As a field, ecommerce is still in its infancy. We’ve been doing business online for just over two decades; we’ve been doing significant business online for even less than that. In its short lifespan, ecommerce has gone from something of a medieval market town model to an industrial mega-shopping complex. Along the way, e-commerce has reinvented itself a dozen times.
There’s no sign that these changes are going to stop, either. If you want to stay ahead of your competition, you need to understand what’s happening with e-commerce and move forward with the emerging trends.
Here are some of the top trends to watch for:
- E-commerce comes back around to retail. Some brick-and-mortar stores have embraced the digital trend, but so far they’ve been few and far between. More and more, retailers are recognizing the value of digital goods and finding ways to sell those digital goods via the retail space. Bookstores selling digital downloads right to reader devices, music stores selling MP3 or iTunes downloads inside the store, and even kiosks where you can order a store’s goods online are all possibilities.
- Mobile is on the move. Smartphones are quickly becoming the most frequently-used method to access the Internet. Not only that, consumers are increasingly using their mobile devices not only to locate businesses, but to make purchases. Smart businesses – big and small – will find ways to reach the consumer on those devices.
- The rise of the cross-channel customer experience. Customers no longer see clear boundaries when dealing with a company. It’s not good enough to simply call a customer service hotline when they have a problem. They want to get tech support via the company’s Facebook page. They want to be able to make purchases from links in the company’s Twitter feed. They want to be able to do all of it from their mobile devices. Ecommerce needs to integrate fully with retail, mobile, social, and virtual customer experiences.
- Wholesalers are moving closer to the consumer. Ecommerce gives wholesalers an efficient and reliable way to bring products directly to market, bypassing the retail component. Wholesalers need to be careful how they handle this trend, of course; if they outsell or undercut their retailers because of the ecommerce presence, they’re going to lose retail business.
- Unified ecommerce marketplaces. Ebay was just the beginning of the ecommerce marketplace. Google, in some ways, is becoming a virtual ecommerce marketplace, simply via its search results. We’re likely to see the rise of more and more single-portal sites that unite a number of related but independent suppliers.
- The branding power of games. Some companies have already discovered how games –whether they be social media-based games or mobile games – can be put to work for branding purposes. Expect to see more and more small and medium sized businesses jump on the bandwagon, in many cases simply rebranding packaged games for their own purposes.
It’s hard to see too far into the future, largely because the media are changing so rapidly. If the desktop disappears within this decade as some predict, ecommerce will look very different by 2020.