By Bernard Luthi
When it comes to buying online, customers have more choice than ever. The crowded space means that shoppers are being offered countless new ways to buy and utilizing new technology to make their purchases. More important, customers are altering how they shop and taking a closer look at who they’re buying from. Shopping experiences are less a cold cash transaction and more of a way to participate in an ethos or at the very least, to support a company that understands exactly what and how you like to purchase your items.
Here are a few of the ways that I see e-commerce moving as we look toward 2014.
If you’re not on mobile, you’re not competing. Top online retailers are recognizing the massive power and customer adoption of using smartphones to research and buy merchandise as well as to communicate and socialize. Online retailers have been quick to react to this with an emphasis on screen-to-screen consistency. Multichannel retailers are recognizing the importance of the mobile channel for its ability to offer customers the ability to shop where and how they want versus forcing them into a traditional brick-and-mortar environment.
Discovery-based shopping. There is a way for customers to have a fulfilling shopping experience that doesn’t necessarily end with a purchase. The rise of Pinterest and Curisma — companies that provide a journey-based environment — shows that people want to stare, share as well as shop. The trend illustrates customer desire for shopping experience that is alive, human and allows for spontaneity. What’s happening on computers, tablets and smartphones is almost a complete transition from what shopping was in a traditional retail environment. This change has also provided retailers with a wealth of data and information that allows for a vastly improved and personalized experience for retail customers.
Trust and transparency are more important than ever. In the early days of e-commerce there was a perceived risk when buying online — those days are over. Shoppers want to know the vendor and where the product is coming from. Customers demand and deserve proof that their purchase is authentic and not a knockoff or counterfeit. This becomes even more relevant when the customer is buying through an online marketplace. Unfortunately most keep the actual merchant, who is vetting and providing the product, invisible to the end user with the exception of some rating and reviews. While the marketplace allows the retailers to virtually expand their category and product depth, the lack of clarity around who the actual merchant is can be concerning for customers. The winners in this model are those retailers who embrace merchants as partners and not only allow them access to one another but also encourage it.
Customers will continue to demand more. This will include more services, support and as I already mentioned, a higher degree of trust and transparency. They’ll continue to desire an enriched shopping experience where they can find what they’re looking for when it comes to commodity product but also be able to discover new product and merchants in a fun, interactive and entertaining way. Customers initially came to the Web for a simple, commodity-based shopping experience that was driven by price, availability and delivery. While those tenets still hold true, it’s just not enough to hold a customer’s interest anymore. Winners in the field will offer customers the diversity of product, the selection, the experience, the discovery, the entertainment and the ability to shop when and how they desire.
Here are some other ways that I see e-commerce changing in 2014:
• Continued morphing of the online retail channel to infuse discovery and entertainment into the shopping experience
• Growth of marketplaces and borderless e-commerce allowing customer to engage merchants from around the world in a seamless EC environment
• Continued growth of shopping via tablets and smartphones: screen-to-screen consistency
• Heightened level of personalization, with a smoother, less intrusive feel
• Focus on services (e.g., personal shopping, subscription models)
• Continued growth of social engagement
• Further expansion of logistics as a differentiator both in cost of shipping and speed of delivery
• Omnichannel focus for the traditional retailers
Finally, e-commerce leaders should also be thinking beyond retail and looking toward pre-tail. Sellers in the know are turning toward crowdfunding websites, such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, which allow manufacturers to crowdsource opinion on new products and get a head start on trends. Sites like Made.com and The Grommet offer consumers the chance to purchase products that are pre-production, new to market or limited edition. These sites are changing the way e-tailers are stocking their shelves and choosing their merchandise. All of these trends point toward the same ethos: consumers want to be able to buy the “next big thing” when they hear or read about it — and not a moment later.
Bernard Luthi is a 15-year veteran of e-commerce, technology and consumer electronics. As CMO and COO, Luthi leads Rakuten.com Shopping’s marketing initiatives, including website experience, advertising, BuyTV, public relations and promotions. In addition, he works closely with Rakuten Inc. on overall corporate branding.