6 e-commerce trends that are shaping 2017 - Heart Internet Blog - Focusing on all aspects of the web

We’re delighted to have John Surdakowski, founder and creative director of NYC-based digital agency Avex Designs, here to discuss the major e-commerce trends you need to be aware of this year and what you need to do to stay ahead of the curve

Online, your company is either getting ahead or falling behind. That’s especially true if you’re involved in the constantly competitive and eternally shifting world of e-commerce.

We should know. My creative digital agency Avex Designs works with some of New York’s leading fashion designers and upscale retailers. We have a front-row seat to the ongoing challenges that play out when you’re trying to convince online shoppers to buy from you instead of someone else. What we’ve learned along the way is that you have to stay on the cutting edge or risk being cut out of the picture altogether.

The online retailing market has been in a constant state of flux ever since it took centre stage in the late ’90s. But, with recent changes to technology, design, and marketing, we expect 2017 to be an especially wild year. In the coming months, some retailers are going to come out as big winners, while others will undoubtedly see their customers flock elsewhere.

Like it or not, the major e-commerce trends that are shaping 2017 are already becoming clear. Here is what you need to know to stay ahead of the curve…

Person holding a phone next to her laptop

Mobile First Is the Way of the Future

Mobile web users – people accessing the web through smartphones and tablets – became a majority in 2014. And yet, until recently they only accounted for 30% of e-commerce sales.

This statistical quirk can be explained in a handful of different ways. The most obvious is that a lot of users were (and still are) using their mobile devices to check email, visit their favorite social accounts, and check out news, but were going back to their laptop or desktop computers when they needed to shop or finish a purchase.

Another cause that has been identified, however, has to do with the fact that many retailers simply haven’t been well-equipped to deal with mobile customers. And, until recently, there weren’t many tools available for mobile shoppers to check out and pay for items in a convenient way.

That has all changed in the last couple of years, of course, and we are starting to see mobile sales figures catch up to the amounts we would expect. In fact, many online retailers are taking a “mobile-first” approach that recognises the fact that future business growth is going to be dependent on selling products to shoppers who are on the go.

It’s important that your online store be ready for these types of customers, and that your layouts are both responsive and compatible with new payment apps and plugins. Your customers aren’t going to wait until they get home or arrive at the office to make a purchase anymore – they’ll either buy from you on your mobile-ready e-commerce site or take their business to one of your competitors who is ready to receive their order.

Person holding up a phone that is about to livestream on Instagram

Social Marketing Means Social Engagement

Social media marketing is important for all businesses, but especially online retailers. That’s because the photo-centric posts preferred by Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram users make it easier to show off products than complex services or B2B solutions.

However, posting a few images or discount codes to your social accounts isn’t enough to create traction with buyers anymore. That’s because the competition for attention on each of the social platforms has gotten so intense that the programmers in charge of running them have had to institute engagement formulas to ensure the best content isn’t getting lost in the mix.

To give you a sense of the scale of this problem from an e-commerce entrepreneur’s point of view, consider that many posts are seen by 16% of a company’s fans or fewer. As your following grows, that number could shrink all the way down to 2%!

It’s not all bad news, however. Those views are going somewhere. If you have high levels of engagement on your social accounts, you can reach potential customers your competitors can’t. Let’s look at a few of the ways you can outflank the other online retailers who want to steal your customers on social media:

Post in images and video whenever possible, since these get 15 times or more likes, shares, and comments than other types of media.

Use marketing messages that ask for a response (like callouts), as Facebook and the other social media sites distribute viewership based on user feedback.

Study Facebook Insights and other analytics platforms to see which content types are getting noticed, and to see what times of the day, week, and month work best for your audience.

In many ways, the new fight for social viewership parallels the struggle for search engine positioning that began many years ago. Now is the time to get to the front of the pack and earn an advantage you can hold on to for years to come.

Tattooed person holding up a phone to take a photo of a busy city centre

Retailers Are Becoming Content Creators

In some cases, your customers may go directly to Google, Facebook, or even your online store knowing exactly what they want. More often, though, they will turn to the internet because they have a problem they need solved. They may or may not be aware of the product they actually want, or even that the category exists.

The way successful e-commerce retailers deal with this problem is by producing content. They put out articles, videos, and reports that don’t just let the public know what’s for sale, but offer insights that can help shoppers to choose the right solution for their needs, budget, and circumstances.

In addition to the normal blog posts and email blasts you would expect to come from an online store, retailers are taking advantage of proprietary reviews, industry news alerts, and specialised buying guides. They are also taking advantage of user generated content, like submitted reviews, contest entries, and social posts that apply to the business or industry.

Each of these pieces of content can do double duty on your website. On the one hand they give shoppers more useful information that can help them make good buying decisions. That makes them feel more comfortable, which in turn increases sales and decreases returns. And on the other hand, they give you unique content that appeals to customers and search engine spiders alike. Why not give yourself a pair of advantages over your competitors?

Person typing on a laptop

Video Is Revolutionising Product Demos and Reviews

While any type of targeted and proprietary content can help your online store to grow, video clips are particularly powerful. They give retailers an easy, affordable, and effective way to show product demos and share reviews.

This isn’t necessarily news to a lot of e-commerce entrepreneurs, but most are still surprised when they see what is possible when they add the right types of media to their product pages. In one study, 73% of shoppers were more likely to buy a product after seeing a short clip that explained it first. That means the effect of video on your website could dwarf what you get from improvements in search engine optimisation, pay-per-click advertising, and a smoother checkout experience combined.

The same applies for video product reviews, regardless of whether they are created in-house or submitted by satisfied customers. In each case, video works in a way that static text and images can’t because it’s all about what customers can see and hear with their own eyes. They are left with fewer questions, and doubts, because the evidence of a product’s value was shown in a way that’s more transparent.

Against the backdrop of these realisations, we also have to point out that video marketing has gotten to be more convenient and affordable. It costs an online retailer next to nothing to get good video these days, and clips can be viewed by mobile users – at full speed and in stunning detail – regardless of where they are while they are shopping.

Laptop, phone, and other accoutrements of a busy e-commerce office

Retargeting Gives Retailers a Second Shot

The business model for a successful online store used to be simple: Come up with a winning concept for your shop, design a great store that provides a strong user experience, bring buyers to your pages, and watch the sales accrue. Increased competition and a world of more skeptical, discerning, and informed buyers has changed all of that.

While some of the basic e-commerce elements remain in place, the fact of the matter is that it can take multiple impressions and exposures to win a customer’s business. You might need several points of contact, or to convince them to come back to your online store more than once. One way to make that happen is by having potential customers sign up for an email newsletter. That’s difficult to accomplish without actually registering a purchase, however, so a lot of marketers are turning to retargeting.

Retargeting simply means you keep track of the visitors to your website and run specialised advertising campaigns that give them a “second chance” to come back and buy from you. In some cases, these types of ads have been shown to double or triple sales and conversion rates over time.

As with most things, though, the difficulty is in the details. It’s not sufficient to simply keep asking buyers to come back and finish their order. If you want to set up a successful retargeting campaign, you have to follow a few distinct steps:

Decide how you want to approach buyers (with image ads, on search engines, etc) and how much you’re willing to pay for each new impression. It’s easy to spend a lot of money on retargeting, so you have to be careful about increasing your budget to chase after prospects who aren’t a good fit for your products.

Segment your retargeting campaign so customers see follow-up offers (with better deals), time-sensitive discounts, and ads that remind them of items they placed in a shopping cart, rather than random messages about your store.

Limit exposure to take away what’s been called the “creep factor,” where customers feel as if you’re essentially following them around the internet from one website to another. Show them too many ads, and they may take their business and attention elsewhere.

Study your web analytics to find the point where conversions are maximised and decreasing returns set in. At a certain point, someone is seeing your ads enough to know whether they are going to return to your site or not. It doesn’t make any sense to keep paying for impressions past that point.

Retargeting is all about efficiency and closing rates. It’s a powerful tool that can give you a second chance with buyers, but it also carries the same risks as any other form of internet advertising, so you have to keep a close eye on the bottom line.

Person typing on a laptop with their coffee next to them

Transactions Bring Revenue, Buyer Loyalty Builds the Business

One of the interesting things about our line of work is that you get to see traditional business wisdom translate into the online sphere at various speeds. Viral marketing became the new form of good press. Online reputation management took all the great parts about word-of-mouth advertising and brought them into the digital age. And now, online retailers are starting to realise it’s more affordable to keep existing customers than it is to keep finding new ones.

In the traditional world of business and industry, any MBA grad could tell you that it typically costs seven times more to find a new buyer than it does to simply keep the one you already have. That wasn’t always the case in internet marketing, though. With low customer acquisition rates that used to be associated with pay-per-click advertising, search engine optimisation, and email marketing, businesses really could burn through buyers and replace them.

Now that all of those channels have gotten to be more competitive (and expensive), business owners are realising they need to engage in customer care and re-selling opportunities. They are finding that keeping buyers happy, and getting them to come back to a store to complete more purchases, is far more affordable than starting from scratch.

You can follow their lead by emphasising customer service in all of your transactions and communications. Don’t give shoppers a reason to take their money elsewhere, and they probably won’t. Even in the digital age, there is a sense of inertia that comes with buying habits. People would much rather stick with a company they know and trust than give their credit card to someone new.

Additionally, you can look for ways to keep customers returning again and again. Offer loyalty discounts, share informative articles in your email newsletter, and hold special events for existing buyers. Avoid the temptation to give all of your best breaks to new customers who may buy once and then disappear. Remember that the people who have placed orders with you before are more likely to place bigger, more frequent orders again in the future.

Bringing customers to your online store used to be a pure numbers game, and in some cases it still can be. If you can build a reliable base of business, however, you’ll have a much easier pathway to long-term profitability. One-off transactions are nice, but loyal buyers are priceless to your company.

Close-up of a laptop

Is Your E-commerce Site Ready for 2017?

As we move into the new year, some online store owners are getting ahead of the internet marketing curve, while others are falling behind without even knowing it. The worst news for those who have gotten complacent is that the speed of change is accelerating, and the shortcomings or competitive disadvantages they experience today are going to quickly compound in the future.

Online retailing is evolving into a world of haves and have-nots, but it isn’t money or connections that separate the two groups. Instead, the winners are ready to adapt to change. Their unprepared colleagues are on the way out.

It has already been estimated that the top few percent of online retailers get the lion’s share of all revenue. We expect those divisions are going to become even more clear in 2017 and beyond. The only question left to answer is: Which side of the line will your e-commerce website end up on?

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