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Staying Ahead of Digital Commerce Trends: What You Need to Know

Digital innovation continues to disrupt industries at lightning speed. Today’s organizations are transforming their entire business – from strategy to operations, technology to culture – to better deliver value to their customers. In 2017, we compiled the top 10 trends leaders needed to know when it came to their digital transformation journey. In this 10-week blog series, we’ll further explore each trend and address how you can continue to modernize your business for success.

Today’s digital commerce businesses are under more pressure to deliver engaging, well-designed, and frictionless experiences across all channels.

Don’t believe me? Pick up your smartphone, and take a look at your apps. How many do you use exclusively for researching products, shopping, and even making purchases?

Just taking a quick look at my phone, the top five digital commerce/retailer apps include Target, Instacart, Amazon, Wayfair, and Lowe’s.

Why are these among my top five? It all comes down to overall customer experience. These apps provide the shopping experience to find and buy items when, where, and how I want.

Target, for example, has me hooked as a customer because:

  1. I can create a shopping list on my phone that I use when shopping in-store.
  2. The app now includes Cartwheel offers so I can select discounts and coupons for frequently purchased items, which saves money on each trip.
  3. And my recent favorite: order items on the app, and pick up my order via Target’s new drive up service.

This last perk combines the easy shopping experience of the mobile app with the technology to track your arrival and provide the ultimate convenience – no need to leave your car! (And honestly, it’s probably saving me money without the impulse purchases that typically happen on a Target run.)

Nearly 200 million U.S. consumers will shop via mobile devices in 2017, but only about half will actually make purchases on their smartphones  – eMarketer

Our evolving connected world – and we as consumers – keep raising the bar in terms of our expectations. Staying ahead of digital commerce trends can help your brand establish a solid foundation for digital transformation.

Here’s an update on some of the top digital transformation initiatives for eCommerce.

Google Search Impacts Mobile Commerce

Google announced in late 2016 that its primary ranking emphasis would be awarded to mobile websites. This news prompted B2C and B2B commerce sellers to accelerate their initiatives for building mobile-first, responsive designs to maintain and enhance their overall organic ranking.

According to Tech Crunch, Google began rolling out “its mobile-first indexing of the web (in March 2018) after a year and a half of testing and experimentation.”

However, mobile-first designs are only half the battle for digital commerce sellers. Site performance is equally as important. Beginning in July 2018, Google also intends to use page speed as “a ranking factor for mobile searches.”

53 percent of mobile shoppers abandon websites after three seconds of load time

Google’s data indicates that a majority of people initiate Google searches on mobile – a trend that’s been on the upswing since 2015. Combine that with forecasts of mobile commerce (mcommerce) sales doubling by 2020, and it’s no wonder that companies with digital commerce sites must up their game when it comes to the mobile experience.

Whether you’re in B2B or B2C eCommerce, creating a great mobile experience goes beyond building an app or making sure your website is mobile-optimized. Learn more about fully embracing all aspects of mobile in our guide Creating a Mobile Strategy to Transform the Enterprise.

IoT and Omni-Channel Accelerate Customer Expectations

The explosion of connected devices creates endless channel opportunities to engage and sell to customers. The content and user experience on these devices drive new commerce rules of engagement.

As consumers, we expect brands to adapt quickly and serve up remarkable experiences across various channels and devices. Agile development processes, Software-as-a-Service, and virtually limitless cloud infrastructure continue to evolve – all in an attempt to help brands keep pace with consumer expectations.

Taking a closer at IoT within digital commerce, the retail spend for implementing this technology is estimated to reach $2.5 billion by 2020. The following use cases demonstrate how IoT can influence and optimize digital commerce businesses:

  • Inventory management: Using IoT sensors and radio-frequency identification (RFID) it’s now possible to manage inventory in real-time. The technology improves monitoring and tracking of items while reducing human errors in reordering.
  • Warehouse operations: Implementing IoT sensors and systems can also eliminate over-stocking of items in warehouses. Other types of sensors that streamline warehouse operations include temperature-monitoring sensors to maintain appropriate temperatures for perishable items and sensors on forklifts and equipment to send alerts for predictive maintenance.
  • Supply chain management: IoT systems can improve supply chain efficiency, which ultimately optimizes digital commerce operations and fulfillment. Sensors and systems can ensure the smooth transport of goods from one place to another and track items from production to delivery.
  • Consumer experience: Data collected by IoT systems can also help digital commerce businesses personalize advertising by recognizing consumers’ shopping habits, search trends, and online browsing. Customer service can benefit from IoT by reporting product issues before they occur. This gives companies an opportunity to proactively address and resolve issues.

As for omni-channel, Forrester defines it as the coordination of traditional channels (marketing, selling, and fulfillment) and supporting systems to create a seamless and consistent customer experience. Customers interact with brands across a variety of devices and channels but have come to expect a seamless experience.

For example, buy online and pick-up in store – considered a new trend just over a year ago – has gained popularity with more retailers offering this option. Refer back to my earlier praise for Target’s new drive-up service, or how many national and regional grocery chains (Kroger and Wal-Mart, for example) let you shop online and pick-up your groceries curbside.

As a customer, you might pay a little more than you would shopping in-store. However, the convenience is well worth it if that’s the experience you want.

For more ideas on innovating your commerce business model, spend some time with our guide How to Transform Your Commerce Business Models.

Data Drives Personalization

With today’s connected and well-informed consumers, higher levels of personalization and engagement are essential for creating loyalty.

Commerce businesses have been dedicating the vast majority of their marketing dollars to simply gaining new customers. Customer acquisition will always be important, but many retailers now see the enormous value of returning customers. (Read more about this in Keeping Up with Connected Customers.)

Connecting content and commerce systems can improve customer engagement. However, access to data and customer insights ultimately help you decide where and how to optimize your digital commerce strategy.

The ultimate goal of personalization in digital commerce is to not only deliver contextually relevant messages and offers, but also use data and insights to provide a personalized, unified customer journey.

Regarding smart personalization, Jim Hertzfeld, our Chief Strategist for Customer Experience, has this to say:

Personalization is a fundamental piece of any digital strategy. Customers expect it, the data is there, and the technology is within reach. Getting started may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. You can start small and grow your strategies over time.

APIs are Creating Headless Commerce

Most commerce platforms cannot keep up with increasing demands to leverage content that helps sell products and services. And, most content management systems cannot handle the complexity of commerce transactions.

Application programming interfaces (APIs) and rest services are creating “headless commerce,” so sophisticated content creation and management will drive online marketing and digital commerce sales.

What Is Headless Commerce?

This approach “decouples” the front and back ends of a digital commerce platform. In other words, “the content presentation layer (i.e., content and experience management system) is separated from the business logic and functional layer (i.e., existing commerce stack, integration, and commerce management.)”

With this approach, an eCommerce business can tailor development for areas that are underperforming or focus resources to optimize high-performing areas of the site.

What Benefits Do APIs Provide?

Incorporating APIs allows digital commerce sellers to connect the dots, turning customer “data into practical, useable business intelligence.” Presenting contextually relevant information is crucial for both B2C and B2B commerce sellers to stay competitive.

Types of APIs that are most often used in eCommerce provide:

  1. Product information – brand images, product descriptions, and product specifications
  2. Social proof – Twitter comments and Facebook likes
  3. Site search – advanced search features to help visitors quickly find products by brand, category, etc.
  4. Personalization – content organized and presented to match the needs of every shopper/customer
  5. Marketing automation – personalize the experience for returning customers, or adding customers to specific email marketing lists based on items viewed or purchased
  6. Shipping – allows the business and customer to track shipment of products
  7. Price comparison – link your product catalog to an API and receive reports that compare your pricing to competitors
  8. Recommendation engine – create suggested lists of products to buy, or show items that complement the product(s) in your cart
  9. Affiliate – widgets that link to products on Amazon, for example
  10. Anti-fraud – helping businesses keep up with credit card scams and flag completed sales that match fraudulent practices

Whether you’re a “pure-play” or “click-and-mortar” eCommerce seller, using APIs to merge commerce and content systems leads to more frictionless commerce and, ultimately, a vastly improved online shopping experience.

The Path Forward Is an Evolution

When taking on digital transformation initiatives for eCommerce, remember that it’s an ongoing process. The path forward will be unique to your business.

You have to start with your customers in mind. This knowledge feeds into your business strategy and objectives. Choosing the technology that supports it all comes last.

The technology will move your business forward, but your customers are the guiding principle.

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