What’s New in E-Commerce and How To Make it Work For You
You probably haven’t heard of the book ‘Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of Thought’. It’s a text about artificial intelligence and machine learning by Pulitzer Prize scholar Douglas R Hofstadter. But back in April 1995, it was also the first book ever purchased on Amazon.com, a simple transaction that launched the world’s most famous e-commerce brand, forever changing the way we behave as consumers.
E-commerce technically predates the internet - ‘teleshopping’ allowed people to order groceries through the tv during the 1980s - but today it refers to the online buying and selling of goods and services. It is undeniably one of the most important phenomena of the last two decades and continues to expand. Global retail e-commerce sales nearly tripled from $1.3bn in 2014 to $3.5bn in 2019, with this figure only heading in one direction as digital becomes increasingly influential in our day-to-day lives.
The Covid-19 crisis has also dramatically accelerated the spread of e-commerce this year, incorporating new businesses, customers, and products as traditional bricks-and-mortar retail were temporarily shut down. Data for 2020 will be skewed by confinement measures, but eMarketer estimates that retail e-commerce sales in the US will surge by more than 32% this year. The outlook is similar in the UK, where e-commerce is set to account for more than 30% of total retail sales for the first time. China’s ‘Singles Day’, the world’s biggest online sale, broke records this year as local e-commerce giant Alibaba logged around $75bn in sales (up 26% on the previous year).
While Covid lockdowns and social distancing measures will be temporary, the changes in consumer behavior are expected to be longer-lasting. This may be partly due to lingering concerns about crowded places, but also because among the masses forced to shop online during the lockdown, some are bound to embrace new purchasing habits sooner than they might have otherwise. A recent IBM report estimated that the pandemic advanced the global shift to e-commerce by five years.
Three hot trends in e-commerce
As technology advances and businesses adapt to the ‘new normal’, e-commerce is evolving almost as fast as it’s growing. Here are just three exciting trends in e-commerce today:
1. The hybrid approach: A growing number of brands are trying to get the best of both worlds by seamlessly integrating their digital and physical business spaces. This is already common with ‘click and collect’ services, but new technology allows us to take it to the next level, blurring the lines between stores and websites, social and shopping. This could be by using apps and geo-location technology to provide in-store shoppers with relevant real-time information, or at a logistical level by combining physical shopping destinations with online fulfillment centers. Digital-first retailers are at the forefront of this trend as they increasingly seek to enhance online models with physical customer experience. Amazon, inevitably, is leading the disruption: it has just launched a new chain of grocery stores with smart shopping carts that let customers skip checkout lines, Alexa voice-assistant stations for customer service, and pick-up points for online orders.
2. Social commerce: This is a subset of e-commerce that is pushing the boundaries of frictionless shopping. Retail brands already know that establishing a stand-out presence across social media platforms is crucial for customer loyalty and engagement. But rather than just driving traffic to online or offline stores, customers will soon be able to buy directly through the likes of Instagram or WhatsApp. And if Google has its way, shortly you’ll likely be able to buy anything you see on YouTube directly from the video-sharing platform itself. Social commerce goes hand in hand with the rise of ‘influencers’ and celebrity endorsements - you see the shoes that movie star is wearing and click to buy them.
3. Personalized shopping: In the age of big data, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning, online retailers are increasingly able to bring the personalized shopping experience to web and mobile applications. The most common approach is through product recommendations based on previous browsing activity or the buying patterns of others in your demographic - these have been around for a while, but they’re getting better all the time. Other interesting examples include weather-sensitive personalized homepages (“it’s cold out there today, have you seen these new scarves?”), recommendations from chatbots, or emails, and discounts tailored to individual habits. The growing use of augmented reality can take personalization to a new level - using video apps, customers can ‘try on’ different shades of lipstick or see how a new table they’re interested in would look in their living room.
E-commerce and software development
Of course, to fully exploit the enormous potential of e-commerce and stand out in an increasingly competitive online space, businesses need to ensure their websites and mobile applications are up to scratch. For smaller businesses and startups unable to build a unique site in-house, one fundamental factor in choosing a platform that includes e-commerce functionality (shipping, payments, etc). There are many platforms out there already, including big names such as Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento, Volusion, and WooCommerce (which is built for WordPress). The choice of platform will depend on your organization’s particular needs and resources. Another key element is the programming language that the application uses - Java, PHP, and Python are among the most popular due to readability, scalability, and versatility, but again the best choice will vary according to your unique circumstances.
These can be daunting decisions to make, which is why you need to be able to trust in the experience and skills of your software developers. Here at Jobsity, we seek out top-level developers with a wide range of skills and expertise. We also invest heavily in ongoing training, so that our developers are up to speed with the latest trends and ready to hit the ground running on a new project. If you’re starting or scaling up an e-commerce venture and want to find out more about how our nearshore developers can help you achieve your goals, don’t hesitate to get in touch!
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