into a mobile-first activity.
The reason this is good news for social commerce is quite simple: for commerce and social activities to take place in the same space, it above all needs to be on mobile (just look at the success of WeChat as a commerce platform in China).
Social media engagement patterns are changing too. Social strengthening its role as a product research channel and rising times spent on social media per day both point towards networking behaviors becoming less centered around sharing content around daily lives, and more oriented around fulfilling activities which conventionally lie outside the social arena.
Smart speakers and at-home listening devices are also impacting retail trends, while stores and brands look to close any gaps in online commerce such as same-day delivery or the ability to find products via visual search matching.
If social engagement is becoming more functional, and mobile is now the primary shopping device, social commerce has the opportunity to deliver a seamless online shopping experience which works in conjunction with other mobile-enabled channels (like new retail). Cementing these areas will provide ecommerce sites with a competitive advantage.
4. The global commerce landscape is changing.
A series of high-profile market launches and investments have been taking place throughout SE Asia and MEA in the retail space.
Alibaba has begun to turn its gaze outside of Chinese borders in its $1bn investment in Lazada and its $1.1bn investment in Tokopedia. Likewise, Amazon’s recent launch in Singapore signals further growth in the region from the online retailer.
Amazon’s acquisition of Souq could also be a turning point in the Middle East, where rates for buying online falls behind most other regions. JD too has been making moves in the SE Asia region; already having a presence in Indonesia, the online retailer has forged close ties with Thai retail group Central Group and investment firm Provident Capital through a $500 million investment, which will see it take a pivotal role in new retail ventures in the country.
For Alibaba and JD, the fact that China’s online retail market is getting close to saturation point in tier one and two cities has left two immediate avenues of growth: low-tier cities and rural areas in its home market on one hand, and regional markets with nascent commerce infrastructures on the other.
Amazon’s international success thus far has consistently positioned the retailer among the top three commerce sites in all global regions, including the broader APAC region outside China.
But this emerging confrontation with its Chinese rivals in unfamiliar markets will represent one of the most major tests yet to Amazon’s current business model.
5. The mobile payments race is on.
Something inextricably linked to the carving up of the global commerce landscape is the race to get people using mobile payment services.
What we need to consider here is that western and Chinese companies are aggressively expanding into emerging markets with fairly undeveloped financial infrastructures.
As such, consumers in these markets still overwhelmingly opt for cash on delivery or bank transfers when buying online.
But with rapidly increasing smartphone penetration in these same markets, some services are looking to use innovative mobile technologies and mobile apps which bypass this lack of infrastructure to allow these consumers to pay electronically.
This includes both online retail stores and more traditional retailers such as bricks and mortar stores using point of sale terminals and credit card payments.
Again, it’s Alibaba that’s at the forefront of these developments, using its recent acquisitions in SE Asia as vehicles to roll out its mobile payment service Alipay.
This opens up a new front in Alibaba’s global competition, putting it in direct competition with the likes of Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay for payment checkout.
Although the simplicity of Alipay’s payment solution is likely to give it a key advantage over its rivals in these fast growth regions, even if it doesn’t boast the same brand image as Apple, Google or Samsung.
Combined with retail store-based apps that create new a format of loyalty programs and personalization on mobile devices, the path to purchase continues to be more competitive in the new year, as retailers and brands aim to shorten it where possible, for both the convenience of the users, and competitive brand reasons alike.