According to research from Internet Retailer and Akamai, online spending during the 2018 holidays in the U.S. is estimated to be $122 billion, another banner year for digital commerce. It is clear that customers love e-commerce and will continue to drive its growth in the foreseeable future.
As such, many new ideas, approaches, and technologies will continue to appear, but deciding which ones to invest in is particularly challenging for organizations. Deciding which innovations to adopt will vary for each organization, depending on where they are in their digital transformation.
Nevertheless, my perspective is that innovations in three areas will impact digital commerce trends for 2019: Personalization, intelligence in commerce, and mobile commerce.
Know thy customer: Personalization matters
Personalization is not a new concept, and is probably as old as e-commerce itself. Personalizing web content has always been an aspiration, whether it be an informational website, a portal, or a web storefront. But to deliver personalization, it is necessary to determine who the visitor is, and what the visitor wants.
We have pretty much solved the “who is visiting” question by convincing visitors to register. Minimally, routing and network technologies can discover where they come from, what device they are using, and if they are return visitor. But the problem of finding what they want has remained largely unsolved, until now. With advances in computation power and machine learning (ML), e-commerce operators now have the tools to learn the visitor’s intents and wants and cater to them. And of course, this must be done only with the visitor’s consent.
Here is an approach: When a visitor arrives at your commerce site, the first page of content shown can default to preset criteria. But once consent is secured, we can use information such as how they navigate the site, what they search for, what they click on, how long they look at a page, etc. to infer intent via ML, and then continue to refine after each iteration.
In a short period of time and after a few iterations, we will be able to determine what the customer wants and personalize our content appropriately. For a known visitor, the personalization level can be very fine grain when we combined this real-time context with market trending data, as well as historical information such as past purchases and preferences. And even for unknown users (first time visitors or those chosen to be anonymous), the level of personalization can be very accurate. The possibilities are endless.
AI and machine learning continue to grow: Intelligence in commerce
Needless to say, AI/ML probably received the most buzz, interest, and analysis in 2018. But this is really the early days of AI/ML. In 2019, I expect to see acceleration of its adoption in both consumer and enterprise applications.
For commerce, it is no difference. The best approach for adopting AI/ML is in making the e-commerce platform more “intelligent” by embedding AI/ML in areas where it can deliver the most benefits. Following are some capabilities that expect AI/ML to be used to enhance the commerce experience and processes for both customers and organizations selling to them:
- Personalization – As discussed above, AI/ML will move the needle on personalization
- Customer segmentation – AI/ML will enable automatic creation and continuous refinement of customer segments for effective promotion and personalization
- Product categorization – AI/ML can be used to perform product cataloging automatically, drastically streamlining the process for selling organizations and their suppliers
- Visual search – this capability will be greatly enhanced with AI/ML
- Conversational commerce – for both text and voice interface, early versions are already available but they will get much more robust and new scenarios will emerge; a shopping concierge, anyone?
- Dynamic pricing – AI/ML can be employed to manage your pricing for higher sales and profits
The advances in AI/ML will accelerate in the years to come. I believe it holds the key to enable organizations to finally deliver on the vision of the perfect customer experience.
The world in your pocket: Mobile commerce is ever-evolving
The mobile smartphone is probably the most ubiquitous device in the modern time, probably more popular than a watch. According to Business Insider, there are 5 billion unique mobile phone subscribers worldwide in Q2 2017. Of these, 53%, or about 2.65 billion devices, are mobile smartphone. The same study expects that by 2020, the share of smartphone will grow to 66% of the total mobile subscribers.
Clearly, the smartphone is the primary device for online access to information, communications, and shopping. In the context of shopping and buying, the smartphone is the gateway to product information, price check, show-rooming, exploring, shopping, and buying. And even when the customer is in a store, it is still being used to augment the buying experience.
Yet, the actual sales that take place on the smartphone is still minimal, just 20% of the desktop according Commscore. I believe 2019 will see the tipping point in mobile commerce because some of the key challenges of the mobile smartphone will be addressed.
For example, the challenge of the smaller screen is solved by presenting only relevant and contextual content powered by AI/ML personalization. Interaction on the smartphone is another challenge. Progress Web App (PWA) is enabling native app-like interactivity on mobile web storefront, facilitating sellers to offer richer and simpler buying experiences. And finally, data entry, especially for checkout, can be solved with “one-tap” buy functionality with PWA. And there are more to come.
Digital commerce trends for 2019: Stay ahead of the curve
2019 promises to be another year of changes, challenges, disruptions, and innovations when it comes to digital commerce trends. To win, you need to stay ahead of the curve by out-innovating, making bold moves, and focusing on your customers. Part of that strategy is to be agile and adopt innovations that will move the needle for your organizations. I believe these three areas are ripe for disruption and should be in your short list of strategic projects for 2019.
To learn more about other trends that matter in 2019, join us on this webinar to hear from the researchers at Ecommerce Forum as they present their findings of the global trends for ecommerce.